The C.Y. Thompson Library on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s East Campus was dedicated on January 8, 1966 and named to honor Charles Yoder Thompson, an agricultural leader and four-term president of the University’s Board of Regents.
From 1947 through the 1960s, the University and city of Lincoln expanded the campus drastically, and initiated a virtual building boom in an attempt to accommodate the drastic influx of students following World War II. The growth of the student population was due first to the benefits offered through the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (commonly known as the GI Bill) and then to the onset of the baby boomer generation becoming college age.
Since 1905 the library had occupied space in Agriculture Hall, a building that could not accommodate the needs of a growing university book collection. In 1961 the Board of Regents decided to build a new library, hiring the Lincoln-based firm Clark and Enersen to design it. Albert Hamersky, the firm’s chief designer, developed a freestanding building later described as “a modern representation of a classic Greek temple,” a characterization that also brings to mind the contemporary work of Mies van der Rohe, with its direct expression of structure and roof plane.
Visually, the thirteen-foot eaves of the large flat roof dominate the library, supported by an expressive outboard structural steel frame clad in precast concrete panels. Its square plan, providing over 50,000 square feet for a projected 265,000 volumes, is set on a podium in the pastoral campus. Rising several steps above grade at the principal entrance on the west, the podium mediates a nearly ten-foot descending grade change, which gives access to lower-level support spaces. The external walls are steel and glass allowing library patrons to view the lushly landscape campus. The podium conceals one story partially below grade and provides a base for two above-ground stories arranged around a central atrium topped by a skylight.
Hamersky designed the interior of the library for ultimate flexibility with moveable walls and freestanding book stacks that can easily be rearranged. Seating is integrated into the shelving area near the perimeter, enabling patrons to have access to materials and light. The limited areas that need fixed, though not load-bearing, walls are grouped near the center of each floor.
Shaw, Robert J., ed. “C.Y. Thompson Library: University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Nebraska.” In Libraries: Building for the Future, 88-98. Chicago: American Library Association, 1967.