Building Carnegie Library Charles Adams Elizabeth Holder Guy Lyle James Thompson UNCG Walter Clinton Jackson Library Woman's College of the University of North Carolina

The Library as a Hub of Learning (Part Two)

Since the school’s founding in 1892, the library has played a central role in supporting faculty research and student learning.  From its humble beginnings of being located in a small classroom to its current massive holdings of analog and digital holdings, the library has sought to keep pace with emerging scholarly trends, changing researcher needs, evolving uses of technology, as well as a growing student population.  This second blog post about the history of the library at UNCG will examine the profound changes in its collections and space between the years 1945 to 1974.

Carnegie Library Building

At the time of the school’s celebration of its fiftieth anniversary in 1942, the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (UNCG) library was considered the largest woman’s college library in the South.  Its staff of eleven professionals supported the needs of 2,300 students and 300 faculty.  Yet, library administrators and college faculty declared that the current facility was “inadequate” in accommodating the growing collections.  The library’s director (Guy Lyle) and the Faculty Library Committee worked together to build a “case” for the construction of a new library building.  Lyle noted that the library had seen a marked growth in collections and patrons since 1923.  Drawing on its annual statistics over the past 20 years, Lyle found that the number of faculty had grown by 101%, the student body had grown by 75.9%, the number of titles in the collections had grown by 441%, and the over-all circulation of titles had grown by 175%.  Lyle also noted that the seating capacity of the library had only increased by 14.7% since 1923.  During the course of the war years (1941-1945), a number of Greensboro newspaper articles raised the issue of the library’s “space crunch” by referencing Lyle’s key talking point that the facility’s seating capacity had not kept pace with the growth of its student population.  Before Guy Lyle left to take a position at Louisiana State University in 1944, he had the Winston-Salem architecture firm of Northup and O’Brien develop drawings and a conceptual plan for a new library.  His successor, Charles M. Adams, would rely heavily on these designs as he advocated for a new building.   

In 1945, Woman’s College submitted a request to the North Carolina General Assembly for monies to build a new library.  Dr. Walter Clinton Jackson, Dean of Administration, stated that $380,000 was needed for the new structure.  As the Advisory Budget Commission considered this funding request, the library’s director Charles Adams continued to make his case to the general public.  Quoted in a December 1946 article in the school’s newspaper, Adams stated that the “present quarters are so crowded that it is nothing short of a shocking academic situation.”  Adams also noted that the current library could only seat 10% of the student body while the new library was expected to seat upward of 50% of the student body.  In this same article, it was mentioned that the cost of the new library now stood at $1,128,400.

With the North Carolina General Assembly approving this funding request in 1947, contractors quickly submitted bids for the $1.1 million dollar project.  The new building project was to be located on Walker Avenue between McIver and Forest Streets.  The city of Greensboro approved the permanent closing of this portion of Walker Avenue on campus.  While there was some local opposition to this shift in traffic patterns, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on September 27, 1948.  Surrounded by dignitaries, faculty, and students, Chancellor Walter Clinton Jackson wielded a pick axe and a shovel to formally mark the start of construction.  Jackson stated that the new building marked “the beginning of a new era of greater usefulness of the college to the people of the state.”  The building project started in earnest in October 1948 with the grading of the land.  The installation of steel girders took place throughout the winter months.  The building quickly took shape and was completed in March 1950.  During the College’s exam period in 1950, the library staff relocated the collections from the Carnegie library to the new space.  The College supplied canvas laundry baskets in which the books were packed in.  To expedite the moving of books from the second floor of the Carnegie building, the laundry baskets were sent down chutes into waiting moving trucks!  The new library building opened on June 5, 1950.

Walter Clinton Jackson Viewing the New Library Building

The structure was built to be fire-proof by employing a steel frame and reinforced concrete floors and roof.  All floors were designed for a live load of 100 pounds per square foot.  The floors were covered in terrazzo.  The building contained an elevator for staff to move collections between floors as well as a pneumatic tube system to assist with the sending of call cards to all floors for book retrieval.  Air-conditioning was only provided on the first floor of the three story building.  The exterior of the building featured sand-finish colonial face brick and white Georgia marble.  The main entrance of the library featured a marble columned portico.

