Who the heck is Walter?

By Carolyn Bishoff

You spend your evenings there.

You consume truly staggering amounts of caffeine within its walls.

You probably spend more time looking at the ceiling than doing problem sets (if we’re being honest).

Walter Library is a home away from home for a lot of Gophers, but who was Walter, and why did he get a building named after him?

Frank Walter: Library advocate

walter
Frank Walter. [Photo from the University Archives]
Frank Walter was a powerful advocate for the library. He served as University Librarian at a time when the library held only about 300,000 volumes—it holds over 8.2 million today! The Libraries struggled to provide students and professors with the best materials for their scholarship, but Walter found ways to stretch the budget. He set up international exchanges that provided the Libraries with important publications, while buying major scholarly journals, reference books, and newspapers that would form the foundation of the world-class collection we have today. When he retired, students and professors had access to over 1.2 million volumes!

It’s hard to imagine a time without Walter Library. When Frank Walter arrived on campus in 1921, it had yet to be built, but plans were in the works. Walter oversaw the construction, and the building was dedicated in 1924. Ever wonder what the carvings and architecture mean? All the answers are contained in a commemorative booklet that was created in honor of the new building. Unlike the impressive new library, though, Walter wasn’t much for embellishment. He was quoted saying, “Any adequate university library building must in consequence be usable as well as beautiful. The new building of the University of Minnesota meets both tests.” We think it’s pretty adequate too, Frank!

Walter’s legacy

From “The Library of the University of Minnesota: Dedication,” by the University of Minnesota Libraries

Walter also cared about educating new librarians. He set up a library school that granted degrees to 800 students, which eventually became a graduate school. Even though it’s now closed, a number of current University librarians earned their degrees from that same Library School!

When Frank Walter retired in 1943, the Main Library building was named after him. Eventually, Walter Library became the home of the science and engineering library, and in 2002 it was renovated. Libraries are always evolving—what do you think the next step for Walter Library should be? What would Frank think of the building now?

 

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