I’m getting on a bit now but as a student in the mid 80s, in the pre-internet era, I distinctly remember hearing tales about library of a university in Glasgow sinking into the mud.
The suggestion was that the architects who designed the building forgot to take account of the weight of the books.
Since then I have heard this story about dozens of other university libraries and it remains an incredibly potent myth in higher education. Not just in the UK – I’ve heard the same thing from other countries too.
But imagine if you will the idea that an architect (university-trained remember) would “forget” to address the single most fundamental requirement of any library – that it be able to hold the weight of the items it is there to store. It’s not going to happen.
Given the prevalence of this kind of thing on the web these days it was perhaps unsurprising that we at the University of Nottingham would receive a Freedom of Information request about one of our libraries. One that looks like it is sitting in the middle of a lake (pictured above, yesterday).
Here’s the freedom of information request response:
We are writing in response to your Freedom Of Information request relating to Djanogly Library sinking received on 25th July 2020.
We understand that for the past several years there have been rumours at the student and staff level that the Djanogly Library is sinking. Please confirm or deny this with adequate narrative to satiety the public interest in this matter. Please also provide internal and external reports relating to the matter, details of any work done since the completion of the library to correct any such issues and/or any planned future work, and associated costs.
There is no documentation held by the University of Nottingham to support your statement, it is no more than an urban legend.
Whilst Djanogly library is surrounded by water, the building was erected first, and the lake then constructed around it, not the other way round- as is the case for many of the other buildings on Jubilee Campus. None of these buildings are sinking.
We are unable to supply the information you are seeking as it simply does not exist, as per the Freedom of Information Act 2000, this email acts as a Refusal Notice for your request.
I trust this meets your requirements.
It really is a widespread myth. See this story from Indiana University for example where, guess what, the library has for many years had the reputation of being designed by yet another forgetful architect:
For years, IU students and visitors have heard the claim that the Wells Library is sinking into the ground because the architect forgot to account for the weight of all the books.
According to legend, the same fate has befallen major university libraries all over the country. Folklorists call it the Legend of the Architect’s Blunder, and it has been around for decades. The Wells Library, like the rest of the campus, sits on a 94-foot thick layer of limestone. It is not going anywhere.
Some years ago the myth was rounded up quite comprehensively by Snopes. It was noted that it actually takes a number of different forms – with the architecture profession again attracting widespread scorn for its failure to remember that student halls have residents and swimming pools are meant to contain water:
Such beliefs have been part of campus lore at least since the late 1970s, and current students may not realise their professors were hearing the very same tales when they themselves were undergraduates. Some tales involve a misdesigned athletic facility for which the weight of the water in the swimming pool wasn’t factored in; others deal with a residence hall which is sinking because its builder forgot to allow for the weight of the inhabitants and their possessions.
By far the most common form the legend takes, however, is that of the sinking library.
Though a few libraries have experienced settling problems, none of them was the result of an addle-brained architect who left out the key calculation regarding the weight of the library’s holdings.
By the by I also remember the myth that there was a swimming pool on the roof of the Glasgow College of Building and Printing (which more recently appeared as an April fool in a newspaper). One other rumour, never substantiated of course, was that a Students’ Union had purchased a decommissioned Royal Navy submarine which it intended to moor on the Clyde and use as a nightclub. I fear I was rather gullible at that time.
Does your university have a library that everyone thinks is sinking? Or have you been taken in by this or any other higher ed myth yourself?