From left to right: Alcuin Library at twilight (no date), South side of Alcuin Library, 2006 (click thumbnails for larger images)
Architect: Marcel Breuer
Construction: Gunnar Johnson and Son, Inc.
Location: Across plaza from Abbey, East of Mary Hall, south of football field
Groundbreaking (Alcuin): July 2, 1964
Groundbreaking (Learning Commons): April 22, 2016
Cost: $1,772,000 (original)
Construction for a new library began in 1964. The original plans included seating for 620 people, shelving 450,000 volumes, 6 Seminar rooms, a listening room, an audiovisual room, and auditorium, 20 private study rooms, typing rooms and smoking rooms. Additionally, a temperature-controlled room was requested to house the Kritzeck Manuscripts which are a collection of several hundred holograph documents. The building was designed in order to accommodate for changing technology by having large spaces that could change with the needs of the times and by having plentiful electrical outlets for increase technology use.
Books were moved from the old Wimmer Hall library into the new Breuer library over the Christmas break in January 1966. The building was dedicated on Saturday, May 7 th, 1966. Hubert Humphrey and his wife, Muriel, came to the dedication ceremony, arriving by helicopter. Vietnam picketers with anti-war signs were present and Humphrey wished to talk with them but was told he had to go on to his next event.
The new library was generally well received by the St. John’s community. People generally liked the inside architecture, especially the trees and the central staircase. People also enjoyed the modern amenities such as air conditioning and the audiovisual room. There was some controversy surrounding the outside of the building, with multiple people commenting on its tendency to look like a parking garage.
In 1975, the Media Center was moved to the Mezzanine in response to increasing complaints about the noise created by the computers. The Mezzanine had been a repository for government books which then found a home in the main section of the library.
In 1987 there was further rearranging of the library. All of the computers were moved to the first floor of the building, the reference section was moved towards the entrance of the building to be more convenient, and the book stacks were move to the lower level. This transformed the top floor into a service floor instead of a quiet study area. In addition, the basement was updated and upgraded, and new barcodes were put on all books.
The library was further expanded in 2000, this allowed for more space to be given to the ever-expanding Hill Monastic Manuscript Library. This addition also made the basement of the library wheelchair accessible.
After several almost a decade of planning, construction for a complete renovation of Alcuin Library began in June of 2015. The first steps of the construction involved creating a space in the basement of the library for the university archives as well as the rare books collection, and the archival collections of the Hill Monastic and Manuscript Library. This project was completed first so these artifacts would be safely housed for the duration of the construction. Additionally, a new elevator was installed that would be able to service all four floors of the building. Next, the room that had previously functioned as an auditorium was repurposed to serve as the new permanent home of original seven volumes of the Saint John’s Bible. This space also includes information about the creation of the Bible and some of the tools and materials that were used to create the bible.
In 2016, the rest of the construction on the library continued as well as construction on the Learning Commons, a building that would attach to the existing library. The new space offered additional classroom space, study spaces, a coffee shop (the Schu), a new computer lab, and a sound studio. President Hemesath stated that the space was created with three things in mind “information technology, changing pedagogies, and student service help.” The renovations created a space that recognize a transition towards group work and increased technology use. The renovated library and Learning Commons opened in the fall of 2017.
- A New Library for Saint John's, ca. 1963
- " The Next Step," Saint John's Alumni Magazine, February 1964, p. 3-5.
- " Ground Broken for New SJU Library, Many Donate Books, Staff Reports," Saint Johns Magazine, July 1964, p.12.
- " A Pictoral Preview of the New Library," Saint Johns Magazine, Winter 1965, p.16.
- " Library Completion Set for 1966," The Record, September 30, 1965, p.1.
- Honebrink, John. " Library Shifts Scenes," The Record, December 10, 1965, p. 2. Photo, p. 1.
- The Library of Saint John's University, ca. 1966.
- " Varied Reactions on the New Library," The Record, February 15, 1966, p. 2
- " Our Second Library is Dedicated," Saint Johns Magazine, Spring 1966, p. 3.
- " The Library at Saint John's," Saint Johns Magazine, Spring 1966, p.9.
- "Alcuin Library (photo)," Saint John's Magazine, Spring 1968, p. 25.
- Smith, Mike. " SJU Media Center Moves to Mezzanine," The Record, October 11, 1975, p. 2.
- Webber, Paul. " Library Not a Social Center," The Record, 12 December 1980, p. 7.
- Sagar, Kathryn. " Library Renovation Plans to Begin this Summer," The Record, April 9, 1987, p. 5.
- " Library to be Expanded," The Record, December 14, 1989, p.2.
- Mulrooney, Patrick and Mark Mulrooney. " Alcuin Slated to Expand," The Record, May 17, 1990, p.3.
- Henningson, Samantha. " Plans Underway for Expansion of Alcuin Library," The Record, November 12, 2000, p. 2.
- Hollas, Eric. " The University's Living Room: Creating a Learning Commons," Saint John's Magazine, Winter 2008, p. 16-17.
- " Alcuin Library Renovation Begins," Saint John's Magazine, Summer/Fall 2015, p. 28 & 29.
- " Alcuin Library Renovation Continues," Saint John's Magazine, Winter/Spring 2016, p. 26.
- " Join Us for Groundbreakings at SJU," Saint John's Magazine, Winter/Spring 2016, p. 28.
- " Goodbye Alcuin, Hello Learning Commons!" Saint John's Magazine, Summer/Fall 2016, p. 26 & 27.
- Lenczewski, Bridget. " Johnnies Java Plans to Relocate Next Year in Library," The Record, October 21, 2016, p. 1 & 8.
- " Alcuin Library: An Inspired Transformation," Saint John's Magazine, Winter/Spring 2017, p. 20.
- " SJU Writing Center moves to Alcuin," The Record, April 7, 2017, p. 2.
- Oliver, Richard O.S.B. "Lives of the Benedictine Saints," Abbey Banner, Winter 2020-2021, p. 26-27.
Text drafted by Maria Schrupp, CSB '20