​Reimagining Olin Library​

A rendering of the Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration, to be built within the atrium of Whispers Café.

Libraries cultivate intellectual growth. They foster creative exploration and enrich a community’s scholarly pursuits. They are essential in meeting the needs of students and scholars at world-class teaching and research institutions.

At Washington University in St. Louis, alumni and friends are helping to realize Washington University Libraries’ plan for achieving excellence with generous gifts and commitments to the Leading Together campaign.

Central to this plan is the transformation of the John M. Olin Library into a center for 21st century scholarship. It calls for a new entrance on the building’s north side that will join seamlessly with the existing south entrance to create an exhibition gallery through the center of the building. A new entrance will be created on the east side, adjacent to the Gingko walkway, to encourage access from the eastern parts of campus.

The renovation will increase space for study and exploration. It also will feature new spaces for enhanced technology, including data and Geographic Information Systems services. Most importantly, the renovation will add new vault space for the university’s growing special collections, allowing easier access and greater visibility for these unique resources.

With the generosity of alumni and friends featured here — and many others who have pledged their support — the University Libraries will be well-positioned to help preserve the past and embrace the challenges of the future.

A crossroads and a destination

Combining the best of library and museum experiences may seem like a daunting task to most. For philanthropists Eric and Evelyn Newman, and Washington University Trustee Andy Newman and his wife, Peggy Newman, the concept hit home.

Eric Newman, a leading numismatic scholar and a collector who graduated from Washington University School of Law in 1935, and his late wife, Evelyn, a former marketing expert and successful fundraiser, worked as a team for 75 years. “Every night at the dinner table, there was always animated discussion of the newest charitable project they were working on,” said their son, Andy Newman. “It was fascinating and inspiring to watch their creative partnership in action.”

With the generosity of the Eric P. and Evelyn E. Newman Foundation and the Eric P. Newman Numismatic Education Society (EPNNES), the Newmans have provided the lead gift — $10 million — for the needs of the Olin Library. Their commitment will transform the library into a bustling crossroads, with new entrances on the building’s north and east sides, as well as a destination for students, researchers and visitors from around the world.

Evelyn Newman, whose imagination and creative flair inspired many aspects of the project, passed away on Sept. 1.

“My mother was delighted to see so many of her ideas for the space being implemented in the physical plans,” Andy Newman said, “and we will all work hard to fulfill her vision.”

The project will include the renovation of Olin Library’s first, second and third floors and levels A and B below. A four-story glass tower, to be called the Newman Tower of Collections and Exploration, will rise within the atrium of Whispers Café, which will be expanded. The tower will feature display areas along its perimeter for special collections and other rare materials. Each level will provide interior spaces for instruction and programs that encourage social interaction and intellectual discourse, with one level focused entirely on the theme of exploration and adventure, one of the Newman family’s passions.

A rendering of the atrium of Whispers Café, which will be expanded.

The couples also have donated an extensive collection of ephemera that is strongly aligned with the libraries’ current holdings and will support teaching and research in many disciplines, including history and law. The Newman Ephemera Collection includes a broadside of the Declaration of Independence printed in Newport, R.I., by S. Southwick and dated July 13, 1776, and a Blaeu atlas of the Americas, published in 1665 by Joan Blaeu and his father, Willem.

Included in the Newmans’ commitment is a gift made in 2014 by the EPNNES to fund the Newman Numismatic Portal, an online research tool that will become the ultimate resource for the study of coins and currency. The family also is donating Andy Newman’s collection of Scientific American magazines, dating from its first issue in 1845.

“The Newman family has generously contributed to the success of Washington University and its many centers of excellence,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “Their remarkable support of the University Libraries represents the cornerstone of our plan to meet the needs of scholars and libraries into the 21st century. They will share the best of their scholarly expertise, extensive travel, adventurous spirit and creativity to bring a spectacular vision for the Newman Tower to life.”

