The comfort of your (and everyone else’s) den
For generations, the Morrison Library has offered a welcome refuge from Berkeley’s hubbub

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


Catnapping is a popular activity in the Morrison Library.
Noah Berger photo

29 January 2003 | Walking through the double glass doors, one can almost feel time slowing down. The room’s cozy furniture, glowing lights, plush rugs, and wood paneling swaddle visitors in a cloud of calm. After just a few moments, blood pressure lowers, breathing relaxes, and the hectic world of cutting-edge academia recedes.
With its inviting ambience and world-class collection of books, it is no wonder that so many on campus regard the A.F. Morrison Memorial Library — this year celebrating its 75th anniversary — as their own personal den.

Indeed, on any given day, the room’s overstuffed chairs and leather couches are filled to capacity. Patrons often kick off their shoes as they settle in to enjoy one of the library’s 600 CDs, 1,500 LPs, seven daily newspapers, 38 magazines and journals, or 15,000 volumes of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry.

The library is a welcome respite from the campus’s bustling pace, but its mellow milieu can be overpowering at times. Catnapping is a popular activity there, though lying down on the furniture is forbidden. Laptop computers are also verboten, lest the tranquility of the room be disturbed by the clacking of keys.

That this space has served as an oasis for generations of students, faculty, and staff would make May Morrison — widow of the library’s namesake — very happy, says administrative specialist Alex Warren, the “keeper” of the room.

“She wanted to give people a place where they could enjoy fine literature in a comfortable setting,” he says. “And I think she succeeded.”

Several years after her husband’s death in 1921, Mrs. Morrison donated his extensive book collection to Berkeley, their alma mater, and had a special library built to house them in. She wanted the room — located in the northwest corner of Doe Library — to be an intimate place, similar in style to the library she and her husband, a prominent San Francisco attorney, had at their home.

Berkeley architect Walter Ratcliffe used a combination of oaken wainscoting, a cork floor inlaid with a herringbone pattern, and a plaster-molded ceiling to give the library a private, residential feel. Mica lampshades, which cast a soothing orange hue throughout the room, as well as Persian carpets and a quaint balcony, enhance the homey theme.

Warren and others work hard to keep the library as May Morrison intended. In addition to maintaining the book and music collections, he must also act as a sort of curator, ensuring that the structure and its furnishings are properly cared for.

“All the chairs and couches are original pieces from the 1920s, and I periodically have them reupholstered due to wear and tear,” says Warren. “We replaced the floor for the first time in 1999. It cost nearly $55,000, because the cork had to be shipped from Portugal.”

The library was built with materials of the highest quality, which is why it has lasted so long, he says. “If you were to try and construct this kind of room today, it would cost a fortune.”

Most patrons are oblivious to Warren’s behind-the-scene efforts, but he says that’s okay. The fact that hundreds of people each day are drawn by the room’s charm is reward enough for him.

“When alumni come back to the Morrison after being away for decades, they’re so grateful to see that it hasn’t changed,” he says. ”When I hear that reaction, I know I’ve done my job.”

The Morrison Library’s 75th anniversary is being honored with a special exhibit, located in the adjacent Bernice Brown gallery. In addition, a public reception to commemorate the anniversary will be held at 5 p.m., Friday, Feb. 7.


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