View From the Top: Memorial Library

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Downtown Madison and the Capitol
Downtown Madison and the Capitol

by Corinne Burgermeister, Lifestyle Editor

When heading to the library for the first time this semester, I was looking for every way to procrastinate. As I entered an elevator in Memorial Library, I realized the building had nine floors. Having never realized how tall the building was, I was eager to explore.

The ninth floor, as I learned, is home to the Department of Special Collections, one of the nation’s leading collections for history and science. Rare books, manuscripts and other primary sources kept in environmentally controlled vaults are available for students to view. Additionally, the department is home to some pretty remarkable views of the surrounding area – the Red Gym, Memorial Union and Lake Mendota to north and the Capitol and downtown area to the east.

The Red Gym, Memorial Union and Lake Mendota on a snowy day.
The Red Gym, Memorial Union and Lake Mendota on a snowy day.

The Department of Special Collections also features an exhibit about three times a year, and is currently showcasing “Parts and Wholes” which caught my eye. The exhibit examines how small parts relate to larger objects as a whole, and the furthering of research and knowledge. It puts together sequentially how scientists and historians came to learn about things in nature and the body.

Being able to see these original writings (some dating back to the 1800s), makes ordinary things, like my two favorite pieces — coral reef and a bat skeleton, seem much more interesting.

Research on coral reef from the "Parts and Wholes" exhibit
Research on coral reef from the “Parts and Wholes” exhibit

“Parts and Wholes” runs through March and I recommend heading to the top of Memorial to check out the exhibit and the great view… and since many students don’t know about this floor, it also has potential for a quiet study spot during finals week!

The Department of Special Collections is located in room 976 in the Memorial Library and is open from 9 AM to 5 PM Monday through Friday. For additional information visit www.specialcollections.library.wisc.edu.

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