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Hunt for Fossils

The tan stone you see on the floors, central staircase, walls, and pillars of William T. Young Library is Mesozoic-era limestone imported from southern Germany. The stone contains abundant fossils of sea creatures living during the age of the dinosaurs, buried on the seafloor and turned to stone between 65 and 250 million years ago. Nearly every slab of limestone in the library contains remnants of these ancient creatures, whose shapes may appear differently depending on how the stone was cut. Throughout the library you can find:

  • Sponges (circular, straight, U-, and V-shaped)
  • Rudistids (circular and horn-shaped)
  • Ammonites (spiral-shaped)

Less commonly, you may come across the shiny, dark-brown, and cigar-shaped fossils of belemnites. If you spot a rare, nut-shaped brachiopod fossil, you may have a future as a paleontologist.

The Sinking Library*

You may wonder why Young Library seems to be sitting in an enormous crater. Well, the entire College of Engineering is scratching their heads, too. When it was completed in 1998, the library is believed to have sat on level ground. But at 365,000 square feet – over 8 acres of floor space – Young Library has enough room for 37 miles of shelving and holds a whopping 1.2 million volumes. With the weight of all that knowledge, plus the 780,000 bricks that make up its exterior, it’s no wonder the earth may appear to have buckled. Indeed, over the past 25 years, onlookers speculate that "Willy T." has sunk nearly 15 feet into the ground. Filling up with 4,000 students during finals week twice a year doesn’t help keep things light, though the deeper it sinks, the better the slopes get for sledding. Librarians wonder if they should begin work on a Sixth Floor by 2030.

*Geologists who specialize in sinkholes and karst terrains with direct knowledge of the construction of the library assure us the library is exactly where it has always been and is not sinking. We hope they are right.

Storm Cat

William T. Young, the namesake of Young Library, was a Lexington businessman, horse breeder, and the founder of Overbook Farm, which sits on 2,400 acres in southern Fayette County. You can find him and his stallion, Storm Cat, on the Overbrook Tapestry near the Circulation Desk on the First Floor. Designed and woven by Swedish textile artist Helena Hernmark, the tapestry stands 12’7” tall and 22’ wide, contains over 700 colors, and weighs nearly 200 pounds. Hernmark’s work can be found in museums, buildings, and public spaces across the United States and around the world. In the early 2000s, Storm Cat was the world’s highest-priced stallion and North America’s leading sire. He is the great-grandsire of 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, and great-great-grandsire of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify.

Wade Hall Quilt Collection

The Fifth Floor of Young Library features 64 quilts from the Wade Hall Quilt Collection. A former professor of English and Humanities at Bellarmine College in Louisville, Dr. Hall was a folk art aficionado who collected quilts from across the Ohio River Valley region over a 30 year period. Most of the quilts on display were purchased within a 100-mile radius of Lexington, in Kentucky, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. They have been used and loved throughout their life, and come complete with stains, tears, fading fabric, and lopsided shapes. Most date from the early to mid-20th century. The oldest quilt, Compass, hangs in the South Wing and dates from 1860. Dr. Hall was also an avid collector of letters. His collection covers more than 200 years of American history and is held at the Special Collections Research Center. Learn more in our Wade Hall Collection Research Guide.

Art & Artifacts in the Fine Arts Library

With floor-to-ceiling windows, comfy reading chairs, and quiet nooks, the Lucille Caudill Little Fine Arts Library is well-suited for both focused study and bright, peaceful breaks. It is also a space designed to inspire, filled with a wide variety of art and artifacts, including: 

  • Contemporary work by over 20 artists from or connected to Kentucky. You can find biographical information and photos of the art in our Little Library Art Collection Library Guide
  • A diverse collection of artists’ books, many of which are one-of-a-kind, with an emphasis on 3-dimensional, sculptural works. You can find many on display in cases in the library, and learn more about the artists and their work in our Artists’ Books Library Guide
  • John Jacob Niles' 1953 Steinway Piano, along with panels from carved, rough-hewn doors and unique dulcimers made by the prominent composer and folk song collector known as the “Dean of American Balladeers,” all on display in the Niles Gallery

Design Classics at the Fine Arts Library

When visiting the Fine Arts Library, enjoy a great book while sitting on an iconic piece of design history. Designed in 1929 for the King of Spain by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Barcelona chair’s clean lines and elegant proportions made it an immediate hit with the public, and the chair has been in nearly continuous production by American manufacturer Knoll, Inc. ever since. 

The Fine Arts Library’s genuine Knoll Barcelona chairs were purchased by former UK President Otis A. Singletary for use in his office. When the chairs were inherited by the library in 2000, their original brown leather was badly aged, cracked, and torn. Former Fine Arts Library director Gail Kennedy received a grant to re-cover the chairs in new, black leather, and the work was carried out by a local Lexington reupholstery firm.

