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Feature

Elmer L. Andersen reading a book.

Elmer L. Andersen

Elmer Andersen recounts value of books

By Jamie Proulx

Originally published on June 21, 2004

We should all be so fortunate as Governor Elmer Lee Andersen. And Andersen would be the first to agree.

Friends, family, and University administrators recently joined in celebrating the 95th birthday of this former Minnesota governor, book lover, and friend of the University at a special event held at the Elmer L. Andersen Library on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota.

Immediately following some warm introductory remarks from University librarian Wendy Pradt Lougee and President Bob Bruininks, Andersen replied by saying, "First, I'd like to agree with everything that has just been said." Those in attendance roared with laughter and the tone was set for an event aptly titled, "A Conversation with Governor Andersen: The Importance of Preserving Our Written History."

"What nobler purpose can there be for a University than to gather up the prizes of a culture--preserve them, propagate them, make them available--so that the best of what has gone before can be preserved and built on?" -- Elmer L. Andersen

A lifelong collector of books from all genres, Andersen has shown his love for the University numerous times throughout the years. Following his term as governor from 1961 to 1963, he served on and chaired the Board of Regents, was a trustee of the University of Minnesota Foundation, and has donated time and money over the years. In 1999, he donated his personal book collection of 12,500 volumes to the University, which led the Board of Regents to vote unanimously to name the new West Bank library after him.

Andersen shared personal stories spanning the last four decades, ranging from his days as a legislator fighting for civil rights to the time he once bought 800 books to the time he now spends with his wife of 72 years, Eleanor. And with every story he was able to reference books, knowledge, and the importance of sharing ideas from all cultures and schools of thought.

It was apparent that Andersen was joyful to be celebrating two of his passions--books and the University of Minnesota. He made clear his belief that books enrich lives, and suggested that the University has a fourth mission--in addition to research, education, and public service--as an archiver of knowledge. He expressed his hope that the University Libraries will continue to document and archive our world, our culture, our knowledge, and our information so it can be passed on to generations to come.

As he has said in the past, "What nobler purpose can there be for a University than to gather up the prizes of a culture--preserve them, propagate them, make them available--so that the best of what has gone before can be preserved and built on?"

And if anybody wonders whether the Internet could ever overtake learning through the printed word, Andersen would be the first to tell you that a library, with all its books, is the truest form of information and will always be a necessary resource. He also noted the related joys of books--the smell of the paper and the excitement he gets from viewing an early edition, because that early edition means the reader is close to the original language offered by the author.

At the end of the event, Andersen was given a standing ovation in thanks for a lifetime of civic engagement, philanthropy, dry wit, and unabashed love for the written word.

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