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Records of the Oberlin College Library (Group 16)
[36] Records of the Oberlin College Library, 1815-1995, 67.9 l.f.

Administrative History

Since its establishment in 1833, the College Library has operated from several different buildings. The first room for book storage was located in Oberlin Hall. From 1855 to 1867, a room in the old chapel on the southwest corner of Tappan Square, served the same purpose. During this period, with an ever-growing collection of books and increased student use—as reflected in the development of separate libraries by campus literary societies—the College sought more space for its holdings. In 1868, with the erection of Society Hall, space was provided on the upper floor for both college and literary society libraries. Spear Library-Laboratory was built in 1884-1885. Designed by Akron architects Weary and Kramer, the three-story gothic structure measured 70' x 70' and was situated on Tappan Square. It also housed the Departments of Natural History and Biology. It was razed in the fall of 1927 under terms of the will of Charles Martin Hall, which stipulated that the square be cleared of buildings as a provision for the school to receive his substantial bequeath.

During the tenure of Azariah Smith Root, the College’s first professional librarian, library holdings and facilities saw dramatic growth and expansion. Under Root’s four decades of directorship, library holdings increased from about 14,000 books and pamphlets in 1887 to over 500,000 items in 1927. In addition, Root increased library hours and established new rules for lending to students to increase academic and scholarly use. By 1923, more than 1,000 patrons used the library each day.

Perhaps Root’s most substantial accomplishment was in the planning, fund-raising, and supervision of the construction of Carnegie Library from 1905 to 1908. Root campaigned, as early as 1903, for a new library building. He developed his own program for the structure’s design and use (an unprecedented initiative for a librarian of his era), and he offered to provide public library services to the Oberlin community. Funding for the library totaling $125,000 came through from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1906, with the stipulation that Oberlin provide an additional $100,000. The college hired Normand Patton (1852-1915) of the Chicago firm Patton and Miller as the architect for the new library. Patton, also credited with the design for Warner Gymnasium, worked closely with Root, whose main priorities were that the structure be fireproof and designed for “economy of administration,” with “suitable light and ventilation.” Dedicated in June, 1908, the Carnegie Library was constructed of Amherst sandstone, facing Tappan Square from the north. The four-story structure housed classrooms and work rooms on the first floor, while the second floor contained staff offices, work rooms, and a large 132' x 48' reading room extending across the entire front of the building. The third and fourth floors housed seminar rooms, while each floor had stack floors adjoined on the east side of the building. In 1940-1941, the College erected a $250,000 addition, designed by Oberlin College Superintendent of Construction Robert R. Cutler, with input from Library Director Julian Fowler. In 1947, the Oberlin Public Library, previously staffed by college employees for the community’s use, officially incorporated and was operated jointly by the city and by Oberlin College until 1977. After the College Library’s move to the Mudd Center in 1974, Carnegie began to house several college administrative offices. Carnegie remained the site of the Oberlin Public Library until 1990.

Eileen Thornton (b. 1909), who succeeded Fowler as college librarian in 1956, continued the development of the library’s collection, improved library services, and established several branch libraries. Included among the latter are the Science Library in Kettering Hall (1961), and a separate College Archives in Bosworth Hall. Officially named the Class of 1904 Science Library, this branch brought together collections from the Botany, Chemistry, and Zoology laboratories, and select items from the Carnegie Library. The Science Library occupies the east wing of Kettering Hall and is managed by a departmental librarian.

Thornton’s most significant achievement, however, was her support and advocacy of a new multi-resource library which culminated in the erection of the Seeley G. Mudd Learning Center on the west edge of Wilder Bowl from 1971 to 1974. Backed by consultant Ralph E. Ellsworth’s report on the deficiencies of Carnegie and the modern library’s need for utilization of non-print, electronic, and multi-media resources, Thornton won tentative approval from the board of trustees in 1967. In 1970, a $2.75 million grant from the Seeley G. Mudd Foundation of Los Angeles, California, assured project funding. The New York architectural firm of Warner, Burns, Toan, and Lundy, engaged as early as 1965 for design proposals, was commissioned as project architects. The Seeley G. Mudd Learning Center, dedicated in May, 1974, and costing over $10 million, provided nearly 140,000 square feet of usage space on five levels and a capacity for almost 700,000 books and assorted periodicals, non-print media, special collections, and a computing center. In 1989, Librarian William A. Moffet changed its official name to the Mudd Center.

After 1974, construction of new library facilities was limited. A $1.6 million, 10,000 square foot addition to the Conservatory of Music Library, designed by architect Gunnar Birkerts, was dedicated in September, 1988. Renovations on Carnegie Library continued into the 1990s. As of 1995, the Oberlin College Library held 1,873,697 books, periodicals, microfilm reels, sound recordings, and other assorted media and documents.

Scope and Content

Arranged around six subgroups and spanning the period 1815 to 1995, the Library’s records document the on-going management and collection of information resources for faculty, student, and community use, as well as the erection and expansion of physical facilities to house them. Included among these materials are architectural records relating to the issues of initial conception, design, construction, and expansion of Oberlin’s library facilities. This group documents the evolution and history of the major library construction projects: Carnegie Library (1908), its 1940 addition, and the Seeley G. Mudd Learning Center (1974). Architectural materials are located primarily in Subgroup III “Building Files, Construction and Architecture.” The files of the Science Library in Kettering Hall, dating from 1958 to 1988, appear in Subgroup II “Library Departments and Programs.” In addition, informative histories of the various phases of administration and facilities of the Oberlin College Library and Oberlin Public Library are filed in Subgroup V “Historical Files.”

