Upon opening the front door of Candler Library,
visitors are greeted with a blast of cold air flavored with the
aroma of fresh paint—a telltale calling card of newness.
The newly renovated Candler Library allows the Emory community to
experience innovation by looking back. A campus landmark, the Candler
Library reading room, has returned with all of its past glory intact.
New office and classroom spaces for two schools and nearly a half-dozen
programs mix in perfectly.
Wrapped around it is an attractive package that dates nearly to
the birth of Emory’s Atlanta home. The inside, however, is
still a bit rough. The bare walls yearn for decoration, and their
emptiness only intensifies the echoes heard when walking across
the building’s marble and wood floors.
But it is the little details that add charm. The old library’s
marble floors have been recycled as bathroom countertops or tabletops
in the reading room. And the old-time color schemes have come back
There is no question that the memory of what Candler Library was
will easily translate into new memories about what it soon will
Candler Library was built in 1926 and was intended to be both figuratively
and geographically the center of academic life on Emory’s
Atlanta campus, which at that time was just 15 years old. For 30
years the center of this center of academic life was the Candler
Library’s reading room, a glorious showpiece with chandeliers
hanging majestically from the ceiling two stories up, arched windows
letting light shine in and rows upon rows of tables lined up and
ready to host students looking to study or—on ocassion—socialize
in hushed tones.
In the late 1950s the reading room disappeared. As part of a 1956–57
renovation, the room was cut in half, top to bottom, to make room
for a science library. The plan, put together by then-Director of
Libraries Guy Lyle, was necessary, but less-than-universally loved.
The atmosphere on campus was something Lyle referenced years later
in his book, Beyond My Expectation: A Personal Chronicle.
“No sooner had this proposal reached the architect who originally
designed the building, and the critics on the campus who were all
against the change, than they swarmed over to the president’s
office to suggest that this meddler was about to ruin the aesthetics
of the Asa Griggs Candler Library and ought to quit,” he wrote.
Well, the meddler didn’t quit (Lyle was libraries director
and professor of librarianship for nearly 20 years, 1954–72),
President Goodrich White signed off on the plan, and the renovated
library, with the no-longer 32-foot-high reading room, was reopened
in fall 1957.
Over the ensuing four decades, every building ringing the Quadrangle
was renovated, save Candler Library. Come 2001, the time had come.
Compared to other Emory buildings, the library was showing its age.
It was dark, the classrooms were dated and its lower floors were
arguably the mustiest places on campus.
The $17 million renovation, which took the better part of two years,
was serious. The building was gutted. All that really remained was
Candler’s four outer walls. A 10,000-square-foot extension
was tacked on to the side facing Emory Hospital. State-of-the-art
classrooms and office space were integrated into the building. The
front staircase was restored to its original look, and perhaps most
importantly, the reading room, complete with its stock of 4,000
current periodicals, has returned.
Another significant re-emergence is the 26 pieces of the plaster
frieze “The Triumph of Alexander,” which once ringed
the circulation desk and now does so again. The pieces were rescued
from some very undignified crates in the library’s attic some
four years ago. They spent some time on display in the Woodruff
Library, but once Candler’s restoration was complete, the
stong feeling was that they should return to their original home.
The large oak circulation desk, with Alexander’s troops gazing
down upon it, serves as a dramatic entryway to the reborn reading
“The reading room is gorgeous,” said Terry Bozeman,
project manager for the renovation. “It’s hard to believe
that someone in the ’50s decided to divide that room up horizontally.”
The room has been rechristened the Matheson Reading Room, to honor
the late William Matheson (’47G). His wife Marjorie contributed
$1.5 million to the library’s renovation, and that gift was
just the latest example of the Mathesons’ remarkable philanthropy.
The Mathesons already fund two student awards, including the $20,000
Lucius McMullan Award. McMullan was Matheson’s uncle.
Its appearance is strikingly similar to its previous incarnation.
And its retro look was fully intended. While computer terminals
are ubiquitous in Woodruff Library and the Cox Hall Computing Lab
across the street is 21st century to the core, just four computers
and one printer are located subtly in reading room carrels.
“We intended to make it slightly less hi-tech,” said
Charles Forrest, director of the Office of Library Facilities Planning.
“We’ve got computers all over Woodruff Library and Cox
Hall, and many people were asking us to give them back a traditional
reading room. They wanted a grand, contemplative space where they
could just spread things out and think.”
Ringing the room, high among the chandeliers on the fourth floor,
are the administrative offices for Emory College. Every few feet
is a window—just as it was pre-1957 renovation—where
passersby can look down on the students studying below. And those
students can scout around, too.
“If you’re standing here long enough,” said Amy
Verner, executive assistant to college Senior Associate Dean Rosemary
Magee, peeking out the window, “Students will look up.”
Sightlines throughout the library are pretty good no matter whose
office one is in. Magee, for instance, can look out her window and
see into the office of college Dean Bobby Paul on the reading room’s
far side (their offices are mirror images of one another’s).
All things considered, the employees of the college office have
made out pretty well. For instance, Susan Lee, manager of faculty
appointments, whose old White Hall office was literally a renovated
closet, now has a spacious work area with not one, but two windows
Laura Papotto, the college’s business manager, has more space
than she knows what to do with. “We need to do something to
fill this up,” she said indicating the two lonely chairs that
are the only pieces of furniture in the rather large communal space
outside her office.
Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves also are located in every office and
along most of the hallways; many shelves are empty, but the unpacking
has only just begun.
The College Office isn’t the only organization that has moved
into better digs in Candler Library. African American studies, classics,
Jewish studies, women’s studies and the Center for Teaching
and Curriculum all have moved their offices to Candler.
The library’s other resident is the Graduate School of Arts
and Sciences, which moved over from its former home in the Administration
Building. Its office suite is in the interior of the second floor,
so it doesn’t have the many windows of its Emory College companions
two stories above, but no one in the graduate school is complaining—certainly
not the new interim Dean Bryan Noe.
“In terms of workflow, this is much better than before,”
said Noe, who was named to his post in June. Throughout the renovation,
the graduate school was in discussions with the library’s
architect, and they worked together to come up with the most workable
design for the graduate school’s needs.
Perhaps the best new perk is the graduate school’s new conference
room, located across the hall from the main office suite. The grad
school didn’t have its own conference room in the Administration
Building and had to borrow from the building’s other residents.
If more than four people needed to meet, sometimes they would have
to walk across the street to the B. Jones Building and meet.
Now, the grad school has a fully loaded conference room, complete
with smart technology. “Having a room with smart technology
gives us the opportunity to think about new ways of doing things,
much more so than before,” said Assistant Dean Hilary Ford.
Like the rest of Candler Library, the graduate school office is
still a work in progress. Boxes are stacked in most corners, a door
frame is missing here, a paint touchup is necessary there, but all
in all, not a discouraging word can be heard.
“It’s great to be in such a beautifully renovated historic
building,” Ford said. “This is a great location and
space for the grad school.”