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100 Years Since the Opening of the Keio University Library -Recognized Symbol of Keio University for a Century-

The main entrance where the engraving above reads “Keio University Library in commemoration of its 50th anniversary”
The main entrance where the engraving above reads “Keio University Library in commemoration of its 50th anniversary”

The Keio University Library (old building) was built in 1912 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Keio University. The graceful brick building, which marks its 100th anniversary in 2012, is a prominent symbol of Keio University, and has been appreciated not only by those associated with Keio but also by many others.

Robust yet Elegant Neo-Gothic Architecture

Bookshelves of the “book room” (around 1891)
Bookshelves of the “book room” (around 1891)

With its red brick walls and arched windows, the robust yet elegant building of the Old University Library has long been appreciated by many Keio University students and graduates. The Old University Library has a strong presence in the minds of Keio graduates, especially those who studied at Mita Campus, when they think of their alma mater. Even people who are not associated with Keio probably visualize this building when they think of "Keio University".

At Keio University, the word "library" was first used in 1905. Kazusada Tanaka, a Keio graduate and professor of sociology, became the first director of what was then called the "book room", which he renamed the "library".
From around this time, demands for a formal library started to grow, and 100 years ago, in 1912, the library, in its graceful neo-Gothic style, appeared on top of the hill of Mita.

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An Important Cultural Property Exhibiting the Characteristics of Meiji-Era Architecture

Distant view of the library (around 1912)
Distant view of the library (around 1912)

The building was designed and supervised by Tatsuzo Sone and Seiichiro Chujo. Sone was a pioneering Japanese architect who studied under Josiah Conder, and is also famous for designing the Mitsubishi brick buildings that later became the Marunouchi business district.

The Old University Library’s magnificent two-story, Western-style building with a basement had the capacity to store 200,000 books, which increased to 450,000 after an addition was built in 1927, and a reading room with more than 200 seats. Its specifications were unprecedented for a university library of the time. The design strongly retains the characteristics of architecture of the Meiji era and is now designated as an Important Cultural Property of Japan.

The Old University Library is also remarkable in its detail. The octagonal tower that stands high on the right end magnificently enhances the beauty of the whole building. The large clock situated in front of the building is essential as an accent to bring harmony to its external appearance. On the face of the clock, eleven letters are engraved instead of numbers, reading “TEMPUS FUGIT”, which means “time flies” in Latin. An hourglass is designed on the top center of the clock to show noon.

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Surviving Earthquake and War, a Library Where Students Still Learn

  Full view of the library at the time of completion (1912)
  Full view of the library at the time of completion (1912)

The library was only slightly damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, causing some cracks in the exterior wall, but in the air raids of 1945, firebombs smashed through the roof, engulfing the interior in flames. However, the book storeroom escaped the fire and precious documents remained unscathed because most of the books had been evacuated in advance and a special team worked hard during the air raids to protect the library. In 1949, the Old University Library was restored to its original state.

After that, the number of books increased rapidly, and the lack of space for books soon became a pressing issue. In order to solve this problem, in 1961, the book storeroom was extended for the second time, and in 1982, the New University Library opened on Mita campus where the Second School Building used to stand.

The front large clock with engraving of 11 Latin letters
The front large clock with engraving of 11 Latin letters

Although most functions of the library were passed on to the new library, the old library is presently used to store books and Keio University students and researchers alike can be seen diligently doing research. Part of the building has been converted to house an exhibition room where an event is held every year to celebrate Yukichi Fukuzawa’s birthday on January 10, and another part houses the Fukuzawa Memorial Center for Modern Japanese Studies, which focuses on the research and study of the history of Yukichi Fukuzawa and Keio University. Even though a century is about to pass since its establishment, it is still utilized as an important facility for Keio University.

Since this year marks its 100th anniversary, a commemorative exhibition is scheduled to be held from the end of August to October at the New University Library.

The entrance damaged by air raids (1945)
The entrance damaged by air raids (1945)
*This article appeared in the 2012 spring edition (No.274) of "Juku".

Photos: Conserved by Keio University Library
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