skip to page content | skip to main navigation

This December, Meyer Library turned 40! From its early days as the Undergraduate Library to its current role as home of Academic Computing and the 24 hour study room, Meyer has always been a hub of student activity. On December 1st, SULAIR celebrated the building's many years of service with an Open House. Our featured speaker was Stewart Brand, who discussed "How Buildings Learn," with special reference to Meyer. Other events included a paper airplane contest, library tours (including the mysterious 3rd floor and the East Asia Library), and musical performances.

To view Stewart Brand's talk, download and view the video below:

Screenshot of Stewart Brand and Mike Keller
Quicktime mp4 file (240 MB)

We want to hear the stories our alumni, students and staff have to tell about Meyer Library and the things that happened there. Did you meet your future mate in the stacks? Did you participate in one of the many pranks that took place in the light well? Whether it happened four years ago or forty, we want to know. Submit your memories through the form below and we'll post them to the celebration website.

December 06, 2006

One last memory!

As our final entry, we have a submission from Carol Turner. It has been great fun pulling these remembrances together, and I hope you all enjoyed the party!


Meyer staff participated in the first Earth Day in several ways. One was building a giant display of cereal boxes and other “litter” (things that shouldn’t trash the earth) on the first floor. The pile was quite dramatic – but even more so when some students set it on fire. Ever after, there were many rules about having proper fire retardant on holiday trees and anything else combustible.
I also remember Meyer activities during the Vietnam sit-ins. We served as go-betweens with Western Union and students who wanted to send telegrams to government officials. We also posted teletype printouts of the latest news. And, there was one night when there was a big and rather violent march across campus that police had Meyer entirely surrounded. Those of us inside had to wait until all march activity was well past the building.
Wow, makes me feel very old!!!
Hope the celebration was terrific.

December 01, 2006

Birthday Memories from Liz Salzer

Today's second entry is a birthday message from Liz Salzer:

