The "great hall" on the second floor of the O'Shaughnessy-Frey Library. Photo by Mike Ekern.

A Thousand Stories at St. Thomas' Libraries

“Oh, I’m here multiple times a day. I like to get my work done here. I’m definitely more focused while I’m in the library.”
– Freshman Grace Winker, second floor O’Shaughnessy-Frey

The University of St. Thomas’ libraries are many things to many people. They are where all the books you need for class or research are. They are the quiet places you need to focus and study. They are the not-so-quiet places you need to focus and study. They are – as St. Thomas O’Shaughnessy-Frey director Dan Gjelten has heard them described – “the heart of the university.”

“I’ll typically study here because there are less distractions … not at home. There’s laundry there.”
– Teaching license student Alison Rubbelke, second floor Charles J. Keffer

St. Thomas houses four separate and distinct libraries, two each on its campuses in St. Paul and Minneapolis. In St. Paul, O’Shaughnessy-Frey towers above the lower quad on north campus, while Archbishop Ireland Memorial Library sits above The Grotto, just south of the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity on south campus. In Minneapolis, the Schoenecker Law Library and Charles J. Keffer Library are both on the downtown campus, across 11th Avenue from each other.

“The first semester is the learning curve, and you notice the people who are more successful are spending more time here. That becomes the expectation.”
  –1L student Josh Damberg, lower level Schoenecker

All told the libraries host tens of thousands of visitors per school year, many of them dedicated, repeat customers. The reasons they choose to come – and where exactly they go to in each library, often with remarkable consistency – vary greatly, but all contribute to the tradition of scholarship and learning so beloved in academia.

“It’s quiet. Very quiet. Undergraduates haven’t totally discovered this place in some ways. It’s a nice place to get away. Solitude and a quiet time for reflection and writing are essential, and you get it here.”
– Theology professor Paul J. Wojda, Tier 3 Ireland


Over the last two-plus decades, Gjelten has overseen many changes at O’Shaughnessy-Frey, the main undergraduate library. When he started in 1991 a strict no food or drink policy was in place; now, a coffee shop on the first floor buzzes with customers. Years ago students needed to go next door to O’Shaughnessy Educational Center to use computers; in 2004 dozens of desktop units were brought into the southwest corner of the first floor. Bright, lightweight furniture, the likes the library had never had before, also was moved in.

“I like to have a quieter place to study. I can’t do the student center or T’s.”
– Junior Willie Faust, lower level O’Shaughnessy-Frey

In the lower levels, more computers sit alongside tables students use for both individual and group study. In the higher levels individual work is the norm, with the third and fourth floors designated quiet spaces.

“I feel like people here look for the quiet, and that’s why they come to the third floor. I’m a senior, and this has been my escape place to come. It’s refreshing to get out of your room and have somewhere else to work hard.”
– Senior Kaitlin Becker, third floor O’Shaughnessy-Frey

Private study rooms can be used on almost every level.

“I’m pretty much always on the second floor. The higher you go the quieter it is, so this is kind of in the middle. And, you don’t have to climb as many flights of stairs.”
  – Senior Andrew Luedtke, second floor O’Shaughnessy-Frey

O’Shaughnessy-Frey’s six floors offer a wide range of options, which is exactly the way Gjelten wants it.

“There are parts of the library that are like a church; it’s the same as it always has been, always will be that way, the same things have happened. But what all do people want from the library? Do they want that sacred aspect? This new, colorful, lightweight and playful style? I have come to decide it’s got to be both. When you start talking with students some like that part, some like that part, some want to sit right down by the coffee shop as people come by all day long. Others go to the fourth floor where presumably it’s quiet … and isolate themselves up there.

“All said, this is where learning is designed to happen. To the point we can design it to happen and facilitate it happening, that’s where we’ll be successful.”
– Director Dan Gjelten, second floor O’Shaughnessy-Frey

Nearly 60,000 people pass through the doors of O’Shaughnessy-Frey each month, meaning people pass in and out of the doors with 2,000 different each day.

“It’s a great place to study late @ night … Lots of services … A place to escape the madness of campus, a.k.a. it’s too busy everywhere else … A tasty beverage and enough stairs to burn it off … Knowledge … VHS tapes from 1982 … The best library and reference staff in the world … Sleep.”
– Anonymous answers to the prompt, “What can you get at the library that you can’t get anywhere else?", first floor O'Shaughnessy-Frey

Busy library, busy people

“We’re small, but we can do pretty much anything people want us to do.”
– Research and Instructional Librarian Merrie Davidson, second floor Charles J. Keffer

On the second floor of Opus Hall in Minneapolis, the Charles J. Keffer Library supports the College of Business and the College of Applied Professional Studies. That means most student visitors are returning to school for a higher degree or certificate, which equals a higher rate of traffic in the late afternoon and evening.

