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Throw Open the Doors

After 42 years, iconic entrance to Deering Library will reopen

By Janet Olson
Northwestern University Archives

On Friday, Oct. 26, a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:30 p.m. will mark the reopening of Deering Library's iconic wooden doors to the community and return Deering to its proper place as a symbol of Northwestern University and a centerpiece of campus life.

Ah, the subliminal symbolism of Deering Library! How many alums who fondly remember studying in Deering actually noticed the design elements that were so carefully chosen to encourage a desire to grow in wisdom? The collegiate-Gothic architectural style; the Latin mottoes referring to reading and knowledge; the flower-and-fruit tracery hinting at the fruitfulness of research; and, of course, the images depicted in the stained-glass windows—all of these not-so-subtle references, artfully embedded into Deering when it opened in 1933, embodied a vision of the library as a haven for learning.

Today Deering Library remains an iconographic delight, but in different ways. Now the building itself is an icon, its silhouette arguably the most recognizable representation of Northwestern, aside from University Hall (and Willie the Wildcat). The details that make Deering so endearing to alums include the worn marble steps that symbolize their own hard-won path to education; the quirky, confessional-style phone booths that predate the cellphone era; and even the austere basement, once a noisy, smoke-filled hangout.

Current students, however, see another set of symbols in Deering. To them the Gothic detailing is reminiscent of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And we certainly couldn’t argue with the younger generation’s interpretation of a library as a magical place.

But everyone agrees that the most recognizable symbols of Deering’s iconic status are the majestic yet welcoming front doors which open onto Deering Meadow, the setting for generations of ceremonies, reunions, concerts, rallies and—these days—Ultimate Frisbee tournaments.

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