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UEA Library – What came before?

UEA welcomed its first students in 1963 and the Library building as we know it was officially opened on 25 October 1968. It has stood solidly for 50 years in the centre of the Plain. Six floors of grey concrete offering a wealth of rich resources. Yet there is an earlier period in the history of UEA Library, 1963-1968, which pre-dates our building, a time when the Library was sited in the Jacobean Hall and then in the Georgian dining room at Earlham Hall (1963) and later in the Village (1964-1968).

UEA Library at Earlham Hall c. Eastern Daily Press

At the start of the academic year in 1963 there were only two schools of study: Biological Sciences and English Studies. The 87 undergraduates and 27 graduates had access to 16,000 volumes and the library was staffed by 10.

A year later in August 1964 the Library was moved to a former common room block in the prefabricated campus which became known as ’The Village’ across Earlham Road. Subject areas now numbered six, each occupying its own room. Off this was a central and rather noisy concourse area in which the catalogue and issue desk were situated. It was not always that comfortable:

In a letter to his family on 7/10/65, Adrian Smith, an alumnus from BIO writes: ‘Life is hectic … with another 400 new faces it’s hopeless, and people try to work in the library perched on the radiators – just as I recall they used to when the same rooms were the Common Rooms of 2 yrs ago.’

UEA.SMI.68On 5/1/66 he writes: ‘The library closes at 5pm which is frustrating for all concerned.’

Adrian would be pleased to know that the Library is now open 24/7, 365. Fortunately this did not put him off as he went on to become Biological Sciences Librarian in Leeds University Library (1969-2009) and credits the subject-qualified librarians at UEA for being model examples.


The Village. Copyright UEA

UEA Archives holds 89 letters and postcards written by Adrian to his family as a young student in the 1960s. More about the letters.

On 19 February 1968 the Library was finally relocated to its permanent home designed in concrete by Denys Lasdun, on the campus we recognise today.

UEA Library at 50 (1968-2018). Memories #3

More magical memories of a library regarded with reverential awe. A retreat from which to reflect on relationships, and those disappearing stairs!

“I guess I was aware that the library was brand new when I first started making use of it in October 1968. But since everything in the campus was new or nearly new it didn’t really make much impression. Of course, the fact that the thick carpets that covered every floor gave off electric shocks throughout that first year – and for some time after – was another indicator of its newness if I’d cared to think about it.

For me – and I think a number of my friends – the great virtue of the library was that it offered a retreat, a sort of cocoon, from the harshness and strangeness of much of the university life that swirled around it. Here you could just sit – in welcome warmth – and focus on work. Desperate crushes, overbearing tutors, disastrous relationships, suicidal thoughts and more could all be put on hold while you immersed yourself in John Ruskin and the arts and crafts movement …

The best locations in the library were – as now – in the concrete cubicles by the window. Most of these were taken early in the day, which meant thereafter you had to gravitate to the tables next to the bookshelves. That did mean fewer distractions though. While ensconced in a cubicle I watched just about every stage of the building works that turned the idyllic grassy slope opposite into yet more concrete – a reflection, of course, of the university’s ever-expanding student population. We also attempted to work through the drilling and disruption involved in the extension of the library. And we witnessed more puzzling bits of construction, like the short flight of steps built over the course of a few weeks by the side of the library, which then simply disappeared. I never discovered what that was about – but it was certainly a welcome source of entertainment.”
Andrew (English and American Studies, 68)

LIB walkway from greetings card“I came to UEA in October 1968 so the library was brand new. I loved it as I loved all the buildings on what we then knew as the Plain. I had never experienced architecture like it, it was new and exciting and quite wonderful. I remember hours spent in the hushed, almost reverent atmosphere of the library researching and writing my essays and if the carpet gave me frequent electric shocks I didn’t care, to me it was magical. I do remember though that when I was showing around my sister’s French pen pal she asked me if the building was finished!”
Diana (English and American Studies, 68-71)

