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The Flora Lamson Hewlett Library at 35 Years: Celebrating, Remembering, and Preparing for the Future

Celebrating: A Name to Be Proud Of 

Thirty-five years ago, a landmark event took place in North Berkeley. After decades of planning, collaboration, and construction, the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library dedication ceremony on Holy Hill celebrated the completion of a centralized library that could serve the entire Graduate Theological Union consortium, creating a physical landmark to attest to the spiritual and academic fellowship that had guided the work of the GTU since its formation in 1962. 

 

 

The GTU Common Library was named the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library in 1987, acknowledging with gratitude a substantial contribution from the Hewlett Foundation. Roger W. Heyns, then-President of the Hewlett Foundation, was present for the event, held on May 6, 1987. At the ceremony, he spoke of the ways the GTU Library’s dedication honored its namesake and reflected her life. 

“I earnestly believe that, despite her passion for anonymity and her modesty, [Flora] would be pleased by this moment,” Roger Heyns shared at the dedication ceremony. “And, perhaps, even more, she would be pleased at our pleasure—the joining of a most important facility, dedicated to the matters of the mind and the spirit, with the name of a woman whose life was similarly dedicated and whose devotion to these matters continues to enrich our lives.” 
 

Flora Lamson Hewlett (1914–1977) devoted much of her time and energy to public service. A proud alum of the University of California, Berkeley, and an involved member of Stanford University’s Board of Trustees, Flora strove for education access for students who would have otherwise missed the opportunity she so treasured. An engaged member of her own religious tradition, Flora was an elder of the First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto, and she served as a Trustee of the San Francisco Theological Seminary (now known as the Graduate School of Theology at University of the Redlands). In all her pursuits, philanthropically and beyond, Flora was admired for her discerning intelligence, openness to new ideas, and quiet tenacity of purpose, as well as a disciplined desire to learn. To this day, the GTU’s Flora Lamson Hewlett Library stands as a testament to a life well lived, and to Flora’s core values: matters of the mind and the spirit. 
 

Such a remarkable life is well honored with the dedication of the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library building. The dedication of the GTU’s Library represents a noteworthy event even beyond the GTU’s campus. According to a 2020 study conducted by the Department on the Status of Women, of 106 San Francisco buildings, only 14 percent represented women. 
 

Remembering: A History of Innovation 

The Flora Lamson Hewlett Library as it exists today was not yet even a dream when the GTU was founded. In 1963, one year after the GTU was incorporated, Dean John Dillenberger appointed a Library Committee, which established the GTU Bibliographical Center in 1964. Not quite a library, the GTU’s Bibliographical Center performed specific functions for the GTU member schools’ libraries: creating a union catalog, assembling a reference collection, and establishing procedures for cooperative book selection, ordering, and cataloging. While the Bibliographical Center carried out these functions, plans were made for a central library that would serve the GTU’s member schools.  
 

 

 

In 1972, renowned architect Louis I. Kahn was chosen to design a modern temple of learning that could serve both as an administrative center and library for the GTU. Louis Kahn’s architectural philosophy aligned well with the library building’s needs and purpose:  
 

“I see the library as a place where the librarian can layout the books, open especially to selected pages to seduce the reader,” Louis Kahn wrote before his death. “There should be a place with great tables on which the librarian can put the books, and the reader should be able to take the book and go to the light.” 


 

Kahn completed preliminary designs for the GTU Library before his unfortunate, sudden death in 1974. The GTU then selected the architectural firm of Peters, Clayberg and Caulfield, in association with Esherick, Homsey, Dodge, and Davis, to complete the project. 
 

The GTU Board of Trustees decided to build the library in two phases. Phase I construction, consisting of the basement and Level I, was completed in 1981. Some GTU staff members recall helping move library materials into its new space. 

 

I helped move books from PSR to the Hewlett building in the summer of 1981,” recounts John Seal, GTU Registrar. “I remember loading books onto wheeled carts and pushing them across Scenic into the new building.” 

