Planning and Layout
In 1964, about 20 years after the “bucket brigade” to and the dedication of the Grey Memorial Library, D. Grier Martin, president of Davidson College from 1958 to 1968, began formulating plans for a new, modern library, with an initial estimated cost of $2.2 million and a $25 million ten-year renovation program (Salistad).
Complaints about Grey’s poor air conditioning and its limited volume space, the possibility of a women’s college , and the advent of computer technologies contributed to the call for a completely new library (Metcalf). The library was named for E.H. Little, who pledged an initial $500,000 as well as another $500,000 when Martin and the planning committee recognized a need to expand the collection as well as the student body (Spencer, Luncheon).
In a letter to Mr. Grove Meetze, the director of the Planning and Maintenance Department, consultant Keyes Metcalf recognized some factors affecting the layout of the library including the cost of construction, functional value, aesthetics, attitude of the faculty and administration, space for seating and shelving, and interior specialties such as a rare book room and audio-visual quarters (Metcalf). In considering the facility’s location, submissions and advice from faculty members, the Library Planning Committee and the Faculty Library Committee, the president, outside consultants, and a student opinion poll from May 1967 all supported the Concord Road site. A map from 1967 shows this as Option #6. (Map).
However, as Robert Currie, the college’s business manager, noted in a 1968 memo to Dean Johnston, the space would require a costly crossing bridge and the purchase of part of the property. It would also sit furthest from the student dorms (Currie). Not until January of 1971 does a Davidsonian article proclaim the suggestion of the final location, near the football field and in replacement of the student union (“Library Site Announced”).
The Library Planning Committee and architects John D. Owen and W. Addison Staples engaged in a similarly contentious discussion over the style of the library. By January of 1972, the Board of Trustees had settled on a final design although previous Davidsonian articles display their oscillation over the decision. The exterior of the library would combine a traditional, 19th century, Georgia-neoclassical style and columns with a modern flat roof and glass front.
However, many faculty and students disagreed with the outmoded style, claiming it would clash with the surrounding buildings’ modern style (Jan 1972 article). In fact, this complaint remained valid until Chamber’s recent renovation of Richardson Plaza in 2002, complete with matching neoclassical columns.
While Davidsonians disagreed over the exterior’s lack of modernity, plans for the interior boasted the most innovative designs including minimal load-bearing walls for easy expansion, complete air conditioning, book capacity for 500,000 volumes, a 24-hour room, a smoking room on the second floor, typing rooms in the basement, and a card catalog on the main floor (Spencer, “Memorandum to Leland Park”).
Although a comparison of floor plans between 1975 and 2011 show that the interior has changed in some aspects and the new Center for Teaching and Learning sits to the left of the circulation desk, a student can sit in the same location as a Davidson student from the library’s founding and look out onto the same Dogwood Grove.
E.H. Little and the Library’s Dedication
Funding for the new library got a big boost when E.H. Little donated $1 million dollars towards its construction in 1973 (Sailstad, “E.H. Little”). Little provided leadership for a variety of campus programs and organizations, such as the Davidson Development Program and the Board of Visitors (Park, Goodbye). Though he never attended Davidson College, Little received an honorary doctor of law degree from the college in 1953.
On the afternoon of September 27th, 1974, so called the E.H. Little Day in Dr. Louis Wright’s opening convocation speech, the entire Davidson College community gathered for the celebration of the new library. With the new library director, Dr. Leland Park and President Samuel Spencer, the day progressed not solely as a dedication to the new library, but also as a memorial for the distinguished accomplishments of the past.
Activities included the convocation of the 1975 graduating class, a Presbyterian mass, and a “Convocation Luncheon” recognizing the many benefactors of the Library, such as the Dana Foundation, the Smith Richardson Foundation, and the Duke Endowment. In his speech, President Spencer also acknowledged Little’s legacy and contribution to the college; he says, “It is not only in the big gifts, however, that his natural generosity shows through” (Spencer, Luncheon).
