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Inside the Icon: Geisel Library

This 47-year-old centerpiece of UC San Diego's campus was designed with head-turning in mind


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Photo by Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Creative Services and Publications

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9500 Gilman Drive,
La Jolla

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The Build

Architect William Leonard Pereira built the library spherically, to bring its patrons as close to books as possible—no book is more than 100 yards or two minutes away from a study point. The original blueprints called for a steel frame, but the university opted for concrete instead when steel prices soared at the brink of the 1970s.

 

Shelf Life

Roughly 2.7 million print volumes reside in Geisel. Upon its opening in 1970, the library housed 80 percent of its books on floors five, six, and seven. Today, the second floor is the most frequented—it’s open 24/5—but the most heavily used books and journals, largely published from 2000 to 2017, are now stowed on the first floor. The oldest book in the UC San Diego Library system is Incipit Orthographia, a treatise on the art of spelling written in 1296 and bound in goat hide.

 

Seeing Seuss

A year after Dr. Seuss’s death in 1991, more than 18,000 of the beloved San Diego artist’s original drawings, sketches, and manuscripts were donated to the the library, which was renamed in his remembrance in 1995. Among the most viewed items in the collection are his political cartoons from the 1940s. Oh, the places you’ll go!

 

Between the Lines

The library is rumored to have no third floor—after all, there’s no signage for it in the elevator or stairs. Student legend has it that the original design didn’t account for the weight of the books, thus leaving one floor empty. In truth, the third floor is technically the concrete forum outside, supporting the top-heavy upper levels.

 

Feeling Famous

The library’s distinctive face can be spotted in the movie Killer Tomatoes Strike Back and in the opening credits of the TV show Simon & Simon. More recently, it supposedly inspired the design of the snow fortress in the film Inception. Off screen, Geisel has hosted talks from figures such as NPR’s Ari Shapiro, Watergate journalist Bob Woodward, and Alexander Butterfield, deputy assistant to President Nixon.

 

Reading Music

A carillon occupies the top of Geisel, gifted to the university in 1989. Longtime employee and UCSD alumnus Scott Paulson serves as the sole carillonneur, chiming opera arias and Iron Maiden songs during public events, as well as commissioned works from UCSD students at noon on the first day of every quarter.

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