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28 October 2012

Richter Library celebrates 50 years with laughs, rare artifacts

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President Donna E. Shalala (center) was among those in attendance for Richter Library’s 50th anniversary event Friday evening. Courtesy Jenny Breu 

In celebration of its 50th anniversary, Richter Library was transformed Friday evening from a bustling hub for hard-at-work students to an elegant party venue for donors, board members and supporters.

“You can’t have a great university without a great library, and you can’t have a great city without a great university,” said guest John Paul Russo, professor of English and classics at UM.

Besides hors d’oeuvres, live music and mingling, the event featured an interview session with renowned humor columnist Dave Barry, conducted by UM President Donna E. Shalala.

“If I had known they served wine and beer at the library, I would’ve spent a lot more time there,” Barry said.

The audience rippled with laughter as Shalala and Barry explored topics ranging from politics to the whale carcass that was exploded by dynamite in a messy attempt to remove it from the Oregon coast in 1970.

“What happened is gravity,” Barry said.

Barry was not the only one soliciting laughs. When he said one shouldn’t touch jokes about rape or the Holocaust, Shalala added, “unless you’re running for office.”

The guests in the audience, who were by invitation only, included those who have provided financial support and material donations to the library’s collections.

Luckily for students who were not able to enjoy the wine bar at Friday’s event, there are other reasons to hang out at “Club Richter,” which opened in 1962 and was named for the late Otto G. Richter.

With access to online databases, study rooms, computer workstations, a print collection of more than 3 million volumes and thousands of rare materials, Richter has a lot to offer.

“It’s a miracle,” said Dean of Libraries Bill Walker, who also spoke on Friday. “In 50 short years we have built one of the most important information resources in the country.”

Walker has served as dean since 2003 and will be stepping down from his position next spring.

On display at the event were artifacts like a slave register from 1824, a 16th century manuscript of religious poems and a 1933 letter from aviator Charles Lindbergh, which are all part of Richter’s Special Collections.

The library even has its own conservation lab to ensure preservation of this fragile material.

Richter may house items from other centuries, but according to Walker, the library has successfully kept up with the times.

“Richter Library is among the most modern of any library at a university in the United States,” he said to the guests.

Another source of pride for the library and UM is the Cuban Heritage Collection, a key center for material from colonial times to the present.

“We are the best place to learn about Cuba,” said Esperanza de Varona, chair of the Cuban Heritage Collection. “This was my dream when I started working here.”

One of the guests in attendance on Friday was Judy Weiser, whose husband was on the Board of Trustees for more than 20 years and passed away last year.

“Richter meant so much to him,” she said. “And I think it means so much to the community.”

Guest after guest referred to the library as “the soul of the university.”

As Friday’s event came to a close, partygoers walked out with a healthy dose of laughter, a complimentary mug and good company.

Celebrations for Richter’s 50th anniversary will continue throughout the fall semester with ongoing exhibits and events.

“It’s a cool place,” Shalala said. “We’ve made libraries cool.”