The building, the myths, Henry Whittemore Library

Legend has it this iconic building was designed to be a prison.

With its concrete walls and open center space, the seven-level building has divots and holes in the walls – but not a lot of windows.

Students sip coffee in Red Barn, while others hunch over their laptops. As heads look up toward the building the words Henry Whittemore Library are visible.

This Library was built in 1969 and many stories to be told as to why it has such an interesting structure to it.

“The person pointed out to me how the big space in the middle was designed for prison observation of all the cells that would be around the parameter,” said Professor Audrey Kali.

The Henry Whittemore Library was named after the president of the college who served from 1898 to 1917.

According to historical library logs in the Special Collections area in the library, the architects of the library back then were called Desmond and Lord Inc.

The library was located on the upper floor of Dwight Hall and then moved to where it is located now.

The historical books represented how state schools looked back then. Many used open spaces and bricks to show the landscape more.

“I’m a fan of the building and I would not change much about it. I like the style,” said Art Professor Bob Alter.

Alter said he is a firm believer in the Brutalism style of the building and not a fan of these so-called myths.

He also said many believe these myths about the library being designed similar to a prison, due to the Brutalism style of architecture.

There seems to be a mixture of those who believe in the Brutalism style of this building and some who believe in the myths.

“I heard about the library being built according to the blueprints from a person when I first came here in 2002,” said Kali, who also believes in the prison myth.

“The person said that the State of Massachusetts had paid an architect to design a prison and then decided not to build the prison, so they used the blueprint of the building to design the library,” said Kali.

Millie Gonzalez, the merchant technologies and digital services librarian, who has worked at the University for 14 years, is not a believer in the myths.

“I really enjoy these different myths, like where do they come from and how do they develop?” asked Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said those are just myths after hearing Bob Alter’s theory. 

When asked if she believes in the library’s myths, she responded, “No not at all.”

Gonzalez talked about how “the building has multipurpose.” She said the building is designed for quiet places to study.

Another librarian, Hedda Monaghan, said the library has an interesting set up.

“It’s a very cool building, but a bad building for a library,” said Monaghan.

As the 50th anniversary of the library passed, the librarians said they are trying to make it a cozier place.

They are bringing in warmer colors, promoting flexibility, and combining books with technology, Gonzalez said.

“I hope they won’t change the structure of the building,” said Alter.

Many find the library structure to be confusing, but also very interesting, said Gonzalez and Monaghan.

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