Records of architectural significance in Subgroup III “Building Files, Construction and Architecture,” are held in Series 1 “Carnegie Library” (1.0 l.f.), and Series 2 “Seeley G. Mudd Learning Center” (6.25 l.f.). Arranged by subject, records pertaining to Carnegie Library span the years 1905 to 1990. They document the 1906-1908 erection of the Normand Patton-designed structure, the 1940 addition and related renovations to Carnegie, and subsequent building use, space, security, storage, maintenance, and long-range planning issues, mostly from the period 1964 to 1989. Included are some professional and administrative correspondence of Library Director Azariah S. Root, 1887-1927, most notably Root’s unprecedented planning program for Carnegie, ca. 1905, and his many studies and analyses of the structure’s space, usage, and maintenance needs, 1907-1913. The bulk of Root’s correspondence with architect Patton relating to architectural issues is held with Root’s papers (see entry 64).

Further records relative to Carnegie Library document the growth of the College Library as an institution in need of new space and restoration of facilities. The later Carnegie materials cover pre- and post-1940 addition and renovation planning, design, construction, and maintenance issues, 1930-1941 and 1964-1989. Documents include correspondence with consulting architects like Richard Kimball, 1938-1939; planning documents; funding proposals; and news clippings; and architectural drawings (blue-line prints) in the form of floor plans emanating from on-going renovation studies for both the Oberlin College Library and the Oberlin Public Library, 1940, 1954, 1973, and 1984. Of particular interest among these documents are records pertaining to the transfer of the administrative functions and book collections of the College Library to the Mudd Center. Subsequent College facility use of Carnegie, and issues related to the housing of the Oberlin Public Library within Carnegie Library, are also detailed.

Series 2 of subgroup 3 contains documentation on the “Seeley G. Mudd Learning Center/Mudd Center,” which was built “to provide an efficient and flexible home for the general learning resources of the Oberlin campus.” Spanning the period 1956 to 1990, it holds extensive materials that document early planning, program phase development, design, construction, and equipping of the Mudd Center, as well as its continued administration and maintenance. Arranged alphabetically by subject, the 15 boxes of records in this series include site maps, surveys, working drawings (mostly blue-line prints) and 8" x 10" glosses of floor plans, elevations, section details, and ca. 50 artistic renderings (both in color and black and white) of Mudd’s facilities. These renderings include each level of the structure and specific library departments such as circulation, reserve, the staff lounge, scholar studies, and Mudd’s exterior design. These records, though sometimes held under specific subject headings, are also duplicated and intermingled throughout the series. Other documents are similarly arranged: the correspondence and planning documents emanating from the office of Library Director Eileen Thornton, 1956-1971, and materials related to the New York firm of Warner, Burns, Toan and Lundy (WBTL), whose architects designed Mudd Center. WBTL documents include correspondence, 1966-1974; project bulletins; a 1600-page project manual and subsequent addenda; specifications; meeting minutes about ten working drawings (blue-line prints) of project revisions, 1973-1974; and other miscellaneous materials, 1965-1975. Other documents of interest include a chronology of library planning, 1971; various feasibility analyses, 1965-1971; itemized budgets and consultant reports, 1963-1971; computer center use and design considerations, 1966-1978; 23 glosses of landscaping surveys and site details, n.d.; and proposals for project funding from the Seeley G. Mudd Foundation of Los Angeles, California, 1970-1973. Also included are campus location and construction debates among student, faculty, and trustee committees.

The records of the Science Library in Kettering Hall, which was dedicated in 1961, date between 1958 and 1988. Planning documents, in the form of memoranda between College Librarian Eileen Thornton and President William E. Stevenson, Business Manager Lewis R. Tower, and various science department professors, discuss the needs, goals, and resources envisioned for the construction of the new Science Library. Before the The Austin Company drafted architectural and mechanical drawings, Thornton identified space needs for books and periodicals, reader stations, halls, stairwells, restrooms, entrances, growth of the collection, shelving sizes, lighting, and heating and ventilation systems. Thornton also corresponded with College Trustee Frank Van Cleef and with Ernest B. Chamberlain, both of the Class of 1904. Their class contributed funds for the Science Library. Among the records included here are drawings and floorplans of the library, photographs from the dedication, and copies of the dedication speeches. Although reports, memoranda, and meeting minutes from the years of the library’s operation after 1962 are contained in these files, they focus less on physical facilities as such.

Manuscript materials of peripheral interest are held in the five series of Subgroup V “Historical Files,” including written historical studies of Oberlin College Library and the Oberlin Public Library’s institutional histories, artifacts, news clippings from 1938 to 1987, and a limited assortment of photographs. Series 3 “Autograph File” contains letters by Oberlin personalities and well-known figures, arranged alphabetically. In-house indexes of these letters are available, enabling the researcher to search chronological and alphabetical lists for references to Oberlin’s built environment.

Architectural materials which document erection and renovation of the Conservatory of Music Library, spanning the period 1956-1989, are held in subgroup II, series 1, Subseries 6 “Conservatory Library.” The 38 folders consist mostly of planning documents; correspondence with architects Minoru Yamasaki, 1956-1979, and Gunnar Birkerts, 1985-1989; and oversized photographs, 1987-1988, of the renovation/addition project.

A list of the architectural drawings of Carnegie Library and the Seeley G. Mudd Learning Center (now Mudd Center) appear on a separate inventory.

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