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Fletcher Library celebrates 20th anniversary of dedication

March 13, 2008

“Libraries are not made; they grow.”

Augustine Birrell, 1850-1933, Orbiter Dicta

Marilyn Myers remembers clearly one of her first experiences at the Fletcher Library at Arizona State University’s West campus.

“I was there to interview for the position of head of collections development, and the library was under construction,” she says, referring to a date in May of 1987. “They gave me a hardhat to wear with my nice ‘interview clothes’ for a building site visit, and sketched in the dirt on the concrete floor where the services would go.”

Today Myers is the director of the Fletcher Library, which will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its dedication on March 31. A short program in front of the library and open to the general public is scheduled at 4 p.m. that day, including commemorative displays, exhibits and cake.

The story of the Fletcher Library is one of tremendous growth and humorous sidebars, architectural recognition and the ability to adapt. The library was the first named building to be completed on the West campus and was named in honor of the Robert L. Fletcher family of Peoria in recognition of a gift of land to the ASU Foundation in 1988. The proceeds from the sale of the land established an endowment which provides funding in perpetuity for the library.

Boasting a modest collection of 39,000 volumes housed in a building at Alhambra Elementary School on Phoenix’s eastern edge in 1987, the library has grown to 350,000 volumes, plus videos, CDs, DVDs, microfilm, and access to a wealth of electronic resources. Winner of a prestigious Honor Award, the top recognition of design excellence from the Southern Arizona Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Fletcher Library originally was the site of faculty and administrative offices and classrooms, and today features a Starbucks.

“We were given a million dollars a year to build the collection,” says Myers, who earned history and geography degrees at Kansas State University and a master’s in Library Science from the University of Illinois. “They didn’t think we could spend it, but we did; we accelerated the purchasing once we had a building to put books in.”

Myers and company, including the library’s founding director and dean, Helen Gater, left no stone unturned as they searched the country for suitable additions to the growing collection.

"The book-buying trips were always a lot of fun,” remembers Myers. “We bought books in basements, in barns, and in a bookstore in Palo Alto (CA), the contents of which were on the floor just after an earthquake.”

Myers relates one trip that resulted in the beginning of the library’s children’s books collection. At the time, it shared quarters with a group of college students renting the home of the former owner, a deceased University of Connecticut professor. Another visit included an old farm on the East Coast where floor-to-rafters shelving held a vast collection of books, and negotiations took place in the backyard over cold cuts and lemonade. One unsuccessful effort unfolded in the basement of a New Jersey home where Myers and her book-buying buddies drank lukewarm instant coffee, were perceived as “pushy Western women,” and eventually snubbed.

“We solicited proposals from second-hand book sellers,” she says. “The word got out; the smell of new money does that. We had dealers lined up around the country, and we cut some interesting deals.”

Myers also recalls semi trailers backing up to the library dock which, once unloaded, had to have air let out of the tires in order to drive them out from under an overhang.

The trips and the years have been good to Fletcher Library, says Myers, who was hooked on “matching people with books” at an early age in her native Alma, KS, where the first library she saw was a bookmobile.

“This library is the centerpiece of the West campus. It is a place where individuals and groups alike can find a quiet place to conduct their studies. It’s a place to see and be seen; it’s not just monastic quiet, but rather a social setting where going to the library is ‘a good thing’ these days.”

Myers smiles broadly when queried about changes over the past two decades.

“The rate of the book growth is a fraction of what it once was,” she says. “So many books and journals are available now electronically, and that will continue to grow in the future. You can search titles online, you can search specific chapters of a book online; you can zero in on just about anything without having the material in your hand. The pace of change has been huge with the integration of technology into the library.

“There is nothing dull about a library. It’s ‘cool’ to be at the library these days. And we continue to adapt to our students’ preferences for timely information and laptop-friendly study environments. We sometimes have to make the trade-off between stacks and seats for an increasing student body; we are always monitoring how spaces are being used.”

Among the many ideas Myers has on her changing drawing board for the library is an expansion of study space that will come in the northwest corner of the building, just beyond the Starbucks that opened in the summer of 2006. Softer furniture and more outlets are on the horizon; big and little things to make the Fletcher Library experience a more rewarding and enjoyable one.

“This is a great space,” she says. “We continue to grow and improve; we’re proud of the work we are doing and the services we provide.”