Regenstein Library to celebrate 50 years of innovation, inquiry

This fall, the University of Chicago’s Joseph Regenstein Library welcomes the UChicago community to join a yearlong celebration of its 50th anniversary.

Since its dedication on Oct. 31, 1970, the library has been a hub of innovation and inquiry on campus and a symbol of the University’s scholarly eminence. The massive, brutalist structure known by many as "The Reg" serves not only as a center for rigorous research but also as a space for student life and learning.

"Over the last 50 years, Regenstein Library has contributed and responded to tremendous shifts in the ways knowledge is expanded and shared, scholarly disciplines are shaped, students are transformed and intellectual communities are convened and strengthened," said Brenda Johnson, Library Director and University Librarian. "As we mark its 50th anniversary, we will not only celebrate decades of contributions, but discuss innovative new ways of connecting researchers and supporting their intellectual pursuits."

The UChicago Library will host a series of online events this academic year to discuss the past, present, and future of Regenstein. The first is a Sept. 22 online conversation between John W. Boyer, dean of the College, and Anne Walters Robertson, dean of the Division of the Humanities, about how Regenstein Library ushered in a new era of scholarly distinction for UChicago.

An enduring-and evolving-hub of innovation

Built on the former site of Stagg Field, where Enrico Fermi and other scientists achieved the first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear reaction in 1942, the library was conceived amid a period of "heady optimism" at the University, Boyer wrote in The University of Chicago: A History . According to Boyer, the library was the cornerstone of then-Provost Edward H. Levi’s plan to invest in new capital improvements in the late 1960s.

Then as now, the building left an impression. When the library was first unveiled, it rose from the demolition of the old Stagg Field wall-emerging "full-fledged from the head of Zeus," as the University of Chicago Magazine wrote in its November 1970 edition-an impressive and inspiring addition to the campus architecture.

Funded in part by a generous gift from the Joseph and Helen Regenstein Foundation, the library brought together scattered departmental collections to better foster interdisciplinary research. As a unique intellectual convener for scholars and students, Regenstein houses world-class humanities, social science and business collections-as well as the Special Collections Research Center , which contains the University’s rare books, manuscripts and archives.

Regenstein has 4.5 million print volumes and an ever-expanding range of media, from CDs and DVDs to ebooks, digital journals and streaming audio and video. The UChicago Library has also played a leading role in the adoption, customization and development of new research technologies.

Its digital innovations began during the early days of library automation in the 1970s-when the UChicago Library developed its own mainframe-based management system-and continues with the current use of an open-source system that UChicago librarians developed with colleagues at other leading university libraries. Regenstein is now developing a next-generation library management system with international partners.

The library’s 2018 launch of the Center for Digital Scholarship also helps faculty and students explore new methodologies, analyze complex data and share and preserve research results-bolstering Regenstein’s role as a nexus of ideas and community.

UChicago community invited to participate

In addition to the conversation between Boyer and Robertson, a series of other online talks to be announced later this academic year will explore the library’s present and future.

UChicago Library also invites faculty, students, staff, alumni and visiting researchers to send their favorite stories, photographs and ephemera documenting Regenstein’s history to the library for preservation in the University of Chicago Archives. If you are interested in contributing, contact universityarchives@lib.uchicago.edu.


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