Art Library’s Former Director remembers Bridwell as Central to Career and Creative Life

The Margaret M. Bridwell Art Library played a pivotal role in Elizabeth Douthitt Byrne’s life. Before she became its second director in 1970 – one of only four women to lead the 53-year-old library – she immersed herself in art, history, and librarianship, met her future husband in the slide library, and embarked upon an auspicious career.

This summer, Byrne (BA Art 1968) and her husband, Chuck (BS Design 1972), visited Art Library and toured the facilities, which have vastly changed. Not only has the library (named for its first director) been relocated, renovated and rebranded in the intervening years, but the collection has grown exponentially.  When she left four decades ago, the library only contained 24,000 items; it now has more than 90,000.

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Chuck Byrne, Dr. Dario Covi, and Elizabeth Douthitt Byrne

Her connection to UofL began in the 1960s when she enrolled as an art student and served as a Hite scholar from 1964-1968. During this time she worked as a student assistant in the Library, and after earning her MLS from Indiana University, she was hired as the director of Bridwell Art Library.

 

In an email, Byrne reflected on her history in the art department and with Margaret Bridwell, the Art Library’s first director:

Both Chuck and I were students in the Art Department many years ago when it was in the old administration building, and it was THE place for everyone in the Department—art, design and art history students, as well as faculty—to meet and hang out. Even after the Library moved to the basement of the then ‘new’ University Library (editor’s note: now Schneider Hall), it continued to be the gathering place for everyone, and Margaret Bridwell made it a welcoming and wonderful place.

I resigned in July 1971 when Chuck and I married and I moved to Detroit, where he was working, to join him. Chuck worked as a graphic designer and taught design for many years. I was an art/architecture/design librarian for 42 years. Our experiences with Mrs. Bridwell, the Art Department and the Art Library shaped our careers.

Byrne’s career included librarian positions at Detroit Public Library, the University of Cincinnati, and the San Diego Public Library. She concluded her distinguished career as the head of the University of California at Berkeley Environmental Design Library, a role she held for 30 years until her retirement in 2011.

During Byrne’s short tenure at the Bridwell Art Library, she made a significant impact.  In the late 1960s, much of the Art Library’s collections had been developed through personal gifts from faculty or alumni.  According to her annual report to the University Libraries’ head in 1970, Elizabeth initiated an intentional book purchasing plan in support of the expanding art department curriculum.  In particular, she purchased books on American art, architectural history, and photography.  The library is still known for its strengths in these areas today.

As the couple completed their recent tour of the Bridwell Library, they stumbled into an old friend and colleague, Dr. Dario Covi, retired Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts with UofL’s College of Arts and Sciences, who had stopped in for his daily visit (in his 90s, he still maintains office hours on campus). The couple had corresponded with Dr. Covi over the past 50 years but they hadn’t seen each other since they left Louisville. Long-time friends and colleagues were reunited in a pivotal locale that has held a special place in their hearts – the Margaret M. Bridwell Art Library.



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