The Campus Library as a Magnet for Gifts

UCLA's Powell library

UCLA's Powell library

Do you have fond memories of holing up in the campus library plowing through hours and hours of required reading? Maybe not, but chances are the place is well imprinted in your brain. That kind of cram time is an iconic part of the college experience. And so when we hear about large gifts earmarked for the campus library, we're not that surprised. 

Such gifts may not be flashy, but alumni donors are nonetheless drawn to them, and directing money this way is important in an increasingly competitive higher education space. Foundations can understand this, too. 

Earlier this year, we reported on a $1.2 million Mellon gift to revitalize the library at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. More recently, we wrote about how former librarian Robin Morin gave a portion of a $4 million gift to the University of New Hampshire's library. And now comes word of a similar gift in Southern California, where Norman Powell gave $5 million to create an endowment that will support the "highest priorities" of UCLA's librarian.

This isn't a coincidence. The university library has grown by leaps and bounds in the last 10 years. Digitized collections continue to grow exponentially. Tech-savvy students expect a more sophisticated research experience. And back-end tasks like data management and collections assessment are becoming increasingly complex activities. Oh, and then there's all those actual books that need tending to. 

In short, we're not talking about your father's school librarian. (Or your older brother's, for that matter.)


The Powell gift will enable the UCLA library to continue to "evolve and innovate" and to best serve the needs of a 21st-century university. Endowment funds will support the library’s collections, innovative services that fuel teaching and research across campus, and ongoing efforts to ensure that its physical spaces and online resources can evolve to meet the needs of UCLA’s students and faculty.

Indeed, we're seeing this "evolve-and-innovate" approach across higher education roles, most notably that of the university curator. And more donors grasp the impact that can come from amping up important figures on campus that were previously overlooked amid the attention typically afforded to star professors.  

The UCLA library, which boasts more than 12 million print and electronic volumes, is ranked by the Association of Research Libraries as among the top 10 research libraries in the country. It's a strong asset when it comes to recruiting top-tier liberal arts students, researchers and scholars. Don't think for a second that other libraries aren't paying attention to this gift UCLA just landed. 

The gift is part of the $4.2 billion UCLA Centennial Campaign, which is scheduled to conclude in December 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.

Powell, meanwhile, is an alumnus of the school and a longtime donor to the library. His previous major gifts helped the library create a new position for a data scientist to make accessible data for researchers and enabled the library to acquire the Barbara and Willard Morgan Photographs and Papers.

The gift also has a big personal dimension. Powell is the son of UCLA's legendary University Librarian Lawrence Clark Powell, in whose honor Powell Library was named in 1966.