I was the Head of the Meyer Library from September 1975 to September 1985. I'd like to officially wish the J. Henry Meyer Memorial Library a Happy 40th Birthday!
In the years that I spent at Meyer, a large portion of my time was devoted to "the building." The large center atrium (the "well") was open, when I arrived; and, after years of discussion, it was closed before I left. I have memories of the paper airplane contests, the band, and some of the skits that were staged in the well. Most of these were good fun, although when the band got out of hand, I had to work with other University administrators to change their performance venue to the closed west entrance bridge. However,I also remember concerns about garbage, books, and furniture that were thrown over at various times. We had concerns that someday a student or other library user might be seriously hurt, not to mention the damage to University property.
I also remember the Meyer bats. They would fly around the well, and some students would want them controlled immediately; others were very upset that the County's Animal Control picked them up and tested them for rabies, putting them to death in the process. As far as I know, we never had a rabid bat; but there were always concerns about this and the health hazard of bat droppings around the outside of the building. Some years there were more bats than others. In one heavy bat year, the staff took to putting upside down wastebaskets over bats that were crawling around on the floor. This was a particularly common practice at night, because the Animal Control people usually waited until morning to come and collect the bats. Most of the time, the staff would tape a sign on the wastebasket that said something like "bat inside;" but since all the night staff, and many of the students using the library, knew what an upside down wastebasket meant, sometimes if it was busy, people might forget the label.
I remember that we had hired a new daytime employee. I think it was her first week on the job, and she came into work one morning and saw an upside down wastebasket in the well. I suppose her plan was to pick things up for the day, but she started to turn an unmarked upside down wastebasket over. I was crossing the lobby on my way to my office; and several other staff were in the area, either behind the Circulation Desk or coming from the photocopier. We all immediately headed toward the wastebasket from different direction, yelling in a near single voice, something like: "Don't turn it over! There's a bat inside!." The poor woman stopped dead in her tracks, but she didn't quit; and she soon adapted to our "bat procedures."
Although the building looms large in memory, it's also important to remember that Meyer was in the forefront of a number of things that are now considered routine in academic libraries. It was also the site of some experiments that taught us what wouldn't work.
In the years that I worked at Stanford, the Meyer librarians provided more library instruction than most of the other SUL units. We had librarians who worked with colleagues in what was then called CIT to create one of the early computer games to help students develop their library skills.
We also used BALLOTS for course reserve in Meyer. BALLOTS of course was a forerunner of RLIN. I was on the Task Force that helped create SOCRATES, a very sophisticated online catalog for its day. On the other hand, while I was at Meyer, I played a role in at least three attempts to automate circulation operations (which many other institutions had done years before); but, when I left, circulation operations were as antiquated as when I arrived ten years earlier.
One of the "grand Meyer experiments" was the book catalog, the famous, or infamous, "Meyer Catalog." I was not a part of the decision to create the catalog; but I spent an incredible amount of time dealing with its problems. The theory behind the catalog was not a bad one. In the 60's, most libraries had card catalogs as the main access to their resources. These were located in a single place, and you had to go to the library to access them; and of course you could only use them when the library was open. Also, for large collections, catalogs had become extremely complicated and idiosyncratic over the years; and they certainly weren't "user friendly." Those planning Meyer sought to address these problems and to create a computerized catalog that could be bound as a book and located in many places, including student residences. It would also be easy and simple to use.
By the time I arrived at Meyer, however, the catalog, which I think was originally to have been issued annually with quarterly supplements, was sadly out of date. It didn't have a high priority for production by those in charge of the computers; and the simple, short format for bibliographic entries wasn't standard. As cataloging increasingly captured records from large bibliographic utilities and standardized them nationally, Meyer's cataloging, which should have been very straightforward (mostly current titles in English) became about the most complicated and labor-intensive cataloging at Stanford, as we had to strip standard elements from records to fit the book catalog format. While all this was going on, we continued to add new books to the collection that weren't available in the catalog. The staff became quite adept at guessing call numbers, searching files for the numbers other libraries had assigned to books, etc. We sure proved that the book catalog was not th!e wave of the future, but we never created a card catalog for Meyer. Instead, we led the test of Socrates, which provided many searching options not available in either the card or book catalogs, and also fulfilled the promise of the book catalog to have access to collections without coming to the library.
One of Meyer's more successful "technological innovations" occurred near the end of my years at Stanford. This was the "Macs." Stanford joined the Apple Consortium, and Meyer became one of the very first libraries to put computers out in open reading and collections areas. The Meyer staff really thought that I'd gone "over the edge," when I agreed to this project. They were sure we'd have many complaints about noise; students would want assistance they couldn't provide; the machines would break down, etc. I told them we'd deal with the problems if, and when, they came up. Of course, problems did come up; but they usually weren't the ones that the staff had anticipated. I don't remember any complaints from students about having computers in reading areas; but we got lots of complaints about printers - too slow, not enough, out of paper, etc. The earliest "Macs" were pretty simple to use, and the students helped each other out. Today, we'd probably call this "collaborative learning;" and USC takes credit for coining the phrase "Information Commons," a little over a decade ago; but I still think that Stanford and Meyer were out ahead on this one; and of course today, we'd be hard-pressed to find an academic library that doesn't have public computers (and other technology) mixed in with books, study spaces, etc.
In some ways, I think Meyer's been a little like the student who keeps changing majors and delaying graduation. It has changed directions several times - sometimes more successfully than others. Like a lot of the academic library buildings built in the 1960's its not a very flexible design; but it still keeps getting reinvented. If walls could talk, I'm sure that Meyer's would have a lot to say about the changes (and constants) in students, technology, universities, and libraries, over the last four decades.
Happy Birthday Meyer!
Elizabeth M. "Liz" Salzer
University Librarian
Santa Clara University
former Olga Meyer and Alice Meyer Buck Chair, Stanford University Libraries

Memories from Tom Wellnitz

We have two submissions today. Tom Wellnitz remembers the many band performances in Meyer.

I worked as night circulation manager for two years, first my senior year and then full time in 1979 and 1980. We certainly saw all sorts of the pranks. I remember a zip line across the open top, certainly something like the Tarzan leap, our collection of rappellers. All made the mad ten 0'clock rush to check out reserve materials overnight more tolerable.
I worked the weekend when the stacks of the then Green Library annex in the basement flooded. Then I was a student supervisor in charge of the building with one librarian who came one duty an hour after the library opened on Saturday. I was one of the first people to know of the flood.
The best memory came in spring of 1980. We had a number of band members on the library staff. At that time, the band was on some level of probation, (what else is new) and were prohibited from performing in the library. A bunch of seniors approached the evening weekend circulation staff about playing one more time in the library. All three of us knew we had no plans to be working at the library for more than three more months, so we aided and abetted the plan. We all had found memories of band performances, and actually enjoyed them even when we were policing them.
The band members agreed to come in, perform for 15 minutes and leave. They would not mention the performance, there would be no photographs (sure try this in the age of cell phone cameras). We the circulation staff would take care of making sure other details were lost or forgotten, including altering the student count from the turnstyle so it looked like just a quiet Saturday before finals.
The appointed Saturday night came, there were a couple of hundred more students in the building than usual on a Saturday night because I am sure the band members told all their friends. The band lined the atrium, played their 15 minutes and left. I suspect this may have been the last band performance in the library because the plexiglass went up sometime with in the next 12-18 months.

