Dazzling Union, state-of-the-art Library, new era at UND
With ceremonies marking Chester Fritz Library’s Grand Reopening and Memorial Union’s Dedication, new chapter in UND’s history begins
In a library, the biggest of big things – like the Internet, gateway to the world – can be life-changing.
And sometimes, the smallest of small things can be, too.
Eric Link, UND Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, told a story making that point during the ceremony marking the Chester Fritz Library’s Grand Reopening on Oct. 22. That event and the Memorial Union Dedication, which immediately followed, were attended by top UND and UND Student Government leaders and were among the highlights of an especially busy Homecoming Week.
Grand Reopening of the Chester Fritz Library
Link started by noting the inscription over the doors to the library in the tomb complex of Ramses II, in Egypt: “Psyches Iatreion,” or “the Healing Place of the Soul.”
“This is the place where humanity may come and discover new things, learn new things and reinvent the world,” Link said.
Along those lines, Link recalled the academic research he conducted as a young scholar of American literature. At one point, he found himself “deep in the uncharted, lost nooks and crannies of a large University archive,” searching for an especially obscure – but vital to his work – piece of information.
“I would hand-crank my way through just roll after roll of microfilm on this quest,” he said.
Then late one night, as he fed one more from his stack of microfilms through the reader, there it was. He found the info that he needed, which had been “lost in a journal from about 1815 that had been published in perhaps Philadelphia, in the early days of the Republic,” he said.
“It was hard to read; the microfilm wasn’t a great copy. But it was sitting right there, and of course I was happy to have discovered it.”
Later that night, after Link had gone home, “I felt just elated,” he said.
“I realized that I had discovered something that once had been known 200 years ago, but had been long forgotten – and forgotten in such a way that probably no other person on the planet, at that moment, was aware of this one piece of information.
“That moment was transformational,” Link said.
“Because I really came to appreciate the joy of discovery, and the joy of the quest for knowledge. And that’s what the library offers us.”
Gift that keeps giving
Chester Fritz himself would agree, said Stephanie Walker, dean of libraries and information resources at UND.
In 1958, Fritz gave UND a million dollars for a new library. “Fritz thought of his gift of the library as being for the campus mind, and the auditorium – for which he donated a second million four years later – as being for the campus heart,” Walker said.
UND’s first library dates back to the university’s opening in 1884. That library was a single room, but of course, all of UND at the time was only a single building, Walker noted.
Chester Fritz’s gifts not only built the current library, but also helped pay for periodic expansions and renovations – including the one that was celebrated Friday, which was the most extensive upgrade since 1981, Walker said.
The renovated library has a new layout, new flooring and furniture, and new technology. That technology includes not only a virtual reality lab and 3D printing facilities, but also the offices of University IT.
And when you remember that the original library and even its 1981 expansion predate the age of personal computers almost entirely, you’ll appreciate the scale of that advance, Walker said.
As Madhavi Marasinghe, UND’s chief information officer, put it, “technology was front and center” when the University renovated the Chester Fritz Library.
That’s because “these days, technology touches everything that we do,” Marasinghe continued. “It’s part of our lives. So having robust technology allows us to create spaces where our community can innovate, get their hands dirty with new technology and let the creative juices flow.”
And that’s exactly what the newly renovated library enables, Marasinghe said.
Memorial Union dedication
On a campus full of standout structures, the new Memorial Union stands out even more, said UND President Andy Armacost at the Union’s dedication ceremony.
That’s in part because the building itself is so magnificent, but even more because the people who are paying for most of the Union’s construction costs are UND students.
“On Nov. 20, 2018, UND students voted to support funding for a new Memorial Union,” Armacost said at the ceremony.
“It was a bold statement that signaled not only their commitment to the university and its strategic priorities, but also a vision for those who would follow in their footsteps.
“Today, we can see and experience firsthand what this new addition means to our campus,” Armacost continued.
“And I cannot express enough the gratitude that we have for our students for shouldering this responsibility, and for all those who have supported this endeavor.”
Gracie Lian, UND Student Body President during the 2019-20 academic year, current UND graduate student and current member of the State Board of Higher Education, was among the past and present Student Government leaders who attended the ceremony and were saluted.
Recalling her own days as a UND student senator in 2018, lobbying in advance of the Union vote, “there were a lot of students who really disagreed with raising fees for a new Union,” Lian said at the ceremony, which was held in the Union’s Fireside Lounge.
“But thankfully, a lot more loved the idea of investing in a building that would serve students for years to come – even if they were going to pay some extra fees for a building that they were never going to get to see and use themselves as students.”
Today, the energy that surges daily through the new building practically makes the place glow, Lian said.
“Students are proud to be here, alums are proud to be here. During the UND/NDSU football weekend, (UND Associate Dean of Students) Cassie Gerhardt and I were sitting here, and we gave a few impromptu tours to alums who would come through.
“They were in awe; it was wonderful.”
One other element that stands out is the feature that the new Memorial Union shares with the old: the building’s name.
“Students decided to keep the name because of what it embodies,” Lian said.
“The Memorial Union is a recognition of the students and the alums who have died in service to our country,” she said. “They dedicated themselves to our nation, so that we can stand in buildings such as this one and learn and flourish and grow. …
“And I urge anyone who has not yet taken the time to do so, to go up to the Second Floor and look at the display with the American flag and plaque,” Lian continued.
“It’s a powerful reminder of why this is the Memorial Union.”