By Lauren Huneycutt
Janita Jobe began working in Getchell Library at the University of Nevada, Reno in 1989 as a government publications librarian, and later moved into administration. She worked in the building until the opening of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, where she works today as the Assistant Dean of Libraries.
“Getchell was just our old funky library,” Jobe said. “It was this ugly, yet homey place. The furniture didn’t match anything, and there were bright oranges, blues and greens from the 1970s. Then as things started to mature, the jewel tones of the 80s got mixed in too.”
According to a historical article written by Shelby Abart, before Getchell the campus desperately needed a new library. It called for a building four times the size of Clark Memorial Library, which was the university library from 1926 until Getchell was opened in February of 1962. The library was vital to the growing student population, book collection and research collection.
In January of 1962, a librarian organized the “book walk.” All of the books had to be moved from the old library to the new, before its opening in February. Volunteers in a joint effort stomped through the snow to transport the book collection from Clark to Getchell and then orderly place them on the shelves. According to Abart, this participation in getting the new library up and running created a hype and excitement for it to open.
Twelve years after its opening, Getchell had to be expanded. Fortunately, Getchell was built with the expectation that it would eventually need to be expanded. Because of this the north wall of the library was made of tinted glass that could easily be removed.
“It was always this building that we kept outgrowing,” Jobe said. “It was expanded nearly ten years after it was built, and it was just this hodgepodge of mismatched everything. If we needed a new room, a wall could just be thrown up anywhere.”
After the expansion, the building became the largest on campus.
In 1948, UNR was gifted replica Ghiberti Doors, copies of the gilded bronze doors known as the “Gates of Paradise” that hang on The Baptistery of Saint John in Florence, Italy. It was revealed in a 1962 article of The Nevada Sagebrush that these doors were so special they “were stored in a Quonset hut on campus because no suitable location could be found for them.” When Getchell was built, it was decided they would stand at the entrance for the rare book collection. The doors can now be found in the Special Collections room of the Knowledge Center, complete with the full explanation of their history and of how the university acquired them.
“From the mid 90s on, the library started incorporating more IT [information technology] kind of things,” Jobe said. “They called the computer lab downstairs the aquarium because there were no windows to see outside, but there were big glass windows looking into the lab that had maybe a dozen computers.”
Getchell served its campus for over 40 years, keeping up with progressing technology as best it could. It housed books, research and more until the university had acquired too much and outgrew its capacity. Abart reports that “thanks to legislative funding, skilled staff and generous support from the public” a new library became an option. With plans approved in 2000, The Knowledge Center opened in August of 2008. Upon opening, Getchell no longer had a useful function to the university and was abandoned. In contrast to Getchell, which was 180,000 square feet, the Knowledge Center spans 295,000 square feet.
“The Knowledge Center is like the Taj Mahal when you walk into it compared to Getchell,” Jobe said. “It’s beautiful in here with panoramic views. But Getchell will always have a special feel to it that the Knowledge Center doesn’t— a feeling that reminds you of the coziness of your grandmother’s living room.”
Lauren Huneycutt can be reached