UEA.S.2.57“I have fond memories of the library, despite the draughty metal window frames in the winter! Not only was it a pleasant place to study and big enough to find a quiet spot with a PC even on Sundays (no snack or coffee facilities then so we had to go to Breakers for a tea break). It was also a handy place to meet friends and a place to look out of the windows overlooking the lake and reflect on e.g. the sorry state of my love-life. It may or may not have had an undue influence on my choice of career as a professional librarian but it was the first place I encountered the joys of the ISI BIDS bibliographic database (now Web of Science) and Sight & Sound magazine. It seemed a pain at the time to have to leave bags in lockers in the basement and submit to book checks by the porter at the exit each time but that probably ensured that the Library would reach its 50th anniversary in a better condition than its more modern peers.”
Tim (European Studies, 96)

UEA.S.1.2.42 1973“I graduated from MAP in 1971, so I guess that makes me one of the original users of the library. At the risk of minimising its academic importance, my main memory is of being able to read the main national newspapers every day. This resulted in me becoming a lifelong Times reader – sorry Guardian and The Telegraph!”
Keith (Maths and Physics, 71)

Share your memories of the Library with us

UEA Library’s 50th Anniversary


UEA Library at 50 (1968-2018). Memories #2

We’re pleased to share more delightful memories of the Library from alumni. Some are still returning to do a spot of quiet work, and others wish they could. Described as an ‘essential-to-visit place’ and a ’place much loved’ this is every bit true in 2018 as it was in earlier decades. The Library continues to provide a warm welcome and receives around 1.5 million visits and over 6 million digital visits each year. 


‘This was my favourite spot – what a gorgeous view. Those were the days.’ Penny (4th year French language UG). 27 October 2014

“I remember the Library as an essential-to-visit place and regarded it with reverential awe. There was a quiet, efficient order to the place where everybody whispered and said ‘Thank You’ even after paying the fine for late return of borrowed books! I discovered the EPW [Economic and Political Weekly] there and wondered, how come being from India I hadn’t even heard of this ‘genius in print’ before? Anyway, our course made us read and refer to EPW frequently and I think one of the gifts I took away from the Library was a lifelong addition to this weekly. There was much photocopying to be got done, the money for which was ill-advisedly given to us in one go at the beginning of the course, and soon vanished in more urgent calling (and need) for evening beers after a whole day of rural development many of us never knew ‘existed’! To cut corners we formed a little group of four, in similar circumstances, and so shared the photocopied burden. The Library was a good place to soak in the winter sun if one luckily got a ‘window’ seat! I do not remember if one was allowed to take coffee or snacks inside, but I hope this is permitted now?”
Vinay (Masters in Rural Development 89-90)


Derek helped build the first extension, 1974.

“Having completed a successful year in CHE, I started again at UEA in EUR in 1972. Hence, I was still at UEA in 1974 when the extension was started. Coincidentally, my vacation job that Summer was with RG Carter who had the contract to extend the library and I spent several weeks helping to create the new building.”
Derek (CHE & EUR, 71-74)

Many people make many different contributions to UEA but not many students can say they have actually contributed by helping to erect the university buildings! Thanks Derek.

“I loved using the library for studying. I would book a carrel overlooking the lake and set myself up for the day. Being able to lock the space meant I could enjoy lunch down in the Bowl before ambling back up to my “office” to carry on.

More recently, I’ve occasionally used the same quiet, distraction-free atmosphere to work on scheduling the timetable for the school where I work!”
Simon (EUR 98)

“Coming to UEA as a mature student with a long track record of academic failure, the library mainly intimidated me. It took some getting used to but eventually became a regular refuge. What I most remember – and treasured at the time – was holing up in one of the airless basement rooms with one or other of the BBC Shakespeare videos and a notepad. Yup. Not even DVDs in those days. Having access to high-quality performances of the plays, on demand, was a priceless resource as I attempted to get my head around the enormity of King Lear, for example. [Grateful to] Michael Hordern [actor] and the fact that someone at UEA had the wisdom to acquire the tapes in the first place. And Tony Gash [Snr Lecturer, LDC] for his endless generosity. Thank you.”
Nick (EUR 89 and EAS 90)

“Just to lower the tone …

I remember one lad putting an item in the student newspaper of his first impressions of UEA: ‘Library loos at UEA are made for lads with egg-shaped ar**s!’ The seats were indeed an unusual egg-shape.


