Building a University Library

By on June 11, 2013

 

In 1913, in order to supply the students of the fledgling College of Mines with material needed for the study of mining, El Paso’s Carnegie Library sufficed as the main source of reading material. The students used the public library which was “well-supplied with technical books on mining, metallurgy, [and] engineering” while the college built an efficient library in accordance with the policy of the institution.

Carnegie Library, Public Library used by the earliest TCM students

Carnegie Library, Public Library used by the earliest TCM students

By 1936 the library occupied two rooms on the third floor of Vowell Hall. The new librarian, Baxter Polk, was responsible for the 12,000 volumes that constituted the entirety of the College’s reading materials in the library. Many of the volumes were stored in the basement, beneath a trapdoor, and of the two rooms which constituted the library, only the north was dedicated to books, with the southern end designated a reading room.

These files contained the entirety of the college's references during the 1940s

These files contained the entirety of the college’s references during the 1940s

 

The Library and Administration Building, completed in the 1940s, was the next step in the evolution of the modern library. Occupying the rear of what is now the Geology Building, it was located on the second floor. The library which was virtually non-existent at the school’s founding grew to over 73,000 volumes by 1955 and was a member of the Inter-Library Loan system.

The Library and Administration Building

The Library and Administration Building

 

Mission '73's plan to expand the library included adding on the the former Library and Administration Building

Mission ’73’s plan to expand the library included adding on the the former Library and Administration Building

The year 1963 brought an ambitious desire for expansion to the campus. Entitled Mission ’73 and intended to lay out the goals for the next decade, the plan introduced an aggressive project intended to expand the library from the lackluster 144,000 volumes in 1963 to an impressive 500,000 ten years later. Stated in the plan was the realization that each department should offer suggestions as to the direction of expansion in its respective field. For instance, the History Department should focus  its efforts on attaining volumes that pertain mainly to the two areas of local study: the trans-Mississippi west and Latin American studies.  All effort should be made to attain “micro-card” and “micro-film” materials.

Baxter Polk, Texas Western librarian for more than 30 years

Baxter Polk, Texas Western librarian for more than 30 years

The goals outlined in Mission ’73 were largely met in reference to library expansion. Beyond the stated goals, the library earned a place as a United States Government Depository, which offered expanded circulation and access to government publications. In his tenure as the school’s librarian, Baxter Polk saw the library grow from a mere two rooms in Kelly (Vowell) Hall to an impressive institution boasting over 500,000 volumes in 1973, when he retired.

Reading Room in Vowell Hall

Reading Room in the present day Geology Building

 

The modern library, a palatial, six-story building that likely surpassed the imaginations of the early faculty and students of the school, was an immediate goal of Haskell Monroe who became UTEP’s president in 1980. The modern building was designed by Jose Gomez, of the Fouts, Gomez and Moore architectural firm in El Paso.  It maintained the Bhutanese style of architecture and offered different color motifs on each floor consistent with Bhutanese color schemes. All of the University’s volumes, which had by the early 1980’s become scattered throughout campus due to the overwhelming need for space, were transferred to the new building over the course of just a week in the middle of a busy fall semester.

Temporary Library facility, before the construction of the modern building

Temporary Library facility, before the construction of the modern building

The building, which for many is the center of learning on campus, now boasts well over a million books and periodicals. When added to the virtually limitless supplies of material available to students through the use of internet services and inter-library loan capabilities, the fact that the library is a hub of knowledge on campus is not surprising.

 

The modern University Library

The modern University Library

 

The foyer of UTEP's Library

The foyer of UTEP’s Library

Sources:Mission ’73, Origins: 1913-1915, The Flowsheet, The Prospector, UTEP: A Pictorial History of the University of Texas at El Paso by Nancy Hamilton, C.E. Waterhouse Collection, Special Collections UTEP Library.

 

Posted in: History
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Matthew Liden is a student in the history master's program at UTEP.

  1. Larry Johnson
    June 11, 2013

    The “reading room” photo is misidentified; it’s not Vowell but what is now Geology

  2. Willie Quinn
    July 3, 2013

    The “reading room” photo caption is correct as stated, “in the present day Geology Building;” however, it is more correctly referred to as the “Geological Sciences Building.” The Old Library was renovated in 1990-91 and became the current Geological Sciences Building. Prior to 1937, when the Administration/Library Building (now Geological Sciences) was constructed, the school “Library” was actually located in various buildings and offices around the campus. One of the more prominent locations was (as stated in the Blog text immediately above the photo in question) in Kelly (now Vowell) Hall. The University Library as we now know it was constructed in 1984.
    The reader’s attention is also directed to the UTEP Encyclopedia Online for more information on the various campus “libraries,” which is located at the UTEP Website: http://encyclopedia.utep.edu/index.php/University_Library