“I like having some quiet, but having some background noise is nice. This is a good combination of both.”
– Law student John Fandrey, second floor Charles J. Keffer

Although its square-footage pales in comparison to O’Shaughnessy-Frey or Ireland libraries, Charles J. Keffer shares the resources of St. Thomas’ entire library system and quickly can get students what they need online or in print. The library houses a large collection of children’s literature on its main floor, along with 34 computers on a lit second floor with natural light pouring through large windows. A silent study area downstairs sits adjacent to several deep stacks of books.

“The computers are very useful to me. I can search for all my materials, check my emails, and save many files onto the system. If I have a presentation in the classroom I know I can find my folder in the system easily. It’s very useful.”
– ESL student Yu Zhang, second floor Charles J. Keffer

A theological gem

“It has these great, intellectual tomes, all these great pieces from a rich history of Catholic intellectual tradition.”
– Philosophy professor Tim Paul, lower level Ireland

The graduate theology library of both St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Seminary School of Divinity, the Archbishop Ireland Memorial Library has a long and storied history. Its collection originally started in large part with donations from Archbishop John Ireland’s personal collection back into the late 19th century; the building that stands today was completed in 1950.

“It’s close to the science building, so in between math classes it’s convenient for me. It’s usually easier here to find a quiet spot than anywhere else.”
– Junior Katie Wefvat, main floor Ireland

One of the country’s preeminent theological libraries, Ireland works with both St. Thomas and the larger archdiocese community. Theological scholars travel from around the country to use some of Ireland’s rare resources, and it provides an excellent home base for students and professors from both St. Thomas and the Saint Paul Seminary.

“It’s really conducive to studying. With our schedule at the seminary we have to be that much more intentional with our time; that’s one of my biggest reasons for coming here.”
– Pre-theology two student Tim Cone, main floor Ireland

Library employees long have made an effort to draw more people to Ireland, which boasts the most consistently quiet atmosphere of all St. Thomas’ libraries.

“We have three or four faculty members who I think just come in their pajamas and stay. They want to keep it secret, but we don’t want to keep it secret. We’re proud of it and proud of St. Thomas.”
– Director Curt Le May, main floor Ireland

A place for students

Across 11th Avenue in Minneapolis from Charles J. Keffer sits the St. Thomas School of Law and its library, Schoenecker. Up a flight of stairs from the school’s main atrium is the library's entrance and main floor, an open, well-lit expanse of carpet, tables and books that law students flock to for their work.

“It’s a great place to go between classes. I try to get most of my work done here and go home with as little as possible.”
– 1L law student Dan Lenhardt, second floor Schoenecker

Boasting four levels, Schoenecker’s second floor is the only one not designated as a “quiet space.” Many study rooms surround the outside ring of the second floor, offering prime meeting spaces for students to work together.

“Part of the appeal is definitely social. A lot of our work is in groups, so this is where you meet people.”
– 1L law student Josh Damberg, lower level Schoenecker

Similar rooms surround the other three levels; students in the main sections of each floor can work at large tables or tables with dividers. Power outlets and Internet jacks are in abundance on the tables of all four levels.

“I love the library, especially the third floor. There’s hardly anyone that comes up here so I’m usually totally alone. I know that sounds kind of crazy, but working like that has always been best for me.”
– 1L law student Alyssa Wojack, third floor Schoenecker

While Schoenecker doesn’t house a massive book collection directly on its premise (there are many book stacks on every level), its membership in the Minnesota Law School Consortium (with the University of Minnesota Law School and Mitchell | Hamline Law School) gives it access to a vast set of legal resources.

“I get here at 7 a.m. and there are already people in here working, and when we close at night there are people working in here … Not everyone is a library user, but the ones that are tend to be heavy users.”
– Research librarian Megan McNevin, second floor Schoenecker

Technological advances push the evolution of libraries' roles at a university, and the limitless reasons why people visit and where they go in each of St. Thomas' libraries change. For Gjelten, Le May and others who work hard to make sure St. Thomas' libraries are the best they can be, the hope is one thing will never change: People always will want to use the library.