Rules of the Library
In a 1978 brochure, statistics show that the E.H. Little Library welcomed in an average of 1500 students in a day with its open stacks and study spaces. The library has a tradition of open stacks, which means that everyone has access to all books and materials that can be found in the library.
There are also no “shushes” in the E.H. Little Library, and in 1989 it was brought the to attention of the Faculty Library Committee by Dr. Park that the librarians “should not be required to serve as policemen for the noise level” as he saw this as a way that students might be hesitant to ask for assistance (Park “Minutes… 1989”). The issue of noise was commented upon in a 1988 questionnaire by a student who stated that “The only quiet places are the study lounges and the Davidsoniana Room,” which expresses this student’s frustration with the noisiness. However, another student stated “People talk. Like fines, unless things are enforced, it will not work;” a more laid-back approach to looking at the library’s noise. In this same questionnaire, students suggested having a “food room” for hungry studiers or fines for those who damaged library property (the open food policy of 2011 did not exist).
In a 1974 brochure, the library’s three floors contain over 650 student carrels assigned to one or two students as work and study spaces for the academic year. A five-cent copy machine was located on the first floor, two typing rooms on the ground and second floor, and even a First Aid Room was incorporated on the top floor of the library (“What’s In It”).
Collections and Comparisons
Over the ten-year period between the planning and dedication of the E.H. Little Library, Davidson College witnessed many societal changes including integration, women’s rights campaigns, and the Vietnam War. As a competitive liberal arts school in the south, Davidson College reflected many of these changes in its broader community as well as inside the library. Once the school integrated in 1962 and accepted women in 1972, new academic fields and departments needing new volumes and periodicals arose, and the emerging collection reflected these changes.
Continuing a policy where departments requested necessary volumes and periodicals annually, faculty and members of the Faculty Library Committee requested periodicals ranging from The Journal for Modern African studies and The Washington Post to Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. However, while the library expanded in new directions, today, annual “weeding outs” (faculty decides the essentials to maintain), the policy of departmental requests for volumes specifically needed for classes, the Inter Library Loan System, in which libraries send books and material to other libraries upon request, and the availability of online resources have contributed to a small collection that, as Dr. Leland Parks states, “‘prevents [building up] a collection of junk’” (Baldwin).
While beneficial to maintaining open space and concise catalogs, this net borrower tactic resulted in the Little library’s continuously poor showing when compared to libraries’ of equivalent liberal arts school. In a 1972-1973 report, Davidson ranked in the middle range of most categories including the average amount spent per student, number of volumes per student, and endowment (Davidson, “Comparative”). Matters were improving as another comparative report between the Carnegie Library of 1936-37 and the E.H. Little Library of 1974-75, shows the rapidly increasing number of books (from 40,000 to 210,000) alongside the slowly developing professional staff members who increased only by 5 (Annual Report of the E.H. Little Library July 1, 1974 – July 1, 1975). Moreover, annual flyers around this time entitled “Some Recent Facts about the Library” promisingly declared Davidson’s ratio of books-to-students second only to Duke in the state of North Carolina. (Baldwin).
In addition to expanding by category, the E.H. Little Library continued to expand in terms of numbers. The old Grey Library could only hold 175,000 volumes, but the new E.H. Little Library had room for 500,000 (New). In fact, on the eleventh of May in 1979, the 250,000th volume was added to the library, thanks to income from the Dwelle Fund, one of Davidson’s Endowed Book Funds (Board). As of 2002, Susanna Boylston deals with the collection and how the library receives books. Most of the new books she receives come from standing orders, or series and volumes the library has requested be sent immediately upon their completion. She also receives books from both individual and package subscriptions, as well as requests from students. Boylston also oversees gift books, including unsolicited donations, selecting from them any materials that fit into the library’s collections.
