Over 70 years ago, Don L. Love Memorial Library opened its doors at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in October 1947. Throughout these 74 years, the UNL Libraries have offered resources to students like nice study spaces and a wide collection of books, as well as brought some fun into the space through their hobbit doors.
The hobbit doors are located on level BA of Love Library South. Simply put, they are short doors that offer an entrance into the half floors of the stacks. These two doors, one located on the Southwest side and the other on the Southeast, are the only entrance into this space other than the elevator located in the stacks. The doors are decorated with vinyl to appear as if it is rounded at the top and accompanied with pink and purple cobblestone on the floor.
According to Deb Pearson, a retiree of the University Libraries, the height of the doors was an architectural must at the time. She said that every floor of the library is split into two levels to optimize the collection space. Pearson attributes the stacking of the library and the lack of technology in the early 1900s as the reason the hobbit doors were needed.
“This was planned back in the ’30s,” Pearson said. “They just didn’t have the technology; it was all papers and pencils and rulers. That was the accommodation they had to make to meet building standards and to make the half-level situation work. It was planned, but it wasn’t the plan to make a shorter than usual door.”
Pearson said that initially, the library staff had nicknamed the doors “munchkin doors” in reference to “The Wizard of Oz.” It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the doors were renamed and painted.
“Sometime in the early 2000s, we decided to insert a little whimsy into the building,” Pearson said. “Since ‘[The] Lord of the Rings’ was the en vogue popular culture thing at the time, we thought the students would recognize the word ‘hobbit’ more than ‘munchkin.’”
The University Libraries then tasked Erin Colonna, graphic designer for the University Libraries, to make a design on the outside of the hobbit doors. Colonna said she looked at various types of hobbit doors online to inspire her design, but the cobblestones were added to get people to look up and notice the doors.
“I wanted something on the floor to grab people’s attention,” Colonna said. “People are always looking down, especially when walking down stairs, and if you see that down on the bottom, that will catch your eye.”
Despite the fact that the hobbit doors are smaller than the others in the library, they are still fully functional. In fact, Pearson said the South stacks are popularly used study spots among students, and that the hobbit doors are often used to enter the lower level.
“The south stacks are very, very high use,” Pearson said. “They’re well lit, nicely furnished and they have beautiful views to the South … they’re very popular study spaces in the building. It’s just as quick to zip down the stairs and use the doors rather than to sit and wait for the elevator.”
Upon discovery of the hobbit doors, it may be more apparent to students that it isn’t just a boring, old library. Joan Barnes, associate professor of practice for the University Libraries, said she hopes that the hobbit doors bring enjoyment to students spending time in the library.
“There is a lot of things that we’re serious about in providing academic support to our students, but we also have this element of delight, discovery and fun,” Barnes said. “I think that comes out in the doors.”