November 29, 2006

Stewart Brand - How Buildings Learn

Friday's festivities will feature a presentation by Stanford alum Stewart Brand.


He'll be talking about "How Buildings Learn", and you can see a sneak peak on his website:

Stewart's talk on Friday will give special attention to Meyer Library, and how it has learned over the years.

November 27, 2006

Rappeling For Glory

David Redwine, of the Class of 1970, has a very exciting memory of Meyer library.

My fraternity brother, David Strausz, and I decided we would rappel down the middle atrium of UGLI during finals week. We scoped out the joint beforehand and determined where we could change (a restroom on the top floor), what we would anchor to (a large pillar not far from the edge of the balcony), how much rope we would need, and we planned a diversion using our fraternity brothers in Theta Chi who would march around on the second floor below playing "Here comes the band" on kazoos. We rehearsed in the living room of the fraternity house until everyone became comfortable with their roles. We swore everyone to secrecy and waited for the time. On the appointed night, we made our way to UGLI with our gear in backpacks. On the way, it seemed that there was a real stream of students toward the building. We asked a passing student why it seemed so busy outside. "Oh, a couple of guys are going to rappel down the middle from the 4th floor at 8 o'clock and everyone's going to watch! Haven't you heard?" We thought to ourselves, "Oh, great", but felt compelled to soldier on. We went into the building and it was an absolute zoo. People were standing because there was no place to sit. Student police were everywhere. Everyone was talking in a party mode, and there was no library atmosphere whatsoever. Everyone was looking toward the atrium. There were probably 200 people at least on each floor. We went to the top floor and went into the bathroom and began to put on our belts and ropes. A guy came in to use the facilities and looked at us and said "You're the ones." We nodded and hoped he wouldn't tell. We waited at the door. The kazoo band began to play down below and everyone immediately rushed to the balcony. We ran out and wrapped the rope around the anchor and went toward the balcony. We had to wade our way through the crowd, saying "Excuse me, we have to get over the side." We fought off a student police person and went over the edge, hanging there and dropping our ropes to the floor. We leaned back and put our feet against the wall and dropped down to the 3rd level, then to the second level. At that level, we began weaving our ropes by jumping around each other for a while, then dropped to the ground floor where student police rounded us up and took our names then let us go. There was a lot of noise and applause and I suppose people had difficulty studying. David and I were called before the student court a week or two later but really didn't get into trouble. My homeroom teacher in high school thought I would turn out to be a juvenile delinquent, and she was almost right if our rappeling incident is any evidence. But now I'm a gynecologist, which I guess is sort of the same thing!

Unfortunately, the lightwell is now glassed in, we will not be able to recreate this stunt at the anniversary party on Friday. But there will still be plenty of fun and games. Download the PDF of the agenda here: Download file See you there!

November 22, 2006


The agenda for the festivities on December 1st is now final! There's a lot going on, so plan ahead!

Download the PDF here: Download file

More Construction Stories

Linda Garrett also remembers Meyer Library when it was under construction.

My father, Ray Benton, was the superintendent on the construction of the Meyer Library. I was 15 and a half years old when the foundation was first dug into the ground and had my learner's permit to drive -- my father would let me drive his pick-up truck, with the stick shift in the steering column, all around the job site, down into the basement area and back up the dirt ramp, around and around, while he did the Saturday payroll work in his trailer. Although I have other memories of Saturdays with my Dad at Stanford while the library was being built, the memory of driving around in that pick-up truck is my most vivid. As a Cal Berkeley graduate, I've had the pleasure of attending the Big Game at Stanford several times over the years, and I always stop at the Meyer Library for a visit!

Thanks for the memory, Linda. We may even forgive you for attending Berkeley.

©2006 The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.