Love Library Cupola

The cupola on top of Love Library pictured on Monday, Jan. 27, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

As part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “What’s in the little red room at the top of Love Library?”

Love Library has existed at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln since 1941 and opened for students in 1945. It’s home to many books, computers and study areas designed for stressed college students to complete their coursework. But when strolling by the building after dark, many may notice the red-lit, steeple-like structure perched on top, adorned with a prominent needle sticking out of the roof. The mysterious, scarlet-shining space begs the question: Does anything happen inside of the structure, or does it just serve as a piece of art designed to give the campus library a bit of character?

Joan Barnes, an associate professor of practice and community engagement librarian for University Libraries, revealed the true nature of the space.

“The little red room isn’t actually a room at all,” Barnes said. “That structure is called a cupola.”

A cupola is a dome-like structure that sits on top of a building. They were originally implemented to add natural light and ventilation to the area underneath the roof. The cupola at the top of Love Library was added in 1942.

Barnes explained that many people don’t have the desire to go inside of the cupola due to the arduous, steel-stepped path that leads up into the library’s attic. The cupola tends to be more enjoyable to look at than go inside, according to Barnes.

Deb Pearson, the head of libraries facilities planning, has worked at UNL for over 20 years, and the cupola is one of the only rooms she has never been inside of.

“Unfortunately, there’s nothing up there except for air,” Pearson said. “It mainly serves as a beautiful place of architecture for the library.” 

The cupola is occasionally lit up during Husker football game days, Pearson said, and drones will get footage of the cupola from time to time to display on game days. 

Pearson explained that most people who go up into the space are members of Facilities Maintenance and Operations, and they make the climb to replace windows or fix any structural damage to the cupola. However, there are other faculty members who stop by the cupola every now and then, she said.

“There are times that the chancellor of the university will visit the cupola to take pictures for Christmas cards.”