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