The building was designed to meet the projected future growth of the student population from its current 2,300 students to 3,000 students.  The seating capacity was set at 1,384 seats (which included seats in the reading room, seminar rooms, study carrels, and lecture hall).  And, the building’s new book stacks areas now had the capacity to handle 300,000 titles which was more than double its current holdings.  The design also allowed for special services that ranged from seminar rooms for faculty, a small lecture space for book talks, a large lecture room for classes, a student lounge, and sound-proof rooms for audio listening.  Interestingly, access to the collections was restricted to those students who were given a “stacks permit” (mostly juniors and seniors).  

New Library Building, c. 1955

After ten years of service, the “new” library building was formally named the Walter Clinton Jackson Library in 1960 in honor of the former Chancellor.  At the same time, the building was already reaching its projected capacity for titles and patrons.  Indeed, the library was already installing extra shelving in the stacks areas as well as in seminar rooms to accommodate new acquisitions. 

With Woman’s College becoming a co-educational University in 1963, the library was now required to support new graduate programs and an ever-growing student population.  By 1964, the library’s director Charles Adams began to consider plans for an addition to the building.  To assist the planning process, Adams turned to the architecture firm, Odell and Associates of Charlotte, to develop a plan for the addition.  Odell and Associates recommended the construction of a ten-story structure to be located at the rear of the present library building.  The designers consciously designed a building whose features differed greatly from the more traditional brick and marble Jackson Library.  The bright white concrete clad tower embodied the architectural approach known as Brutalism.  Nevertheless, the two distinct buildings would be connected and function as one facility.  The designs and conceptual plan were submitted to the University and to the North Carolina General Assembly. 

Walter Clinton Jackson Library

In 1967, the General Assembly authorized funding of the addition.  However, it was only in 1969 that the General Assembly actually appropriated funds.  The leadership of the library changed in 1969-1970.  Charles Adams retired.  Elizabeth Holder served as the acting director until a search was completed.  Dr. James Thompson was hired in July 1970 to oversee the library and the coming building project.  He immediately began to work with the architects to realize the construction of the ten story addition and the renovation of the 1950 building.  The 1971 General Assembly allocated $4,240,000 to pay for the addition, along with $185,000 for renovations to the existing Jackson Library.  Additional funds were allocated to relocate the intersection of Walker Avenue and Forest Avenue to accommodate the new building.

Construction on the tower addition began in early February 1972.  At that time, the University had 6,983 students and its collections contained 614,098 items.  These numbers were more than double what had been planned for the original 1950 building.  The library’s director noted that “Jackson Library is a fine building” but that the goals of the University had changed.”  So, the current space was inadequate for instruction, collections, and research programs.  Thompson stated that the library addition would provide 119,000 square feet of floor space.  The addition would also increase the number of student seating as well as increase the number of student carrels from 49 to 271 spaces.   With the combined spaces of the current Jackson Library and the tower addition, Dr. James Thompson declared that there would be enough future growth space to house a total of one million volumes.

Library Tower Under Construction, c. 1973

The tower project was completed in October 1973.  Starting in November 1973, the library staff moved 500,000 books to the tower addition.  The move would take place over three days.  During the entire move operation, the library remained open to meet the needs of its 7,856 students and 400 faculty.  With the books relocated, the construction project turned to renovating the 1950 portion of the library complex.  Those renovations would be completed in fall 1974.  At the completion of the construction and renovation projects, Dr. Thompson estimated that it would take UNC Greensboro 10 to 15 years to fill up the building with books at its present acquisition rate.  Thompson’s prediction was largely correct.  Over the next decade, the library would need to address advances in library technology, continued increases in student enrollment, space, and the growing costs of acquiring new collections.      

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