University Libraries

Andersen Library

April 17, 2014
8:30am - 7:00pm

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About Andersen Library

“I’ve felt that the University has been a little lax in recognizing only three central missions: teaching, research and community service. They overlook a fourth mission – an archival one. It falls to the universities in our culture – and specifically to university libraries – to preserve the sources of information, knowledge and culture, so they can be found and passed on.”
-Governor Elmer L. Andersen

It is especially significant that the building housing the archives and special collections of the University Libraries is named for the man who expressed his deep personal belief in the University’s “Fourth Mission.” The Elmer L. Andersen Library was dedicated on April 8, 2000. The Library contains an astonishing array of research materials ranging from clay tablets to documentation of the history of information technology, from children’s literature to University records, from the literary and performing arts to gay and lesbian culture. In a central reading room, researchers use the world-class collections of books, manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts to form the basis of term papers, dissertations, newspaper articles, biographies, and scholarly publications or simply to satisfy their curiosity – the collections are open to all.

Beneath the Andersen Library and extending deep into the bluffs of the Mississippi River are two caverns. One is reserved for the Department of Archives and Special Collections, while the second, the Minnesota Library Access Center (MLAC), is designated for storage of books from libraries throughout the state. The geology of the site is integral to the underground structure, which lies beneath 30 feet of topsoil, clan and gravel, and a 30-foot layer of limestone, below which is sandstone. The solid limestone serves both as the structural roof of the caverns and the foundation for the Andersen Library above.

A major benefit of storing these materials underground lies in the constancy of the natural environment. Upon excavation, the subterranean site was an almost ideal 57 degrees Fahrenheit with 70% relative humidity. The completed storage structures are maintained at 62 degrees Fahrenheit and approximately 50% relative humidity, considered optimum conditions for preserving paper, film, and videotape.
The Elmer L. Andersen Library, like all University of Minnesota Libraries, is open to the general public. Anyone may visit the archives suites to consult with the University's expert curatorial staff, who assist with the rare and unique materials preserved in the archives and special collections cavern. The books, journals, and other materials stored by Minnesota's libraries in the second cavern are likewise available to everyone via the MINITEX Library Information Network, the nation's premier library lending service.

All are welcome to discover the treasures of the Elmer L. Andersen Library.

Cavern Facts:

  • Capacity: 1.4 million volumes (MLAC cavern); 93,000 cubic feet (Archives and Special Collections cavern)
  • Depth below ground: 82 feet
  • Dimensions of each cavern: 680 feet long, 65 feet wide, 23 feet high
  • Ambient temperature: 57 degrees Fahrenheit, heated to 62 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Relative humidity: maintained at 45-50% year-round
  • Volume of material excavated: 2.7 million cubic feet of sand and stone
  • Approximate age of limestone formation: 435-500 million years




  • Artist's Early Concept of Interior GalleryArtist's Early Concept of Interior Gallery




    Initial excavation and blasting for caverns, July 1997 Initial excavation and blasting for caverns, July 1997




    Early construction of tunnel entrance to caverns, December 1997Early construction of tunnel entrance to caverns, December 1997




    Underground Caverns, Early Construction PhaseUnderground Caverns, Early Construction Phase




    Caverns were completed & library nearing completion, June 1999Caverns were completed & library nearing completion, June 1999




    Grand Opening, April 2000Grand Opening, April 2000




    The Elmer L. Andersen Library is uniquely suited to the task of preserving the records of human thought and achievement for the citizens of Minnesota. Here are stored over 1.5 million volumes of books, manuscripts, illustrations and artifacts, protected and preserved for posterity. The practical realization of Governor Andersen's vision of the "fourth mission" of the University, the Elmer L. Andersen Library preserves, maintains, and passes on to future generations the raw materials for research and discovery.