Technology and the Library
While the E.H. Little Library was under construction, the debate began about whether or not Davidson should use electronic checking devices. In the past, Davidson’s libraries used an open stack system, meaning that all books were available to all students as opposed to a closed stacks system, which limits the books that are available to the public. Vince Rabil, a student member of the Faculty Library Committee, wrote a concerned letter in October of 1973 to the Davidsonian expressing the SGA’s concern with installing these checking devices and moving towards closed stack system.
In his words, the students took “immense pride” in the fact that the library has open stacks and believed that “closed stacks and checking devices are totally contrary to the spirit of Davidson” (Rabil). This letter from Library Committee meeting minutes is followed by a report on current checkpoint systems installed in the Public Library in Charlotte and the UNCC Library (Beaty). The report lists the astronomical prices of installing the checking devices and the cost of adding metal plates to each book, which would cost $25,000 for 250,000 volumes. In the end, Davidson decided against using electronic checkpoint systems and kept up its tradition of open stacks.
Despite the national conversion from card catalogs to online catalogs, in the span of twenty years not much changed at Davidson College. In fact, as of October 1990, Davidson was one of only two of the nations’ 25 best liberal-arts colleges to not use an electronic catalog. However, the second college, Washington and Lee University, was already in the process of creating an electronic catalog (Park “Memo”). In the fall of 1991, in attempts to keep stride with similar institutions and meet the demands of Davidson students, the library incorporated new technologies. To help ease the stress of research, Davidson compiled an electronic card catalog for its collections. The installation process was both expensive and extensive (“A Proposal…”). Six miles of wiring connected all library computers to a Digital Equipment Company VAX (Model 4300) computer, containing the software needed for the electronic catalog. This software housed the records of the library’s 375,000 volumes, and indexes for periodicals. Although the total cost of this endeavor amounted to $750,000, the Duke Endowment provided about $685,000 for the project (“A Proposal…”).
Following its instillation, the new system was highly praised. One student stated that the new electronic cataloging system was, “Terrific!” (Library. . . Questionnaire) Named to honor Chalmers Davidson, library director from 1936 to 1975, the system was given the name CHAL, which stood for Computerized Help At Little (“A Proposal…”). When asked his opinion on the new catalog, Davidson chuckled, “I’m really scared to death of the thing. Any change in your 85th year is sort of a challenge.” (Kelley) Dr. Davidson, as well as students and faculty, embraced these challenging changes as they welcomed the convenience of an electronic card catalog, which was long overdue.
Dr. Leland Park
An alumnus from the Class of ’63, Dr. Leland Park served as director of Davidson’s E.H. Little Library from 1975 to 2006. Dr. Park earned both a masters degree from Emory, and a doctorate degree from Florida State University, in library sciences. He was a recipient of the North Carolina Library Association Distinguished Library Service Award, he was, as former president Robert F. Vagt states, “He is the weave of the Davidson fabric.” (Syme) In his own words, Dr Park valued, “…the daily ringing of the bell and saying hello to others on the campus walkways….” As Director of the Library Emeritus, Dr. Park will never be out of reach of the bell, campus walkways, or the library he helped raise. (Syme)
Since its dedication, E.H. Little Library has undergone several transformations. The 20th century brought an Electronic Classroom and, the most recent edition, a Center for Teaching and Learning to the main floor of the library. After Dr. Leland Park’s retirement, the library received a new director in 2007, Ms. Jill Gremmels. We can anticipate that this library, like all libraries, will continue to change over time as it adapts to the needs of its students and the technological advancements ahead.
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Authors: Marcus Begley, Natalie Casabonne, Brianne Lazevnick, and Laigha Young.
Date: October 2011
Cite as: Begley Marcus, Natalie Casabonne, Brianne Lazevnick, and Laigha Young. “E. H. Little Library.” Davidson Encyclopedia, October 2011. <http://libraries.davidson.edu/archives/?p=4293>