For nearly five decades, the Newman family has provided strong support and leadership for a range of schools and programs at the university. In addition to the University Libraries, the family’s interests have included the Schools of Medicine and Law, and the Olin Business School.

Preserving a family legacy

The late philanthropist and business leader John M. Olin also understood the need for libraries. Believing that ignorance is our deadliest enemy and knowledge our strongest ally, Olin set the pace and began the drive for funds to build a new library at Washington University. In 1956, he provided the lead gift toward construction of John M. Olin Library, which he hoped would be “a contribution to the advancement of mankind.” Olin continued to support the ongoing operation and expansion of Olin Library until his death, at age 89, in 1982.

To extend her grandfather’s legacy, Adele Braun Dilschneider has made a significant commitment to fund Olin Library’s long-range capital improvements and needs.

“Adele’s keen interest in seeing the reimagining of John M. Olin Library has greatly inspired our university community and brought special meaning to this transformative project,” Wrighton said. “It is a tremendous privilege to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary legacy that will ensure a vibrant center of excellence for discovery and scholarly pursuit well into the 21st century.”

Dilschneider has honored her family through gifts to the libraries for many years. During the Campaign for Washington University (1995-2004), she provided the lead gift for extensive renovations to Olin Library. The library was rededicated to John M. Olin in 2004.

A life trustee of Washington University, John M. Olin supported many educational and charitable institutions through the John M. Olin Foundation. At Washington University, his gifts also have benefited the School of Medicine and Olin Business School, named for him in 1987.

“All who knew John Olin at Washington University considered him a great man,” said longtime friend and Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth. “He had an immense curiosity and a strong set of convictions from which he challenged others. He was a person of broad understanding and good will. We are deeply grateful to Adele for honoring her grandfather and his pursuit of knowledge and truth in a way that would have given him great joy. Generations will benefit from the Olin family’s continuing generosity.”

At the groundbreaking for John M. Olin Library on May 3, 1960, Olin shared his thoughts: “Just as a university is the seat of learning and a living vital body, the library is the heart of the university and here, when these walls are finished and the shelves are filled, will be the history of the past and the hopes of the future.”

‘As the university continues its ascent, so must the libraries’

University Trustee Jack Thomas has served as the chair of Washington University Libraries National Council for 12 years and also sits on the Libraries campaign committee. His expansive knowledge and steady leadership have set the libraries on an ambitious course for the future.

The project will include the renovation of Olin Library’s first, second and third floors and levels A and B below.

“As the university continues its ascent, so must the libraries,” said Thomas, chairman and chief executive officer of St. Louis-based Coin Acceptors Inc. “The libraries support every school, every department and program, every faculty member, and every student — the entire university community. And they must match excellence with excellence in every way.”

To underscore his point, Thomas, with his wife, Debbie, has pledged $3 million to support the long-range capital needs of John M. Olin Library. In recognition of their gift, the university will name a primary space on the Olin Library’s first floor The Thomas Gallery.

“Trustee leadership is extraordinarily important in guiding the overall development of Washington University,” Wrighton said. “Jack Thomas is an exceptional leader whose vision and uncompromising standards will have a direct impact on how the Libraries serve our university and our society. We are honored to have the Thomas name live on in the heart of Olin Library.”

With earlier gifts to the libraries, the couple established the Thomas Humanities Book Fund, the Shirley Baker Lecture Series, and the Jack E. Thomas BU’28 Family Endowment in Film & Media Archive. They also endowed the Thomas Family Scholarship at Olin Business School, where Jack Thomas serves on the National Council.

While their support has extended to other areas of the university, the Thomases remain focused on the needs of the libraries.

“Debbie and I understand the importance of the libraries as a central place where people come together to discover, learn and share with one another,” Thomas said. “If we are to keep step with the dynamic landscape of research and learning environments, we must invest in our libraries. They elevate our reputation and enhance the stature and impact of Washington University.”