Campus News

Bowdoin Rededicates Library, and Dedicates Department of Special Collections in the Name of George J. Mitchell

Story posted February 11, 2002

Bowdoin College rededicated its renovated Hawthorne-Longfellow Library Friday evening, February 8, and dedicated its Department of Special Collections and Archives in the name of Senator George J. Mitchell, Bowdoin Class of 1954.

Sen. Mitchell was in attendance, and spoke eloquently about the important place Bowdoin occupies in his life. Along with his parents and his mentor Edmund Muskie, the College was among his life’s greatest influences, he said.

Mitchell donated his papers to the College in 1995, and those papers reside in the department that now bears his name.

The dedication of the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives and the rededication of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library reflect the historic emphasis at Bowdoin on providing significant research materials to support teaching and scholarship. While reflecting on that past, Bowdoin also celebrates the achievements of one of its most distinguished contemporary alumni, and the rejuvenation of the College's main library facilities.

The original library, a four-story modernist structure on a campus of traditional New England buildings, was designed by the architectural firm of Steinman, Cain & White in 1965. While the modernist aesthetic of the building has been maintained over the years, the services the Library offers and the collections it houses have dramatically shifted.

Most recently, with the relocation of college administrative departments to other buildings, with the acquisition of the George J. Mitchell Papers, with collections nearing one million volumes, and with the growth of information technology, improvements were needed. The building also had to be updated to meet building codes, and, aesthetically, was in need of refurbishing.

"We had spent years fighting the modernism and austerity of this building, which was constructed before the personal computer was invented," said Librarian Sherrie Bergman. "More and more technology - computer equipment and wiring - came into the building every year, and more staff were hired, and of course collections grew. The eventual overcrowding of the building took away our perspective on the clarity and simplicity of the original design."

Over five years in the planning, begun in April 2000, and completed last fall, the renovation project was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the generosity of over 200 alumni and friends of the College.

Ann Beha Architects (ABA) transformed the library ambience, incorporating new welcoming and flexible spaces to enable the Library to meet the changing needs of the information age and to better accommodate growing collections.

"ABA's renovations bring the building back to its original simplicity and elegance, but in a much friendlier and more exciting fashion," said Bergman. Removal of interior partitions and installation of waist-high shelving bring natural light into the building, enhanced by new accent and task lighting, resulting in a warm and engaging interior.

The Library was able to retain most of its original, well-constructed, classic modernist furnishings. ABA's strategy was to re-use these pieces, refinish the wood tones and apply colorful contemporary textiles. New furniture was selected for its mid-20th century design, as well as for its high level of craft and sturdiness. Existing tables and workstations were refinished and wired for data access. Wireless technology provides network access to other seating.

"ABA's recommendation to work with and champion the building's modernism, rather than fight it or hide it, was the best approach to take, economically, functionally, and aesthetically," said Bergman. "Those of us who work in the building are thrilled with the final design, both how it looks and how it functions. Library patronage has increased dramatically, and the entire college community has enthusiastically endorsed the renovations."

H.P. Cummings Construction Company of Winthrop were general contractors on the project. Harriman Associates, Auburn, were the mechanical engineers.

The George J. Mitchell Papers, donated to the Library in 1995, document Mitchell's extraordinary career of public service to Maine, to the nation, and to the world. The collection, which occupies over 1,000 feet of shelving, includes correspondence, memoranda, reports, financial records, press materials, sound and video recordings, photographs, microfilm, computer tapes, and a variety of awards and memorabilia. These historical records are important for the study of U.S. domestic politics; international relations; legislative and diplomatic processes; late 20th-century American history; and contemporary issues such as ecology, trade and commerce, taxation, public health, and education.

"What I find most interesting about the Mitchell Papers is the remarkable range of important issues that appear there," said Richard Lindemann, director of special collections and archives. "When we couple Mitchell's legislative programs with his involvement in international relations since his retirement from the Senate, we quickly begin to appreciate how special Senator Mitchell's career has been and how lucky we are in Maine to have benefited from his devotion to public service."

Bowdoin College was chartered in 1794, and opened in 1802. Its first library was housed in Massachusetts Hall, the only building on campus. In 1805 the library was moved to the second floor of a new wooden chapel, and remained there until 1848, when collections were transferred to Banister Hall. A new library building, Hubbard Hall, was completed in 1903, and served the College well through the first half of the twentieth century.

The George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections and Archives, on the third floor of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, preserves and makes accessible 45,000 volumes of rare books, 5,000 linear feet of manuscripts and College archives, 25,000 photographs, and 500 historical maps.

The collections are wide-ranging and include substantial manuscript sources, rare published works, and historical records documenting Bowdoin College. Manuscript holdings date from as early as the 13th century and are particularly rich for research into the early history of Massachusetts and Maine; anti-slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction; Arctic studies and Arctic exploration; Maine writers; politics and government; and Bowdoin College. Among the printed works (the earliest dated 1478) are several notable collections, including early American, Maine and British imprints, Hawthorne and Longfellow collections, fine press printings, and finely bound books.

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