Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Rolvaag Memorial Library

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Institution Name: St. Olaf College
Original/Historic Place Name: Rolvaag Memorial Library
Location on Campus: 1510 St. Olaf Ave.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1941-1942original construction Lang & Raugland
1966addition Unknown
1992addition Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: cement
Walls: limestone
Roof: slate with some EPDM (on flat)
ca. 1942academic department building (humanities and social science)
1942-present (2007)library (currently includes special collections)
ca. 2004-present (2007)other (informational and instructional technologies)
ca. 2004-present (2007)academic department building (English)

Significance: architecture, culture, education, history, religion
Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

Rolvaag Memorial Library was designed by the Minneapolis firm of Oscar Lang and Andrew Raugland in the same Norman Gothic style as Holland Hall, though with less embellishment. Located on the same rise of Manitou Heights, the two buildings form an attractive architectural pairing that is readily visible from the town of Northfield. The building originally contained two reading rooms seating 150 students each, stack capacity for 200,000 volumes, offices, and classrooms. The college's Norwegian-American heritage was displayed in the distinctively designed Norse Room (with Scandinavian wood paneling and flooring) and the half-timbered Hauge Room, named for the Norwegian evangelist Hans Nielson Hauge (1771-1824) and his American followers. Additions to the building on its north side in 1966 and 1992, both designed by the Northfield architects Sovik & Mathre (and various partners), increased its capacity to 800,000 volumes and its study spaces to almost 1100. The 1992 addition involved significant alterations, including the loss of one of the reading rooms and concealment of some of the original west façade by a new external entrance, portico, and elevator shaft.

Starting with Ole Edvart Rolvaag (1876-1931), for whom it is named, the library has been associated with the lives of several St. Olaf faculty members (all onetime St. Olaf students) who have had a significant impact upon American and Midwestern cultural and intellectual life. Rolvaag's best-selling Giants in the Earth (1927) captured the late-19th-century immigrant experience for readers in North America and Europe and drew attention to the college. The Howard and Edna Hong Kierkegaard Library, in the special collections wing, is named for the National Book Award-winning translators of the complete works of Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher. (It is the most important Kierkegaard research facility outside of Denmark.) Rolvaag Library also showcases the work of Arnold Flaten (1900-76), perhaps the foremost American Lutheran artist of his day. Flaten created ten spandrel carvings and a sun dial on the building's south (main) façade, with inscriptions from Psalms 1 and 90, and he is also credited with the design for the stained glass windows in the Hauge Room that depict the history of a pioneer Lutheran synod and its educational institutions. The 1992 addition is named for Harold Ditmanson (1920-88), one of the leading American Lutheran churchmen of the post-World War II generation.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Joseph M. Shaw, Dear Old Hill; the Story of Manitou Heights, the Campus of St. Olaf College. Northfield, MN: St. Olaf College, 1992.

II. Location of other data:
University: Special Collections

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