The Library Science Library at the University of Illinois, 1944-2009

Two library students stand just outside of the Library School Library, holding stacks of books.

Two library students stand just outside of the Library School Library, holding stacks of books.

People go to librarians when they need help researching, but where do librarians go when they need help with their own research? This post will explore the history of the Library Science Library at the University of Illinois, one of a few dedicated library science collections in the United States.

The Library Science Library at the University of Illinois has its roots in the small collection of library science books Katharine Sharp gathered while she was working at the Armour Institute from 1893-96, which she then brought with her to the University of Illinois in 1897 [1]. Before the 20th century there was not a lot of library science literature to collect. The small collection was initially housed in the Library School study room in the library building (now known as Altgeld Hall), where students would both study and practice their library skills, as each student had an assigned desk outfitted with tools of the library trade, such as sample catalog cards. This was in keeping with the practice in other library schools. The collection would be housed in a study room for the next few decades [2] [3].

The Library School  study room, 1926

The Library School study room, 1926

In 1926 the library school moved to the third floor of the new library building, along with the growing library science collection. The Library Science Library would remain in the Main Library (with an occasional move from room to room) until its closure in 2009. [4] The library science collection experienced large growth in the 1920s and 1930s as collection development money allotted to library science increased, at the same time the amount of literature being published in the field also increased.

Future librarians need to practice their skills, and one of the unique skills possessed by many librarians is a mastery of reference books, which takes time working with the books to develop. For at least one regular student his having to share reference materials with the library students was an issue in 1908:

[…] it goes against the grain with me to see how completely the students in the Library School have pitched their tents and staked their claims in the reading rooms. I’ll admit that they have a right there and that they are doing something worth while and all that, but I just can’t see for the life of me where the rights of the common, ordinary student come in. Why, I spent three hours and a half the other day just trying to get a squint into the “Year Book” for 1902 and a glance at “Who’s Who in America”, and by actual count seventeen different young women, —all with pens and serious looks and pads of paper—were poring over those two interesting volumes as if in search of some single remedy for all the ills of the human frame. Then somebody told me that I could find what I wanted in a thing called “Poole’s Index” — an invention of the devil to aid one in finding what he doesn’t want. If you have been in the west reading room of late I don’t need to tell you the state of vivisection in which I found that index. The “Dewey System” had a half holiday at the first table, and twenty three library students were systematically at work there. […] I’m just as proud of our Library School as you are, but I’m to go on wondering why in the world the legislature or some other benevolent body can’t give us money enough to conduct a library as well as a library school. [5]

Library School students practicing cataloging in the Library School Library, 1948.

Library School students practicing cataloging in the Library School Library, 1948.

To meet this need to practice, the Library Science Library (at that time called the Library School Library) first started as a “demonstration” library for use by library students, containing general reference materials, working library materials for practice like cataloging cards, as well as the library science collection. This space, a combination of practice space and collection, was semi-private and intended for the use of library science students and faculty only [6]. In 1941 the Library School Library gained its first full-time librarian, Frances Hammitt, prior to that it had been run by volunteers and library school students part time [7]. In 1944 the Library Science Library officially opened up to the use of the undergraduates and the public [8].

The next big change for the Library Science Library came in 1979 when the Library Science School moved from the third floor of the Main Library to David Kinley Hall, across the street, and the Library Science Library stayed in the Main Library, as David Kinley Hall did not have the structural strength to support the weight of the library science collection. This ended some of the library science faculty and students’ casual use of the space for study and collaboration. In the words of a library science faculty member:

[…] we could no longer stop in between classes. Because it was now a city block distant horizontally and several floors distant vertically, most of us found that we used the Library less and less frequently [9].

uiuc oclc terminals

Terminals used to access Ohio College Library Center (OCLC) records in the Learning Resources Lab (LRL) demonstrate the changing nature of library work, c. 1990

During this same time the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and libraries field in general, was undergoing a major upheaval in how libraries are managed. The graduate school started offering classes in library computer work in the 1960s. The University of Illinois Library switched from a traditional card catalog to a computer catalog in 1978. The new space for the library school in David Kinley Hall was complete with a computer lab (the Learning Resources Lab) with terminals hooked up to the OCLC. Library work, and library education, was increasingly becoming digital. The Library Science Library started actively collecting digital materials in the early 1990s [10] Patricia Stenstrom was the librarian who would see the library through this transition.