Exhibitions were held throughout the 70s and 80s. From Human Clay (1977) to Modern British Photography (1980)

I recall one of the porters on duty, a short, older man, who would regale us in the quieter evening hours with tales of his time in the military police; he was amiable enough, but you didn’t mess with him and try and smuggle books out illicitly!

I also recall some very colourful art exhibitions on the ground floor.

Oh, and I think they had one or two books, but usually the ones you wanted were out!”
Graham (SOC 69-72)

“UEA library was a great library, very welcoming. Especially so when the book on the shelf, the one I wanted to read, had uncut pages (as some European books were bound this way at the time).


‘Grey matter’

I’m sure spending as much time in the library as I did contributed to my choosing a career as a librarian, first in London, then in Solomon Islands and Fiji. My work in Fiji took me to nearly all Pacific island countries and territories, where I carried out training and provided advice on agricultural libraries.

Anyway, I recall that there were some unusually witty graffiti artists in and around the library at the time (1974–1978):

  1. The wit who wrote on one of the concrete pillars outside, ‘Grey matter’
  2. The wit who drew two squares, side by side, on their ends, on the toilet cubicle wall, with the comment ‘Balls to Picasso’
  3. And the same wit, probably, whose comment on the toilet paper that was not just an off-white colour, but had a distinct yellow tinge, ‘I’ve heard of recycling but this is ridiculous'”
    Peter (EUR 74)

Constructing the Library extension in 2004

“I have such fond memories of revising for my finals in Spring/Summer 2004. There was a lot of building work taking place on campus at the time, and I found it provided the perfect white noise focus soundtrack for my revision. I loved sequestering myself in one of the study cubbies, or working with a view over campus from the top floor.”
Graham (BIO 01-04)

Share your memories of the Library with us


UEA Library at 50 (1968-2018). Memories #1

Alumni have been sharing their heart-warming memories. They’ve described the Library as ‘calm’, ‘comfortable’, ‘electrifying’, ‘the pinnacle of luxury’. It’s been viewed with reverential awe, provided great views, shaped careers, forged friendships and so much more.

We’ve also gathered some more general responses from UEA questionnaires, where the Library comes up time and again as a great space, a favourite memory, an enjoyable place to study and as a recommended place to get to know.

Across five decades the Library continues to leave a wide range of enduring impressions. Never static, it’s evolved with its users and continues to look forward.

“UEA library has a special magic to it. It’s where I became not ‘someone who wanted to write a novel’ but ‘a writer’.”
Naomi (MA in Creative Writing, Prose Fiction 03)

“My very first study visit to the Library was at the end of September, 1968. It was an electrifying experience. The combination of synthetic stair carpet and steel handrails gave me an immediate and startling static shock. The experience was often repeated – for me and for others – in those early days!”
Frank (English and American Studies 68-71)

“I was at UEA as an undergraduate 66-69 studying English and American Literature, and stayed to read for a doctorate, with Malcolm Bradbury as my tutor. In November 1970 my daughter Polly was born at home at 13 Suffolk Walk. My wife Penny was doing an MA. I regularly put Poll in her 1950s princess pram outside Suffolk Walk, and checked that she was safe from the windows of my carrel on the top floor of the library. It would be seen as irresponsible and a major risk now – then it was an opportunity for her to meet dozens of Suffolk terrace undergraduates. It was of course distracting, and my PhD was never finished.”
Alan (English and American Literature 66-69)

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“I have such fond memories of revising for my finals in Spring/Summer 2004. There was a lot of building work taking place on campus at the time, and I found it provided the perfect white noise focus soundtrack for my revision. I loved sequestering myself in one of the study cubbies, or working with a view over campus from the top floor.”
Graham (Biological Sciences 01-04)

“I LOVED the library! It had a wonderfully calm atmosphere. The building is well designed with light, open spaces, where you still feel very much part of the life of the university and also private little corners, where you can be alone.

