W.E.B. Du Bois Library Makes a Gorgeous - and Inviting - Entrance
into the 21st Century.
The technical term is "to spall." It means "to
break or chip, especially as related to stone." One day,
in the midst of the 1970's buildup that turned UMass from
a small land-grant campus into one of the country's major
research universities, the bricks on the side of the new library
tower started spalling. In effect, the building began to shed.
The initial defense, hay bales that isolated the spalling
zone (calling to mind our agricultural heritage), was soon
replaced by a "temporary" chain link fence. Now,
three decades later, after having imprinted its protective
but rusty image on the memories of 136,000 alumni, the fence's
time has come. It's coming down, being replaced by a totally
redesigned library area. Pedestrians will still be safe from
the possibility of spalling chips, but their surroundings
will now include new benches, walkways, plantings, and an
elegant new fence.
Catalyst for this transformation is Margo Crist, who became
the director of the libraries in 1997. One of her many priorities
was "to get rid of that ugly chain link. I would be the
first person to line up and whack that fence," she said,
"and I bet there are a lot of others who would like to
do the same." Shortly after her arrival, the staff of
the W.E.B. Du Bois Library began working with Facilities Planning
to reclaim the courtyard gardens. That successful project
led to the next - new landscaping around the building. The
campus administration made the library project a top priority
in the competition for funds from the UMass President's Office,
which soon bought into the plan with a $215,000 contribution.
Now only $75,000 still needed to be raised to complete the
whole project. That's when the Whack the Fence campaign was
launched in March 1999.
"I thought it would be a Statue of Liberty type campaign,
with a lot of people giving small gifts," said Arnette
Nelson, the director of development for the Du Bois Library.
She was right. Nelson and the library staff collaborated in
a building effort comparable to the joint venture of our first
students and faculty, who physically constructed the new campus
of Massachusetts Agricultural College in the 1860s. Talk about
resourceful. Staff members all joined in. A 1994 "Lego
Library" model, originally part of an Isenberg School
of Management project, was converted into a huge piggy bank
for contributions. One librarian gave a dollar for every homer
socked by the Red Sox in spring training - and challenged
others to do the same. People collected cans and bottles for
their refunds. A web site (www.library.umass.edu/fence)
was set up so visitors could take "cyber whacks"
at the fence while making their contributions. The most visible
idea was the "greening of the fence;" for each dollar
donated a green ribbon was tied to the old fence. And the
Class of 1999, the last class to have lived their four years
with the fence, left their Senior Class Gift in support of
a fence worthy of the new millennium. Thanks to a loan from
the Provost's Office, the entire construction project is scheduled
for completion by the start of the fall 1999 semester. The
library landscaping is one of the campus beautification projects
being promoted by the faculty and staff portion of Campaign
UMass. It is also a fine prototype for the $5-million development
effort by Campaign UMass to help bring the library up to standards
recommended by the American Association of Universities (AAU).