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UConn community fetes renovated library
October 26, 1998

When Paul Kobulnicky arrived in Storrs in September 1994, the sky was gray, the day bleak, and the library where he was about to take the helm was shrouded in scaffolding.

What a difference four years make.

Kobulnicky, director of University libraries, last Sunday recounted his ominous arrival to about 1,500 faculty, staff, students, alumni, donors, legislators and trustees under a deep blue sky and sparkling sun, with the beautifully refurbished Homer Babbidge Library towering behind him, and offered thanks to the hundreds of people who helped restore the library to prominence. He paid special tribute to his staff, who, he said, have labored through years of construction, noise, jokes, and displacement to keep the heart of the University pumping.

"For the first time in nearly a decade, we can get about the job of doing what we actually do, of building collections and building services commensurate with a great University, without first having to think of overcoming our environment. We're ready to roll," he said.

That was good news for UConn's faculty and students, and for the citizens of Connecticut, said President Philip E. Austin.

"There is no other university in the United States that is better positioned than the University of Connecticut to be the 21st-century model of the land grant university. This impressive, technologically advanced library, the largest public research library in New England, is one of the primary assets that puts us in that position of leadership. It is an asset not only for our students and faculty, here in Storrs and at our regional campuses, but for every resident and every business in the state of Connecticut," Austin said.

Besides the sparkling new exterior, reconstructed during the past decade by the state Department of Public Works, University officials took the opportunity to restructure and enhance the interior of the building, using about $3 million in UConn 2000 funds. It was, says Kobulnicky, a rare opportunity for a major research library.

Kobulnicky, library staff and students can now boast of nearly 500 computers, many of them hard wired, to go along with more than two million books, nearly 10,000 periodicals, almost three million units of microtext, 150,000 maps and 35,000 reference sources; dozens of computer terminals allowing students ready access to e-mail; a new 24-hour study room with mainframe terminals for e-mail; a Bookworm Café serving coffee and pastry; video rooms and conference facilities. The Cyber Café offers students about a dozen clusters of interconnected workstations, allowing teams to share information as they work together.

Speaking on the new South Plaza, which connects with the plaza of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, Austin spoke proudly of the University's ongoing transformation.

"This day has indeed been a long time in coming, but as you can see the final outcome is nothing short of magnificent," he said. "We can rejoice at the ultimate outcome, with the confidence that this facility will be at the center of University life, physically as well as metaphorically, for generations to come."

On the opposite side of the South Plaza, pedestrians strolled on another new plaza, located between the library and the School of Business Administration, that will form the core of the Academic Way, the University's new intersecting pedestrian paths. The brick and granite plaza, featuring a large rendering of the University's new logo, looks up at the library's new, glass-enclosed north entrance.

Larry Schilling, University architect, says the portion of the Academic Way running from that plaza to Hillside Road, replete with an abundance of trees and shrubs and lined with benches, should be complete by mid-November. Work will then begin to connect the plaza to the new path by Gulley Hall, on Mansfield Road.

The building was praised continually during the festivities, both during the main event itself and at a reception inside Babbidge that followed a speech by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has written acclaimed books on Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Kennedys and a book on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, No Ordinary Time, which won the Pulitzer.

Goodwin said none of her work could have been accomplished without the love of libraries she first acquired as a 14-year-old.

"My own love of libraries began with my mother, who had rheumatic fever as a child, which left her with a damaged heart, with the arteries of a 70-year-old, the doctors said, when she was only 30. Her illness bound her to our house as an invalid, but it meant that, though she had only an eighth-grade education, she read books in every spare moment. At night, when she had trouble breathing, in the morning when her chores were done. In our old public library in Rockville Center, Long Island, an impossibly overcrowded structure with books spilling out of every corner, she found an escape from the confines of her chronic illness," she said.

"Indeed, I shall always be grateful for the intertwined love of stories, books and libraries that, taken together, have led me to spend a lifetime looking back into the past, allowing me every now and then to believe that the people we have loved and respected really can live on, so long as we continue to tell and retell the stories of their lives," Goodwin added.

U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd spoke warmly of one of those lives, that of Homer Babbidge Jr., UConn's president from 1962 until 1972, and a friend of Dodd's. They met when Dodd was first running for Congress in 1974, and Babbidge was running an - unsuccessful - campaign for governor. Babbidge's widow, Marcia Babbidge Lord, was in the audience.

"Homer Babbidge always had such a wonderful wit, sense of humor, a wonderful notion of irreverence almost for a process that just engaged everyone in this state," Dodd said. "And for those who were younger and don't remember him, I hope that you get to know him - that this is not just a name on this library. Homer Babbidge was one of the true great treasures of our state, a great president of this University. And, far more importantly, a wonderful, wonderful, human being," he said.

Lt. Gov. Jodi Rell also offered words of praise for Babbidge and many others who made the day a reality, and the future a more positive one for UConn's students.

"All around us we see evidence, concrete evidence, as well as steel, mortar, and brick evidence, of the state's commitment to higher education and to providing the best, most state-of-the-art facilities for our students," Rell said. "The transformation of this library, this campus, gives new meaning to the phrase 'Husky Pride.'"

Richard Veilleux