KSL 1996 to Today: Celebrating 25 Years of the Library of the Future

3. Kelvin Smith Library Origins

“As the Intellectual Commons of Case Western Reserve University, The Library of the Future should assume a leading role in strengthening the sense of community on campus by stimulating creativity, facilitating constructive browsing, and providing an atmosphere conducive to the interaction among faculty, students, and staff. As a gateway to integrated networks of multimedia information services, the Library of the Future should provide appropriate access to the information resources of the world.”

Case Western Reserve University’s Committee on the Library of the Future’s Vision Statement, 1991


With an increase in competition for students in the 1980s institutions of higher education clamored to provide “college experiences” by creating aesthetically unified campuses and offering more amenities. In response to this, Case Western Reserve (CWRU) created its first master plan for a “modern university” with a library building at the campus’s physical epicenter and in close relation to other University Circle institutions. In 1989 CWRU formed the Committee on the Library of the Future consisting of library and university staff, architects, and faculty to shape a library of the future.  The Committee deeply pondered collection acquisitions, emerging technologies, floor plans, shelving, and use of space in formulating a vision for the library of the future. In May of 1991, the Committee issued this vision that the concept for CWRU’S library would be a combination of function and tradition while embracing change.

The Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation contributed 24.5 million dollars for this library of the future, part of CWRU’S master plan and capital campaign, endeavored in 1988, for a “modern university.” Kelvin Smith Library (KSL) is named for alumnus (1922) Kelvin Smith (1899-1984), a founder and president of the chemical company Lubrizol. The namesake of Kelvin Smith for CWRU’S main library is fitting given Kelvin Smith’s dedication to arts and sciences research and education.

The construction of KSL began in 1994 and the building was opened in 1996. Completing the building was one task, physically combining the operations, staff, and collections of 1.3 million volumes from Sears and Freiberger Libraries was a true accomplishment. KSL, CWRU’s Library of the Future, was dedicated on September 8, 1996.

KSL was designed by the architectural firm Hartman-Cox with a traditional Neoclassical fa├žade of Indiana limestone and granite to compliment KSL’s prominent neighbors, The Cleveland Museum of Art and Severance Hall. The interior of KSL, designed by Bluden Barclay Robie Associates, is light and airy with an abundance of windows and natural light that is enhanced by white walls with light-colored wood trim and a dramatic staircase crowned by a skylight. The Ohio Department of Development’s Tourism Ohio named KSL the “Best Looking College Library in Ohio” in 2021.


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