U of M rare book collection to receive $1.5 million upgrade

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The University of Minnesota has one of the nation's largest rare book collections in the country and keeping those books in good condition is no easy task. But a gift from a longtime supporter of the university library will help keep the unique collection safe for generations to come.

Maxine Wallin’s love of books quickly becomes apparent.

“I don't know, I just always was a reader, sort of an entree to finding out about the world,” said Wallin.

Books are what led her to the university to begin with in the 1940s.

“And so, I thought I better get a degree in library science, so I started working at the circulation department in Walter Library,” said Wallin.

But now this former university librarian is a huge part of the future library upgrade – in her name, no less.

The Maxine Houghton Wallin Special Collections Research Center will be opening in a year, thanks to a $1.5 million gift from the Wallin Foundation.

“So she just loves this,” said Lance Wallin, her son. “She loves the feeling of being in a library. I do. So, when it came time to think about donations and philanthropy, giving to the library was a very natural thing to do.”

“I think it's really more the capacity for really expanding, opening up the walls if you will to the collections,” said Wendy Lougee, university librarian.

Those collections that are mostly kept 85 feet below in what are called the caverns. In a warehouse-sized space, the university stores all the archive collections, documents, letters, maps, old books - all kept at a temperature-controlled 60 degrees.

But the university's rare book collection, containing volumes hundreds of years old and one-of-a-kind handwritten and hand-drawn maps, is still in its own vault two blocks away and four stories up in its own cramped space.

The new center will move those over to join the new bigger archives and open all of it up to better access for students and the public that the current center can't do.

“It doesn't really have the capacity to handle the demand,” said Lougee. “We have researchers from all over the world that come to use these collections.”