January – March 1995

From the earliest days of the University of Iowa the sciences have formed a significant part of the curriculum. Throughout this time departmental libraries have played an integral role in supporting study in these disciplines. Many of the departmental libraries on campus began as, so-to-speak, “in-house” collections gathered and administered by the academic department, hence the terminology. In the (annual) “Report of the Librarian” (June, 1884), Ada North cited as locations of books the departments of law (2900 books) and medicine (948 books). During the 1892-93 academic year, the medical and dental collections came under the administration of the General Library.

In June 1897 the General Library, then housed in North Hall, was almost completely destroyed by fire. In a special report dated June 26, 1897, the Librarian, J.W. Rich, stated that “Fortunately this working library was somewhat distributed, the several professors having most of their strictly technical works in their rooms, so that the destruction is not as complete as it otherwise would be.” A total of 6094 books are listed as being shelved in other buildings, thus representing the saving of just over a quarter of the library’s total collection of 23,227 volumes. Among these were Physics (476), Chemistry (272), Engineering (396), Zoology (216), Botany (285), Mathematics (481), Geology (226), and Morphology (114). In a later report to the Iowa House detailing the impact of the fire on the Library, Mr. Rich reported that whereas many departments were stripped of working libraries, “other chairs, Botany, Chemistry, Engineering, Geology, Morphology, Philosophy, Physics, Pedagogy, and Zoology were fortunate in having a considerable portion of their special literature in their several laboratories.”

During their early years the departmental libraries were subject to a variety of problems. Students were subject to a variety of problems. Students were often unwilling to “intrude into a professor’s private office in search of a book – and many of the department libraries are in such offices.” Most of the departmental libraries were staffed by student workers, with a high turnover rate, and were open only for limited hours. In 1908 Librarian M.G. Wyer drew up a code of regulations in an attempt to standardize procedure for the departmental libraries.

Jackson E. Towne was appointed the first Supervisor of Departmental Libraries on July 8, 1924. At that time the science departments included Animal Biology, Botany, Chemistry, Engineering, Geology, Mathematics, Philosophy/Psychology, Physics, and Zoology. As new buildings were constructed, some of these were merged, including Botany/Chemistry/Pharmacy (1926-27), Zoology/Animal Biology (Fall 1926), and Mathematics/Physics (August 1936).

At the present time, seven departmental libraries enhance the research capabilities of students, faculty, and staff in a variety of subject areas in the sciences.

This exhibition was prepared by Grace Fitzgerald, Christine Bellomy, and Andrea Beckendorf, with assistance from the heads of the departmental science libraries.