Skip Menu

Return to Skip Menu

Main Content

University Libraries

When Virginia Tech opened in 1872 as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, V. E. Shepherd, treasurer, secretary of the faculty, and foreign language professor, was also assigned the duties of college librarian. The new school’s 500-volume collection, which Shepherd described as “Appleton’s New Encyclopedia, several excellent scientific works and about an oxload of government reports, Codes of Virginia, and other important but almost useless books of a like character,” occupied one small room in the Preston and Olin Building. The room also served as the librarian’s office and a reading room.

For the first few decades, the collection had no relationship to the curriculum of the college, and inadequate funding hampered the library’s effectiveness. The first known appropriation—$39.10—went to the library in 1878. Appropriations remained small, sometimes totaling only $15-35 a year for books and supplies, not topping $1,000 until 1904.

During the 1877-78 school term, VAMC moved its library to the first floor of the Second Academic Building. Five years later, the collection, now totaling 1,200 volumes, gained a new home in the second-floor ballroom, the largest room in the building.

In 1903 the college hired its first professional librarian, Mary G. Lacy, to oversee the holdings of 2,500 books and 10,000 pamphlets. Lacy worked with a U.S. Department of Agriculture librarian to classify the entire collection. She talked the two student literary societies into donating their meeting rooms to increase space for the growing collection. She collected and displayed newspapers from students’ hometowns, got the library designated as a depository for federal documents, created a dictionary catalogue of holdings, and more than quadrupled the holdings. When she resigned in 1910, her sister, Ethel Lacy, succeeded her for three years. The library’s first use of off-site storage occurred during her tenure.

When Ethel Lacy left in 1913, she was replaced by Eleanor Jones, who remained as head librarian until 1923. A year after Jones assumed the position, the college moved the entire library into the chapel-auditorium—called the “Dutch Barn” by faculty and students—located on the site now occupied by Newman Library. Woefully inadequate, the building had no window screens and, reportedly, “bats, birds, and squirrels frequented the library almost as often as did the students.” Constructed over steam tunnels, the building harbored flourishing colonies of silverfish, cockroaches, and termites, which damaged many books. By the time Jones left, the campus had 11 departmental libraries in addition to the main library and an agricultural branch.

The chapel had been used for 11 years when Ralph Minthorne Brown began his 21-year tenure as librarian in 1925. With the collection and patrons increasing and the Dutch Barn in such bad condition, Brown began lobbying in 1935 for a new building. When he retired in 1946, the Dutch Barn still housed the library. His successor, Seymour Robb, suggested that the college hire an impartial library study team, and the 1949 survey that followed produced the same conclusions as Brown: the college needed a new and larger building to house its library.

By 1951 the Dutch Barn had reached “saturation” point; it held no more space for expansion. Within two years, funds were secured to build a new library facility. Construction of the building was ensured in 1953 when Paul Mellon, president of the Old Dominion Foundation and a member of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors, offered $1

million to go with another $1 million approved the previous year by the Virginia General Assembly. After the library holdings were removed from the Dutch Barn, the facility mysteriously burned in August 1953, and the new library was constructed on the same site. The building, named Newman Library in memory of longtime English professor and department head Carol Montgomery Newman, opened on September 17, 1955, and was dedicated on May 11, 1956. When it opened, the agriculture and engineering branch libraries and nearly 20 departmental collections were closed and their holdings moved to Newman.

During the tenure of Gerald Rudolph (1970-74), two new branch libraries were created: geology and one for the Northern Virginia graduate programs in Reston. Plans also were made to construct an addition to Newman Library that were approved by the General Assembly in 1972 but without any appropriation of funds.

In 1976 the filled-to-capacity library leased an off-site storage facility in a building known as Cheds. In early 1977 hundreds of Virginia Tech students staged a peaceful “read in” at Newman Library to indicate support of expanding the facility. Afterwards the students gathered 7,000 names on petitions supporting expansion and delivered the petitions to Governor Godwin on February 16. Later that year a statewide bond referendum enabled the needed funding for an addition to Newman. Construction on the six-story, 100,000-sq.-ft., curved addition, which cost $5.2 million, commenced in 1978; the addition was occupied in 1981 and became the main entrance to Newman.

Today, University Libraries consists of Newman Library; branch libraries in geology (July 1, 1972), veterinary medicine, art and architecture, and the Northern Virginia Center; and a storage facility constructed in 1995 near Blacksburg’s Huckleberry Trail. These facilities house over 1.9 million printed volumes, 17,000 serial subscriptions, 5 million microforms, 130,000 audiovisual and machine-readable pieces, and 120,000 maps.

Increasingly, University Libraries has embraced and adapted computer technology to serve the needs of clients. The library’s first foray into information technology came in 1975 with the development of the Circulation and Finding System (CFS), which evolved into the Virginia Tech Library System and became known as VTLS. The online system replaced the card catalog. It provided an easy and effective way to access library materials and served as an automated system for many behind the-scenes library operations. It was adopted for use by libraries throughout the world. In recent years the library has developed ILLiad (Interlibrary Loan Internet Accessible Database) and (WHAT ELSE?) and has joined with other university libraries in (STATE) to form the Virtual Library of Virginia. It also refined and enhanced VTLS and re-christened the system The Addison, named in memory of the first student to register at Virginia Tech: William Addison “Add” Caldwell.

In 2008 the main entrance was changed from the 1981 addition back to the original entrance—doorways on Drillfield Drive and Alumni Mall.

Head librarians: Mary Lacy (1903-10), Ethel Lacy (1910-13), Eleanor Jones (1913-23), acting librarians (1923-24), Mary Hiss (1925), Ralph Minthorne Brown (1925-46), Seymour Robb (1946-61), Frank Shirk (1961-70). Title changed to library director: Gerald Rudolph (1970-74), Gordon Bechanan (1974-84), Paul Gherman (1985-92), Joanne Eustis (interim, 1992-94). Title changed to dean: Eileen Hitchingham (1995- ).