November 2005 – March 2006

In 1855 Amos Dean, the absentee first President of the University of Iowa, sent two boxes of books from New York to Iowa City. The 50 books, stored in a four-by-four foot room in the Mechanics’ Academy, were the seed which grew into the University of Iowa Libraries.

In 1859 the library moved into the Old Capitol building where the western half of the former Senate Chamber was set aside for books and a reading room. The library continued to grow and transferred to larger quarters within the Old Capitol in 1878.

Despite the warnings of librarians Ada North and Joseph Rich, the library moved into the former second floor chapel in North Hall in 1882. The librarians knew that the building, located north of the Old Capitol, was a firetrap.

As predicted, North Hall caught fire when lightning struck on June 19, 1897. The fire destroyed much of the collection and killed fireman Lycurgus Leek. The following October, after repairs were complete, the library returned to North Hall. Between 1901 and 1907 the library occupied part of the third floor in the new Hall of Liberal Arts (now Schaeffer Hall). In 1908 the library moved again to the Hall of Natural Science (now Macbride Hall). For the next 43 years the library stayed put, though lack of shelf space and room to study led to the development of numerous branch libraries across campus.

From 1927 to 1951 the Old Armory served as the Library Annex housing the Reserve Library, and several other departments. This proved to be a less than ideal location. Acting Head Librarian Grace Wormer complained of the volcanic heat and swarms of flies that tortured the staff and drove away all but the most dedicated students.

After several false starts the state finally appropriated enough money to build the first section of a central university library. Completed in 1951 under the leadership of Ralph Ellsworth, the new building had modular walls based on the “Iowa Plan” of grouping books for undergraduates by related subjects. Books were transferred from the Old Armory to the new Main Library by long lines of students passing them from hand to hand. As planned, additions were added to the Main Library in 1961 and 1965, with the last completed in 1972. The collection continued to grow and in 1977 the Libraries purchased its 2 millionth volume, its 3 millionth in 1989, and its 4 millionth in 2002.

Today, the UI Libraries consists of the Main Library, the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences and 10 branch libraries. The Hardin Library was built on the west campus in 1974 to consolidate health-related collections in one home. In the last decade, several branch libraries have moved into new or remodeled quarters: the Marvin A. Pomerantz Business Library in 1994, the Biological Sciences Library in 1999 and the Lichtenberger Engineering Library in 2001. The Art and Art History Library will move to its new location in 2006. The Chemistry Library will merge with the Geoscience Library when it moves back into remodeled space in 2008, and plans are being made to renovate the Psychology Library when Seashore Hall is updated.

From humble beginnings in 1855 the University of Iowa Libraries has become an essential resource for the academic community. As always, the UI Libraries strives to enable faculty and students as well as the people of Iowa and scholars around the world to contribute and connect to the “world of ideas.”

This exhibit was prepared by Dean Koster, Selina Lin, David McCartney, Duncan Stewart, Kathy Wachel, Carlette Washington-Hoagland and Michael Wright with assistance from Kristin Baum and Kristi Bontrager. Poster and brochure design by Dean Koster.

Many thanks to Dick Kolbet for his research and narrative on the history of the Libraries.

Photos used for the posters and brochures were provided by the University Archives–F. W. Kent Collection and Kathy Wachel.