From IWU Magazine, Fall 2011
Sheean Library is torn down, but memories linger.
Story by TIM OBERMILLER AND SARAH (ZELLER) JULIAN ’07
Photographed in its glory days, Sheean Library basks in a sunset’s glow. Opened in
1968, it was also used as a backdrop for commencement ceremonies. (Photo by Mark Romine)
The world was a different place 43 years ago, and Illinois Wesleyan’s library was
“Does your report need typing? Don’t drag a dozen books across campus,” an early brochure
for Sheean Library proclaimed. “Bring your own typewriter, or rent an electric in
rooms specially set aside. There’s even a calculator room.”
Sheean’s opening was, in fact, a “big deal” to students like then-sophomore Steve
Burrichter ’70. “We went from Buck Library, which was older, to a very modern, spacious
and well-equipped library for that time,” he recalls. “I was amazed to watch the construction.
Extended flatbed trucks brought in the tall, white stone and concrete pre-formed pieces
that gave the library its design.”
Nine years after it opened, the library was named for the late Jack Sheean, a local
businessman who loved books and gave generously to the University, including funding
several students’ college educations.
Burrichter recalls how students helped fill Sheean with books prior to its opening
in 1968. “Many of our class members, and many other students who went to IWU at the
time, were used to transport the books from Buck Library to their new home in Sheean
Library,” he says. “The involvement of so many students gave a sense of ownership
of the new library.”
Areas like the Pit — with its casual furniture for relaxed study — are remembered
fondly by generations of students who used Sheean. The library’s Micro Center allowed
access to 4,000 microfilm items and its card catalog was massive. With the dawn of
the digital-information age, most of those once-popular features became anachronistic.
This past summer, Sheean was finally torn down to make way for a new classroom building.
“I’m sure at the time that it opened, it worked very effectively, but it was not able
to grow as libraries changed and modified,” says Sue Stroyan, Illinois Wesleyan professor
and information services librarian. Stroyan became University librarian in 1992 and
oversaw the transition to The Ames Library when it opened in 2002.
|Sheean’s thick walls are smashed by a wrecking ball. Crushed concrete and brick will
provide the new classroom building’s foundation. (Photo by Marc Featherly)
“In the past decade since Ames opened,” says Stroyan, “there have been constant changes
in academia and in library technology. Ames has been able to adapt to those changes.
We were not able to do that in Sheean because of its structural issues.”
In the late 1960s, University press releases noted Sheean’s “quadrant concept,” a
layout that featured four areas of stacks on each of three floors around a central
lounge and stairway area. While the massive structure was formidable, it was also
inflexible. Thick concrete walls and floors made it extremely difficult to add new
electrical and Internet wiring.
Sheean’s architectural design provided other challenges. The centrally located open
staircase meant constant noise throughout the building, while the single-pane glass
windows created humidity issues, says Stroyan, who remembers frequently seeing frost
on the library’s interior concrete walls.
In addition, the library’s collection simply outgrew the building. The current library
collection totals more than 350,000 volumes; Sheean was built to accommodate just
Years of research were invested in possible renovation ideas for Sheean, but none
were practical or financially viable. The building’s location in the middle of campus
didn’t help, either; it left no room for an addition, and space inside the library
was increasingly at a premium.
While Sheean’s shortcomings weren’t disputed, its closing in late 2001 was met with
mixed emotions. Students wrote farewell messages to the building on a giant scroll
of paper, ranging from “Goodbye, old friend” to “I will miss your ugly furniture most
Contents of a time capsule placed in the building’s cornerstone by IWU President Lloyd
Bertholf will be revealed at Homecoming.
When they moved the collection to The Ames Library, library staffers took the time
to reuse or recycle whatever they could from inside the building. Extra shelving went
to libraries in need, display cases found new homes, and some furniture was brought
to the new library and stained to match the updated color scheme. “What we couldn’t
use, we were able to find homes for to a great extent,” Stroyan says.
That theme continued when the building was demolished in July and August this year.
Construction crews crushed brick and concrete into a new foundation for the future
classroom building and sent lamps and other materials to special recycling facilities.
Also salvaged from the former library was a time capsule, which had been stored inside
a copper box in the building’s cornerstone. The contents will be revealed during a
Homecoming event Oct. 22 on the Robert S. Eckley Quadrangle.
“What people place into these time capsules gives us an idea of what they feel is
significant, what they want others to remember about their time here,” says IWU Archivist
Meg Miner. What’s inside will remain a secret until the capsule is opened, but the
library will hold a contest prior to Homecoming for those who want to wager a guess
as to its contents.
The classroom building that will replace Sheean is expected to have a time capsule
placed in its cornerstone as well. Meanwhile, across campus, Sheean’s replacement
continues to impress. “The Ames Library is exceptional and makes other people view
Illinois Wesleyan and its library as well above other universities,” Burrichter notes.
One of Sheean’s lasting legacies, Stroyan says, is that it helped planners formulate
ideas about what was needed in a new library. For example, the many large windows
in Ames are, “to some extent, a reaction to the Sheean’s narrow windows, which provided
no direct light,” she says. Other influences can be seen in Ames’ flexible floor plans
and improved study spaces. Because of such considerations, Stroyan believes there’s
a very good chance that Ames will outlast its predecessor in years of usage.
Most importantly, she adds, The Ames Library has proven to be a popular destination
for both students and faculty.
“We had a 300 percent increase in usage when Ames opened,” says Stroyan, “and that
has continued. It’s a beautiful, functional building and a place of research and learning
where people really like to be. From my perspective as a librarian, you really couldn’t
ask for more.”
To visit The Ames Library’s website, click here.