Often referred to informally as “The Benz,” the Benzinger library in East Quad has been the site of a long history of student involvement in their residence hall. The Benz was initially created in response to students’ requests for more collaborative and non-academic spaces in the building in the 1950’s. “Operation Ransom,” the grass roots movement that campaigned for more student spaces in East Quad, composed its own internal manifesto which it submitted to the University in 1954 to promote its goals. That document explains:
The plan for Operation Ransom was… to reaffirm President Hatcher’s statement: “That students should, throughout their University residence, be immersed in the finest cultural expressions of our age.”
– Courtesy of the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Archives
The project included the creation of the Benzinger Memorial Library, as part of the University library system. “Operation Ransom” also called for the creation the WCBN studios, a snack bar (the precursor to the Halfway Inn), renovations to the dark room, and soundproofed music rooms. The University met all of these requests and granted members of the “Ransom Committee” permission to decorate and furnish these new spaces as they saw fit. Later changes to the layout and lack of space eventually moved the Benzinger Library upstairs and WCBN out of East Quad.
For many years, the Benzinger Library operated with student staff from the School of Information in charge of circulation. When the library was decommissioned as an official University Library in the early 2000’s, the students of East Quad continued to use the space for the circulation of books, records, movies and magazines. In 2005, when university officials proposed converting The Benz into a Community Learning Center and moving the library books off site, war raged between students and the University to determine who had control over the media and books shelved in the Benz. The Benzinger Library Collective, a student group organized to fight for student jurisdiction over the Benz’s materials clashed with University Housing staff – they fought for control of the materials, but in a larger sense the disagreements hinged on the question of how much autonomy ought to be granted to students and residents. To read more about this, check out the Michigan Daily article here:
Over the years, various students have regarded the Benz in different ways - a quiet place to study, a center for student performance, a staging ground for issues of University or student control, or even the site of romance:
I met my wife in the RC back in '95. We both lived in EQ our freshman year, and she used to spend a lot of time in the Benzinger Library. I'd conspire to walk past the Benz dozens of time a day in an effort to accidentally-on-purpose run into her. So powerful was the Pavlovian conditioning of glimpsing her that when I was back in EQ a couple years ago I found myself craning to see into the Benz as I walked past, even though I know perfectly well she was back at our house.
--David Erik Nelson, RC Alumni
The 2012-2013 renovation of the East Quad altered the configuration of the Benz – the size was decreased and the adjacent art gallery was moved from the side to the front – but efforts were taken to preserve its library feel. Currently, the book collection housed in the space is in the hands of the East Quad Book Co-op, one of the RC Forums. The Benz will be used during the day as a classroom and will retain its late afternoon and evening use as a place for studying, gathering, and performances.