 

The completion of this initial phase of construction of the GTU’s centralized library represented a major milestone, and cause for celebration. Taking up the theme of light inherent to Kahn’s design, John D. Baker-Batsel, Flora Lamson Hewlett Library Director from 1977 to 1990, wrote on March 23, 1981: 
 

The GTU collection is diverse, rich, and broad, comprising a great ‘invisible faculty’ who speak regardless of the passage of time. It is possible to put a remarkable array of ideas in the light from among the pages of this collection.” 
 

Michael Blecker became GTU President in 1982, with a mandate to complete the GTU’s Library building. Three years later, construction of Levels II and III, to complete the library and to house GTU administration offices, respectively, began. 
 

As construction crews gathered in North Berkeley to begin work on September 19, 1985, a group of students representing the GTU’s nine member schools gathered to offer a prayer of gratitude: 

 

“We give thanks this day, O Lord, for the dedicated people who started the schools we represent as we meet together. We are grateful for their sacrifices. 

We give thanks that a new spirit of cooperation has made possible this new vision of a Graduate Theological Union . . . we are grateful, Lord.  

. . . 

Without the generous gifts of some individuals and groups this Library would not be possible. Grant to these kind people your blessing, O Lord.” 

 

These students weren’t the only ones offering their gratitude for those who founded the GTU’s original member schools, supported the GTU’s library building, and those who were now undertaking this construction work. Richard Bender, Dean of College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley at the time, also underscored the significance of the GTU’s Common Library: 
 

“We are fortunate to have in Berkeley one of Louis Kahn’s last projects, the Graduate Theological Union Common Library. When its final phase is completed, the Common Library will show very well the range of Kahn’s concerns as an architect—the building’s relation and contributions to its site, its use of daylight as an integral aesthetic and functional element in the interior, and its formal character as architecture . . . we are fortunate to have this wonderful example in our own midst.” 
 

Two years after it began, construction of the GTU Library was completed in 1987, and it was dedicated the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library that May. For the next three decades, a steady series of technological and structural innovations were introduced to ensure the Hewlett Library met the changing needs of GTU students, faculty, and staff.  

Preparing: Transforming Access & Collaboration for the Future 

Like the GTU itself, the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library has represented a dynamic, living tradition since its inception. Amidst a global pandemic, technological advancements, and seismic shifts in higher education, the Hewlett Library continues to develop in intentional ways to support the future of the GTU and the manifold ambitions of GTU 2.0.  
 

The GTU represents a 60-year-old tradition of interreligious dialogue, globally significant scholarship and vocational discernment,” said Colyn Wohlmut, Director of Library Services. “The Flora Lamson Hewlett Library was founded to preserve and maintain access to the current and historical discussions, controversies, developments, and insights important to the religious communities that have joined together in this Union.” 
 

As the codex supplanted the scroll some millennia ago, cultural, and religious practices responded to and were influenced by this technological change. We are faced with a similar transformation in the shift from print to electronic ways of teaching, research, and learning.”  
 

Those who have stepped foot on campus in recent months know that significant transformations are currently underway. When the alterations are completed in 2023, the Hewlett Library building’s first floor and part of the basement will become dedicated library space for research collections, library staff offices, and patron services. The second floor will become a new home for the Doug Adams Art Gallery, a large multi-use room, and all faculty and student service offices. Alterations to the administration offices on the building’s third floor will introduce a new dedicated conference and meeting space, providing even more classroom space, optimize existing space, and employ sustainable materials.  
 

The library’s physical and virtual services are also transforming to support hybrid print and digital collections, as well as educational services. While expanded digital services and collections are introduced, the physical footprint of the library’s collections will be significantly reduced. The Hewlett Library alterations currently underway will bring the GTU community together under one roof, increasing collaborative opportunities across the consortium to advance interreligious learning and dialogue. 
 

We remain committed to preserving the old ways of accessing knowledge while we welcome new ways of transmitting and working with texts,” Wohlmut added. “As a resilient institution with a very long tail, we exist at the confluence of pedagogical, social, and technological change, and we will remain at the service of theologians and researchers for decades to come.”