    How can any building ensure that, when the inquiries of tomorrow's researchers emerge, these resources will still exist? How does one safely store and protect treasures such as the manuscripts of Pulitzer Prize- winning poet John Berryman, or the corporate records documenting the emergence of the electronic computer industry? How does one preserve the institutional history and evocative memories of the University of Minnesota, from the evolution of Goldie Gopher to the campus masterplan of architect Cass Gilbert? Will the stories, personal and institutional, of immigration and social welfare be available to future researchers? And what of the books, journals, and non-print media from other libraries throughout the state? Will they be retained, even when space in these greater-Minnesota libraries is no longer available?

    The combined vision of University administrators, state legislators, librarians, and private citizens has resulted in a state-of-the-art structure, designed to address these questions. The Elmer L. Andersen Library is perhaps the most ambitious and innovative response to the storage and service issues now facing the nation's libraries and archives.

    Preserving Heritage

    For some twenty months leading up to the Library's opening, passersby observed the steady excavation of nearly 100,000 cubic yards of sandstone and shale from the bluffs of the Mississippi River, north of the Washington Avenue Bridge. Heavy equipment entered and exited through an arched portal, almost four-stories high. Graceful and mysterious, the portal resembled an underground air defense site more than a library. The construction underway was for the Andersen Library's underground portion: the Minnesota Library Access Center.

    The Andersen Library has been characterized as "geology-friendly;" and indeed, the geology of the site is an integral part of the underground structure. Behind the concrete portal, two enormous caverns, each two stories high and the length of two football fields, lie below a 30 foot layer of limestone plus an additional 30 feet of topsoil, clay and gravel. The solid limestone serves both as the structural roof of the caverns and the foundation for the Andersen Library building above.

    Concrete support-walls for the caverns were prefabricated off-site, transported to the location, then bolted and grouted to the cavern sides. These 22-foot concave panels function like arches, retaining the sandstone behind them and supporting the limestone overhead. Designed to sustain the entire weight of the overlay, the prefabricated concrete panels required the development of entirely new installation equipment, with patents pending.

    One cavern is reserved for archives, manuscripts, and unique research materials from the University of Minnesota's collections, while the second is designated for storage of lesser-used materials from libraries throughout the state. A major benefit of storing these materials underground lies in the constancy of the natural environment. Upon excavation, the subterranean site was an almost ideal 57 degrees Fahrenheit with 70% relative humidity. The completed storage structures are maintained at 62 degrees Fahrenheit and approximately 50% relative humidity, considered optimum conditions for preserving paper, film, and videotape.

    Sustaining Scholarship

    Walking into the atrium of the Andersen Library, researchers are greeted by a complex interplay of nature and industry, carefully orchestrated by the architects, Stageberg Beyer Sachs, Inc. The rough and smooth-textured patterns of the four-story wall of native Kasota limestone is truly majestic, as light from the windows bathe the atrium in a warm glow. The architects juxtapose the warm earth-tones of the stone and surrounding oak accents with the graceful curve of a gray-metal, industrial staircase, capped with a cherry-red railing.

    The atrium ceiling is formed from four concentric bands of blue tints and shadings. Running from ceiling to main floor is a colorway, based on variations of blue and yellow, punctuated by red pillars running through all three floors. The building presents visual surprises at every turn, and visitors are struck by the attention to detail that permeates both the public spaces and the archives areas.

    Behind the light oak panels and glass are the suites for the eight archives and special collections units. Through these offices, the world-class collections of books, manuscripts, photographs, and other artifacts are made available to researchers.

    Serving the State and the World

    The Elmer L. Andersen Library, like all University of Minnesota Libraries, is open to the general public. Anyone may visit the archives suites to consult with the University's expert curatorial staff, who assist with the rare and unique materials preserved in the archives and special collections cavern. The books, journals, and other materials stored by Minnesota's libraries in the second cavern are likewise available to everyone via the MINITEX Library Information Network, the nation's premier library lending service.





    Acknowledgements

    Architects: Stageberg Beyer Sachs, Inc.

    Contractors: C.S. McCrossan, Inc. and M.A. Mortenson Co.

    Engineers: CNA Consulting Engineers and Ericksen Ellison Associates