At 50, a makeover behind the mural

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

When the Notre Dame Memorial Library opened on September 18, 1963, then-University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, predicted it would become “a real center of excellence in higher learning in the very heart of America.”

The library’s founder then added, “It must be the place where students of the future will be delighted to spend many hours of every day.” Fifty years later, the building holds a fond place in many Domers’ hearts, but students are spending less time there. Patrons use words like “ugly,” “old,” “dark,” “dreary” and “unwelcoming.”

“If there was ever a call for action, I think this is it,” says Diane Parr Walker, the Edward H. Arnold University Librarian.

As it celebrates its golden anniversary, the iconic library renamed for Hesburgh in 1987 and best known for the towering image of Christ the Teacher on its Word of Life mural is undergoing a total renovation. Walker sees the multiple-phase project as a renewal of the library’s mission to “connect people to knowledge across time and space.”

Walker says the basement renovation completed in 2003 will stand, though some square footage will convert into climate-controlled storage for rare materials. Meanwhile, an Au Bon Pain café and the Fishbowl, an open room designed for the study habits of the 21st century, have transformed the concourse.

Proposals in the master plan include a facelift to make Rare Books and Special Collections more inviting; a two-story grand reading room; a new music library; modifications to make the stacks more appealing; and a vertical extension of the entrance gallery that would flood the second floor with natural light and views of the Library Quad.

New this fall is the Center for Digital Scholarship. The center will amp up efforts to digitize unique collections while supporting the academy’s demand for managing, mining, visualizing and analyzing the proliferation of massive data sets available to today’s scholars.

The anniversary website,, offers details on the lectures and celebrations planned throughout the academic year.

John Nagy is an associate editor of this magazine.