The Graduate School of Library and Information Science moved to a building of it’s own in 1994, making it now 4 blocks away from the Library Science Library instead of two. In 1996, GSLIS began offering library degrees online through LEEP (Library Education Experimental Program), meaning the Library Science Library now had to serve the needs of students on and off campus.

In response to the needs of these students, as well as the increasing change in the nature of information, the Library Science Library subscribed to its first full-text library science database in 2000, and licensed its first e-book in 2002. [11] Due to both the decreasing foot traffic in the physical space, and the increasing demands for online services and embedded library instructional sessions, in 2008 the decision was made to close the Library Science Library. Spring 2009 was the last semester of the Library Science Library as physical space (managed at that time by Sue Searing) after 65 years of being open to the public [12]. However, the library science collection is still growing, and the students of the library school are still served by the LIS Virtual Library and two full-time library science personnel, Dan Tracy and Sandy Wolf.

The evolving nature of the Library Science Library can also stand as a testament to the change both in how information is stored and disseminated and how library science education is conducted. A person practicing cataloging no longer needed a room full of books and a pile of index cards, they needed a computer. A student practicing using reference materials would no longer bother others by hogging all the books, as reference work was also moving to online databases. Books themselves were also becoming digital. The movement from solely in-person to a mixture of in-person and digital education necessitated a library that could be used by students on or off campus. The modern place of the library as a physical presence to house both collections and researcher work space is still undergoing vigorous discussion in many communities, including most recently the New York Public Library.

The former physical space of the Library Science Library is still actively serving contemporary issues in library and information science. Room 306 of the Main Library now houses The Scholarly Commons [13], which has workstations with specialty research software and hardware, as well as expert consultation services on modern research issues such as copyright, data analysis, digital content creation, usability, and digital humanities.

 

Citations

[1] Stenstrom, Patricia. “The Library and Information Science Library.”  In Ideals and Standards: The History of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1893-1993, edited by Walter C. Allen and Robert F. Delzell. 1992. Book has been digitized.

[2] Ibid

[3] Floorplan of the University Library building (now Altgeld Hall) as it was laid out in 1908, showing the library science study room on the third floor. Scanned from the 1908 library guide booklet that was given to students, Library Handbooks, Record Series 35/1/804.

[4] Floorplan of the Library building as it was laid out in 1952, showing the library science school and library on the third floor. Scanned from the 1952 library guide booklet that was given to graduate students, Library Handbooks Record Series 35/1/804.

[5] Anonymous student complaint about the library science students’ overuse of reference materials, 1908. Found in Edmund J. James Papers Faculty Correspondence, January to August 1908, Record Series 2/5/6 Box 10, Folder L-Z.

[6] Overview of the Library School Library, UIUC Departmental Libraries Handbook, 1942. Library Handbooks, Record Series 35/1/804.

[7] Stenstrom, Patricia. “The Library and Information Science Library.”  In Ideals and Standards: The History of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1893-1993, edited by Walter C. Allen and Robert F. Delzell. 1992. Book has been digitized.

[8] Overview of the Library School Library, UIUC Departmental Libraries Handbook, 1947. Library Handbooks, Record Series 35/1/804.

[9] Montanelli, Dale S. “A Place of Our Own: the School’s Space.” In Ideals and Standards: The History of the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science, 1893-1993, edited by Walter C. Allen and Robert F. Delzell. 1992. Book has been digitized.

[10] Searing, Susan. “The Library and Information Science Library, 1990s to 2009.”

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid

[13] Floorplan of the Library building as it is organized currently.

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