I wish I lived nearer to UEA now, so that I could pop in to the library for some ‘me time’ every now and then.”
Anne (European Studies 88-92, PGCE 94-95)

“Loved the design and views. Spent too much time gazing at countryside. Loved good quality headphones and turntables. Great classical music (as soc sec I got lots of free albums from London but needed opera fix). Loved the chairs in magazine area. Discovered New Yorker magazine for first time. Been based in NYC since 1980. Lastly the coffee machine in the strange subterranean alcove mini lounge near where Nexus TV studio opened circa 71.”
Malcolm (Social Studies and European Studies 71-74)

What are your favourite memories of UEA?

“Apart from the events and nights out, I still remember fondly most of the cohort sitting in the library doing a 24hr stint on Industrial Organization coursework, never have I seen that many people trying to work together/hard on a piece of coursework!”
(Economics; currently working in the banking sector)

“The library early in the morning, hiding out in my favourite spot overlooking the broad and burrowing away into essay writing, also I’m surprised about how much I miss the architecture and concrete!”
(Graduate, now Retail Manager)

“Getting lost in the library – mostly because I forgot which floor I was on …”

“No one day stands out, but I always fondly remember strolling back to Waveney Terrace from the Library after an afternoon’s study on warm summer evenings.”
(Retired Telecoms Consultant who attended UEA in the mid ‘70s)

“One summer day after exams, I took a big stack of books down to the lake, sat by the lake and read all day.”

Share your memories of the Library with us

UEA Library’s 50th Anniversary



UEA Library at 50 (1968-2018). Lasdun and Guttsman, key figures in our making

Denys Lasdun (1914-2001) – Architect

Architect of UEA Library, the Ziggurats and the National Theatre.

“I came into the room at the exact point, I think, when the Vice-Chancellor was talking about the final plan. There is no final plan ever in planning, with respect.”¹

Lasdun – the man who loved concrete – proposed building the Library in two phases, with the original block doubling in size to form a near square.

Early years
Lasdun enrolled as a student at the Architectural Association in 1932. His interests included the work of two radical architects, Le Corbusier & Nicholas Hawksmoor; Cubism and contemporary painting. He worked at the office of Wells Coates, architect of the modernist Isokon Flats² in Lawn Road, London; and with Berthold Lubetkin, the leader of England’s Modern movement.³

Denys LasdunHe was appointed UEA architect in 1963 and got on well with the Librarian, Willi Guttsman. Original designs were modified to create a calmer study space and even the more northerly location near Senate House was abandoned to bring the Library away from roads and to leave ample room for expansion.

The Library, when opened for use in 1968, was praised as one of the most spacious and relaxed in atmosphere of any of the new university libraries.4

An energetic run up the main staircase of the Library takes one past a large lightbox portrait of Lasdun in his later years. Surrounded by his favourite concrete he keeps a steady watch.

William Leo (Willi) Guttsman (1920-1998) – Founding Librarian

“Speaking personally I felt exhilarated when sometime in the summer of 1962, after my appointment but before starting work at UEA, I read of Lasdun’s nomination as University Architect. I saw in the selection of someone so committed to the philosophy of architectural modernism as he was, a guarantee that the New Universities, or at least UEA, would be willing to break with tradition and strike out in new directions.”

So spoke Guttsman of his recollections of Lasdun in 19975.


Guttsman could arguably be hailed as the second ‘architect’ of the Library for it was he who had such a direct influence on its final position on campus (a quieter more southerly position away from roads with plenty of surrounding space for expansion), the arrangement of the integrated reading floors and the development of a rich research collection. Lasdun described Guttsman as ‘the most exacting of clients’ yet they got on well.


Guttsman influenced the siting of the Library away from busy roads

Guttsman escaped from Berlin to Britain in 1938. He lost both parents in the Holocaust. He worked at the London School of Economics before coming to UEA in 1962. Victor Morgan6 has described him as an endearingly unselfconscious individual who spoke with a strong German accent, rode a rickety bicycle and had an indecipherable hand. There was also humanity. Willi was never an establishment figure.

