Sara Paretsky’s 50 years with Regenstein Library

Photo of the Joseph Regenstein Library
The Joseph Regenstein Library (Photo by Tom Rossiter)

International best-selling author, University of Chicago alumna, Library Society donor, and Hyde Park resident Sara Paretsky thinks of Regenstein as her local library. Renowned for transforming the mystery novel through her creation of the female private detective V. I. Warshawski, Paretsky describes the Third Floor of the Joseph Regenstein Library as her “home away from home.”

Photo of Sara Paretsky
Sara Paretsky, AM’69, MBA’77, PhD’77 (Photo by Steven Gross)

Paretsky, AM’69, MBA’77, PhD’77, reports having read “about every crime fiction novel” in Regenstein’s collection while preparing for her doctoral orals. She routinely turns to the Library’s extensive and “utterly accessible” collections to conduct research for her current writing. Browsing the open stacks is a beloved part of her process. She likes the feeling of “being in a quiet medieval monastery” as she sits at one of the long tables along the stacks’ perimeter. [Editor’s Note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Library is currently offering limited on-site services by reservation to current UChicago students, faculty, and staff only. Paretsky understands this need and “longingly awaits” the moment when she and other alumni can return to Regenstein.]

Paretsky’s history at Regenstein Library goes back to its earliest days. She was a graduate student when the Reg was dedicated on October 31, 1970. Having so many books under one roof was wonderful, Paretsky explained, and the new centralized library quickly began filling the role of a “great student union” on campus. After graduating from the University in 1977, she made the decision to stay in Chicago because “having access to the [city’s] libraries and human knowledge” was a priority. In recent years, although she fondly remembers the time when she was “a demon with the card catalog,” she has built her skills using the online catalog and values the help of the University of Chicago Library’s Ask a Librarian service.

In addition to the vital role it plays in her work, the Regenstein Library holds a special place in Paretsky’s heart because it is where she fell in love with her late husband, Professor Courtenay Wright, who pursued a 50-year career in physics at the University of Chicago. In 1970, Paretsky met Wright through a coworker when she worked as a secretary in the University’s Department of Political Science. The two were dating and had plans to have lunch in between Wright’s scientific research at the Enrico Fermi Institute and Paretsky’s thesis research in Regenstein. They were to meet in the lobby of the Reg. Paretsky was running late for the date and remembers walking down the stairs to find the “debonair guy” looking for her. His face was “so stricken” while thinking that she had stood him up that she thought, “He must really want to be with me.” From that moment, she knew she was in love.

The vital roles Regenstein has played in Paretsky’s life as a graduate student and an author have left her certain of the importance of the Library to the University and of the vital benefits libraries and their staffs provide to society as a whole. “A university is a place where we cherish and encourage thought. A university cannot be a major intellectual center without its library. Take away the library and you have taken away the university,” Paretsky states. “Libraries like Regenstein protect our access to the word, and now more than ever we don’t want to narrow the number of voices we can read and learn from.”