A little over a year ago, Stanford permanently closed the J. Henry Meyer Memorial Library, one of the most controversially iconic buildings on campus. A park is currently under construction in the place where this feature once towered, and it’s likely the structure will be largely forgotten within a few years.
Meyer was undeniably a weird place. It was perhaps most infamous for being largely devoid of books. The stacks that lay below it couldn’t be reached from inside the building, so the small East Asian library on the fourth floor was the only characteristic that gave Meyer a reasonable claim to the last word in its title.
The building was also curiously placed in the middle of the Escondido Mall, a pathway used by at least two thousand students to access the more historic parts of campus. Needless to say, the location choice attracted plenty of ire over the years from angry bikers forced to detour when they were late to class.
It wasn’t just the location of Meyer that seemed to irk people, however. About the most positive thing I’ve ever heard about the building’s architecture is that it “didn’t age well.” Even amongst the unspectacular cinder block and poured concrete structures that litter East campus, there seemed to be a special place in everyone’s heart for deriding the appearance of Meyer. The building’s namesake was frequently tossed around with various different swear words, and even the official hashtag marking the building’s closure, #byemeyer, seemed to convey less a sense of farewell than of good riddance.
Anybody who has ever met me before knows that I was as big of a part of this anti-Meyer crowd as any. I spent many a long night working on CS 106X and 107 assignments in the building’s 24-hour study room, and for the most part I hated every minute of it. I always opened Meyer’s glass doors out of necessity rather than choice, and over time the structure felt less like a place of learning and more like a prison.
When it was announced that the building would be torn down after my sophomore year, part of me filled with satisfaction. It was almost as if I had scored one back against the bully who had been teasing me on the middle school playground. As silly as this feeling seems now, it didn’t seem all that out of place on campus at the time. I never heard a single person seriously decry the removal of this blemish, and there certainly was nothing like the discontent that accompanied other comparable on-campus changes like the switch in administration for Suites Dining.
The library was officially closed due to the “prohibitive expense” of bringing it up to modern earthquake codes, but in reality this excuse seems little more than a marketing line. Making the building safe for use would have cost $45 million, well below the $57 million cost of constructing its replacement, Lathrop Library, as reported by the Daily in 2012. I’ll grant that it seems likely the second number was eventually revised downward, but the library was closed in a year where Stanford fundraised $918 million, meaning the renovation would have cost a mere 4.9% of the yearly donation to Stanford’s endowment. If the University had deemed Meyer worth saving, it surely could have saved it.
The vote in favor of demolishment was probably the most sensible decision under the circumstances. Stanford has worked hard to purge itself of its remnants of brutalism, and the prospect of having more open space on this increasingly cluttered campus is certainly worth chasing. I’m sure the grassy area slated to replace Meyer will serve plenty of students, and the collective amount of time saved getting to class through the shortened pathways will eventually amount to lifetimes.
Yet when I arrived on campus this year with the towering façade of Meyer no longer hanging over my every move, something just felt a little off. For the first time in my life, I noticed just how many little roles this library had filled in my Stanford experience.
Stanford’s idyllic campus is a little more perfect without Meyer, but I now wonder whether this is as much of a positive as it initially seemed. When the Daily’s Editorial Board decried the school’s architectural homogeneity in a piece last year, I began to realize how much visible character our school has lost with this library. Meyer was this campus’s most notable physical monument to taking a risk and failing. Now it’s gone forever.
In addition, many of the things I used to hate the most about Meyer have taken on new meaning with time. The eclectic graffiti on the stall door in the first floor men’s bathroom, initially an unwelcome shock to me, now seems a celebration of individualism in a place full of people with their heads similarly tucked over their computers. The piles of Coupa Café coffee cups that would inevitably develop anywhere near a trash can on the weekends before finals now seem a literal representation of the gargantuan efforts that every student on this campus puts forth each day, developing innovative ideas and making Stanford an exciting place to be.
Even the things for which I blamed Meyer the most resulted more from a refusal to look within myself. The “misery” that the library caused me when I was programming until the early hours of the morning didn’t go away until I admitted that my heart wasn’t in my computer science major anymore. My migration over to symbolic systems has been one of the best decisions I’ve made regarding my education, and I find myself much happier in my studies and assignments today. In the end, the thing that I hated Meyer the most for is the same one for which I owe it the most thanks.
So, this is my attempt to atone with you, Meyer, for all the words I threw at you over the years. I’m a better person because of all those late nights I spent within your walls, and I can hardly count the number of lessons you’ve helped teach me, even in your demise, that will stick with me forever.
I know that when I return to campus many years from now, the former site of the library will be become a staple of my visits. I’ll try to figure out where some of the rooms in the building once lay, and, if I can, I’ll stand in the former site of the silent study area where I spent such a large part of my freshman and sophomore years.
I’m not sure what I’ll do there, but I’m sure standing in that spot will give me a great sense of accomplishment and fill me with respect for everything that once stood on that piece of earth. Perhaps Meyer was never supposed to fill you with joy every minute you spent inside it. But then again, what home can?
Contact Andrew Mather at amather ‘at’ stanford.edu.