His interest in ideas, modern art and architecture projected an image of continental intellectualism, yet Guttsman saw himself as committedly British. A scholar-librarian, he wrote important historical studies on the British ruling elite and German social democracy.

Guttsman has been remembered fondly:

“The Library should have been named ‘The Guttsman Library’, after its remarkable first Librarian. After Willi’s death I tried to get his name attached to the library he’d founded, but in vain.

My chief memory is that when I arrived in 1966 to launch the study of French in EUR, Willi agreed with me that the Library should acquire the complete works of every major French writer (including the ‘Marquis de Sade’). Whereas other university libraries have only patchy representation of French literature, UEA, thanks to Willi, has the lot.”

John Fletcher, author and translator
Professor Emeritus (French and Comparative Literature), UEA
Honorary Senior Research Fellow in French, University of Kent

A portrait of Guttsman hangs in the Silent Reading Room on Floor 02.

1Denys Lasdun in presenting the revised Development Plan to the Executive Committee at an Extra-ordinary meeting held on 30 September 1963.
2The archive of the Isokon Flats is held in UEA Archives.
3Article by Peter Dormer, The Independent, p.20, 25/5/1994.
4The History of the University of East Anglia by Michael Sanderson. 2002.
5Denys Lasdun at UEA: a recollection by W.G. Guttsman, 1997.
6Victor Morgan. Guardian, 20/4/98.

Independent obituary

UEA Library at 50 (1968-2018). Introduction

The Library, a grade II listed building, designed by Denys Lasdun and Partners, has repeatedly extended and transformed itself to meet the rapidly changing needs of its users. On the 50th anniversary of its opening we celebrate the Library’s central role in the social, creative and academic life of those who have spent so many hours here.

The 2007/08 student handbook encourages students to make sure they spend a few hours here for every essay due:

The wealth of information available will improve your work tenfold if you dedicate some time to it. You’ll probably end up finding your own spot overlooking the lake. Show this magnificent place some love.

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A display in the Library foyer (12 Oct-14 Dec) shows glimpses of our past. Some features remain reassuringly familiar while the methods of studying and research has changed beyond all recognition.

Some key figures are remembered, the modernist architect Denys Lasdun for his vision of an integrated campus, and founding Librarian Willi Guttsman who worked so closely with him to create a Library which, when opened for use in 1968, was praised as one of the most spacious and relaxed in atmosphere of any of the new university libraries.


The Library has undoubtedly proved to be an enduring and positive memory with many of our alumni, from the sixties through to the most recent of graduates. Some are included in the display and others we’ll be sharing in separate blog posts.


April 1963
Architects Denys Lasdun and Partners publish a Development Plan for the University. This provided for 3,000 students in 10 years with the possibility of expansion to 6,000 thereafter. In 2018 we now have over 17,000 students.

The Library is housed in temporary accommodation in Earlham Hall (1963) and the Village (1964-68).

13 February 1968
‘Topping out’ of the current Library building by Frank Thistlethwaite (Vice-Chancellor).

16 August 1968
Building completed at a cost of £392,000.

25 October 1968
Official opening of the building by Lord Frank (Chancellor) of Library Phase I.

July 1974
Completion of Library Phase II (Architects Feilden & Mawson). The original block doubles in size to form a near square and extends southwards. The two halves join to form one seamless building and it comes as a surprise that it is by two different architects but with Denys Lasdun’s design.

9 April 2001
Opening of the LaRC (Learning and Resources Centre), Floor 02.

8 March 2006
Opening of ‘the extension’ on the east side, transforming the rather square looking building into a dog’s leg; opening of the new Archives (Floor 02). Architects: Shepheard Epstein Hunter; construction by Kier Eastern.

27 October 2010
Opening of refurbished Floor 0 and the Silent Reading Room on Floor 1.

September 2014
Opening of Postgraduate Study Rooms overlooking the lake on Floors 2 and 3.

September 2017
Refurbishment of Floors 01 and 02 creating around 180 new and varied study spaces.
Over two miles of open-access rolling stack shelving installed on Floor 02.

25 October 2018
50th anniversary of the Library’s official opening.
Side_By_Side_Library_50_N_A (3)