Shields Library, boasting more than 3 million volumes and ranked among the top research libraries in North America, is a magnet for students and faculty. Thanks to its renovation in 1990 and the addition of the Bookhead sculpture from Robert Arneson’s The Egghead Series, the building offers an attractive background for campus photos.
Namesakes: Peter J. Shields
Peter J. Shields
You might recognize Peter J. Shields’ surname as the one that graces UC Davis’ main library, located on the south side of the Quad. Although the building was constructed in 1940, replacing a classroom/library structure built in 1915, the university library did not formally become “Peter J. Shields Library” until 1972.
Or you may see the name on street signs for the road that border the north side of the library, stretching from California Avenue to A Street.
But the most familiar namesake for the man known as our “Father of the Farm” courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service. The post office insisted in the mid ’90s that the campus have just one street address, a virtual one. Hence “One Shields Avenue” is what you must use to send a letter to anyone on the Davis campus.
At the conclusion of the state fair in 1899, the head of the fair’s dairy department told Peter J. Shields that Humboldt County had won the first-place award for butter. “How do you judge butter?” asked Shields, who was then secretary of the State Agricultural Society, which conducted the fair. “How can one package of butter be said to be better than another? Isn’t butter just butter?”
“Oh, no!” replied the young dairyman, explaining that butter can have many important differences in color, texture, grain and flavor.
Shields, impressed, asked how the young man had learned this. Pennsylvania State College, he answered, adding that California had no comparable institution. And thus UC Davis was born. From this casual conversation would come, as Shields later said, “a great institution.” Shields was passionate about the state’s need of a school that would provide the agricultural education that he, as a farm boy, had not received. He became, as he said, a zealot and a crusader for his idea. He corresponded with leaders at agricultural colleges in other states, and he spoke to anybody who would listen about the plan. He drafted a legislative bill for an agricultural college, and after several years of effort and anxiety, he saw it through passage and execution.
Shields went on to have a long career as a Superior Court judge and as a friend of the Davis campus. At age 92, he looked with great satisfaction on what at he called “my beloved institution,” and he marveled that the reality was even better than his dream.