Our Barcelona chairs are as attractive to UK students, faculty, and staff as they have been with the design-loving public for nearly 100 years, and the accompanying glass-topped Barcelona coffee table remains as gorgeous as the day it was manufactured. While you’re in the mid-century mood, make sure to take a peek at the Library’s collection of Vitra Design Museum miniature chairs, as well as contemporary 1:1 reproductions of many other design classics.

The Fine Arts Library Ghosts

When the sounds first began – a thin and wavering warble, sounding a little like a distant parade – it was easy enough to write them off as a trick of the A/C. They would tremble up from the basement at odd hours throughout the day, trill for a few minutes, and occasionally repeat, but never for very long. It was a hot summer, and wheezy HVACs can sound like all sorts of things. 

But as the weather began to cool, it became increasingly difficult to explain other odd happenings. Subtle things at first: lights shutting off here and there, especially whenever users were browsing through the oversized scores. The Second Floor felt drafty and cold all autumn, as though a constant breeze was blowing through, but all the windows were certainly closed – every last librarian had checked. Some student workers could have sworn they heard long exasperated sighs echoing around in the stairwell, or the ticking of a clock. And alarmed librarians would suddenly spook at the feeling of something tugging at their clothes, sending pinpricks up and down their arms.

Then there was the rushing sound, as winter set in, as if torrents of water were spilling down the walls, pouring every day with increasing frequency and intensity. That, and the sense that something invisible was pooling around the front door, almost as if to block it, and whooshing the handle out of unsuspecting users’ hands. Was this to keep visitors out, or to keep librarians trapped inside? All the while, the high, tinny warble continued its mysterious wail. There was no doubt now that it was repeating, over and over for longer and longer, until it became an incessant and ominous cry. Something was haunting the Fine Arts Library – and it was becoming more and more upset. 

No one wanted to venture into the basement – those crowded storage rooms that felt so much like crypts for buried books – but such a quest could no longer be avoided. Who knew what awful trick would come next? Quavering librarians drew straws. The unlucky chosen one, donning a hefty catalogue raisonne as a shield, ventured forth, waving a trembling goodbye to her fellow librarians watching from the top of the stairs. 

The basement air felt heavy and damp. The librarian tentatively followed the sounds. Around the corner, a Victor Talking Machine slowly came into view. “I forgot we had that thing!” she cried to herself. The thin sound of brass issued from the speaker horn as she watched the old record spin. As it finished playing and began again, the sound of those exasperated sighs filled the basement and the room pulsed with thwarted expectations. Suddenly it dawned on her: all these spirits wanted was for someone to turn the record over! She pulled up the needle, flipped the ancient vinyl, and immediately the dark and dingy basement seemed to spring to life. At long last, the songs that had been etched into vinyl so long ago could finally play out. The spirits were appeased, and the curse was lifted.

The cold breezes, ominous clocks, and spooky clothes-tugs have stopped, but you can still hear these friendly spirits rushing through the walls, dancing to their old gramophone records, and occasionally having a small specter-party by the door. And should you one day work the front desk at the FAL, be prepared for some periodic descents into the basement to turn the record over for those fun-loving ghosts.

Abe Lincoln Luck

On February 12, 2009, a bleary-eyed sophomore, feeling feverish after a coffee-fueled all-nighter, stumbled distractedly across campus, as into certain doom, ill-prepared for the exam she was running late for. She was headed to the Chem-Phys Building, but with so many 3-chloro-2, 4-dimethylhexanes clamoring in her brain, she found herself, quite unawares, swinging open the door to the Special Collections Research Center.

It was an auspicious day, and some say she was summoned there that particular morning. The light struck her eyes harshly, and as the unfamiliar surroundings resolved themselves in her vision, she spotted a mysterious figure in the lobby, polishing the enormous bust of Abraham Lincoln. The stranger smiled at the lost sophomore, but when she shook her head, he was gone. 

Something about old Honest Abe drew her in: the statue’s silent solemnity, intermixed with a kind of knowing jolliness, seemed to wink at her, if brass could wink. As she walked toward the statue, the sun rising through the cold February morning broke through the window and gleamed alluringly upon old Abe’s nose. She did not know what she was doing until the deed was done: she reached up and gave it a rub. 

It cannot be confirmed (the professor absconded with the records), but the rumor circulates still: against all odds, the sleepy sophomore aced her organic chemistry exam that morning. “Could it have been…?” she always asked herself. Afraid of the potential power residing in that nose, and not wishing to anger whatever spirits had summoned and saved her on that fateful day, she did not return to old Abe until two years later, in even more dire straits before a biochemical engineering final and with a cap and gown on the line. 

Whether or not she met success, we will keep mum: but point to the ever-growing lines of sleepy-eyed undergraduates on exam mornings nosing into the lobby of the SCRC for a bit of Lincoln Luck.