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History of the Library

At its founding in 1873, Vanderbilt University housed its original library in the Main Building, later to become College Hall, and now Kirkland Hall. Approximately 6,000 volumes occupied the library's large room and, under the supervision of a junior faculty member, were available for use between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Almost 140 years later, the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries houses over 8 million items in seven locations, circulates an annual average of 515,000 pieces of material, including laptops and Kindles, provides over 700 public workstations, and is supported by 193 staff and 155 student assistants. Campus-wide wireless access opens the libraries' virtual front door to 3.75 million visitors per year. Reflecting the work of library and university leaders to meet the needs of students, staff, faculty, and community members, these numbers continue to grow.

This dramatic transformation of the Vanderbilt library system began after a 1905 fire destroyed a large portion of library materials. Initially rebuilt by donations, the refurbished and growing collection came under the direction of Dora Sanders who, in 1914, became Vanderbilt University's first official librarian. Following Ms. Sanders were Will Ella Johnson Smith (1923-1930) and Isabel Howell (1931-1939). In 1936, A. Frederick Kuhlman became the Director of Libraries and lead until 1960. During his tenure, the Joint University Library Corporation (JUL) was created to include Scarritt College and Peabody College for Teachers, then a separate campus. Kuhlman also guided the completion of the General Library Building, now known as Central Library, on the site of Old Wesley Hall. With this new facility, the library was able to house nearly 400,000 volumes.

Following this growth and Mr. Kuhlman's retirement in 1960, David Kaser became the Director of Libraries and served until 1968. Under his direction, the library opened its book stacks to Vanderbilt undergraduates, a privilege once reserved for graduate students and faculty. It was also during this time that the library reached two milestones: a one million dollar budget granted in 1965 and its one-millionth volume added in 1966.

The leadership of Director Frank P. Grisham (1968-1984) saw the completion of the H. Fort Flowers wing (1969), to accommodate the university's expansion and the libraries' growing collections. In 1968, Grisham established the Emmy Award-winning Television News Archives, the world's most extensive and complete archive of television news, as part of the library system. At that time, the W.T. Bandy Center for Baudelaire and Modern French Studies was also founded as a joint project of the Department of French and Italian and the Central Library, where it is still housed today. Computer-based tracking of library materials began in 1974, the same year that Jean Heard, wife of then University Chancellor Alexander Heard, established the Friends of the Library. The 1979 merger of Peabody College and Vanderbilt University replaced the Joint University Library Corporation with the Vanderbilt University Library. To honor the support and work of Chancellor Emeritus Alexander Heard and his wife Jean, it was renamed the Jean and Alexander Heard Library in 1984.

Appointed as Director in 1984, Malcolm Getz served until 1995 and continued advances in library material tracking. Under his leadership, the Library Catalog (then called Acorn) was established, providing an automated means for locating and borrowing items owned by the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Displaying the image of an acorn on the Vanderbilt family crest, this system guided students, staff, and faculty through a collection that reached 2,000,000 volumes in 1992.

In 1996, Paul M. Gherman was named University Librarian and set the stage for the digital library of the future. He promoted the library in the academe by creating new collaborations between Vanderbilt, library consortia, and research groups.

Connie Vinita Dowell was named Dean of Libraries in 2009 and led an extensive renovation of the Central Library, which revealed the grandeur of the original building, and added digital displays for Special Collections.

In April 2016, Valerie Hotchkiss was named University Librarian.

Alyne Queener Massey Law Library

The Law School began collecting law books when it was established in 1874. However, no official library was established until 12 years later. Plans for a Law School Library were formed in 1880, with the idea of asking judges and attorneys to donate their used books to the school. In 1886, the expanding collection was moved to the University library. In 1889, when the Law School moved to the Law and Dental Building, the library was given two rooms for its collections. By 1891, the collection numbered approximately 6,000 volumes. The library moved to College Hall in 1916 and then to the new Law School building in 1962. In 1982, the library was expanded and named the Alyne Queener Massey Law Library in honor of Mrs. Jack C. Massey, an alumnus and principal benefactor.

Divinity Library

Divinity Library Theological materials were a part of the collection since the university's founding. In 1881, the School of Religion was established in old Wesley Hall, and included a library. The fire of 1932 destroyed half of the 4,000-volume collection and the library was re-established in Calhoun Hall until it relocated to the General Library Building in 1941. It initially inhabited the south reading room on the second floor, as well as the first stack area. In 1984 the Divinity Library moved to the north wing reading room. Then, in 2006, an expansion and renovation once again moved the Divinity library to where it is today, occupying the second floor of the General Library Building.

Annette and Irwin Eskind Biomedical Library

The Medical Library was first established at the School of Medicine in 1906. Its collections included those of the former library of the Nashville Academy of Medicine. In 1925, the Medical Library was established on campus when the School of Medicine relocated from College Hall. In 1964, the Medical Library moved into the new wing of Medical Center North, and in April 1994 the new Annette and Irwin Eskind Biomedical Library building was dedicated.

Peabody Library

The Peabody Library building was a gift to Peabody College from the Carnegie Corporation and was one of more than 100 academic library structures endowed by Andrew Carnegie. The building was constructed from 1917-19 and opened its doors May 30, 1919. Peabody's library became the Education Library in 1974, with a new focus on collecting in the areas of education, special education, psychology, human development, and library and information science. With the merger of Vanderbilt University in 1979, the Education Library became part of the university library system. In 2002, the Education Library was renamed Peabody Library.

Anne Potter Wilson Music Library

The Music Library was established in 1947 in the Social-Religious Building (now the Wyatt Center) on the Peabody Campus. In the late 1970s, the music department was eliminated at Peabody. The Blair Academy, a community music school, was granted school status in 1985 by the Board of Trust and the Music Library moved to the Blair School of Music. In 2001, the Library more than doubled its space in the Blair School of Music. The Anne Potter Wilson Music Library was named for one of Vanderbilt's major benefactors, the granddaughter of Myra Jackson Blair, after whom the school was named.

Special Collections and University Archives

Special Collections originated as the Treasure Room or Rare Book Room in the south wing of the fourth floor of the Central Library. Later, the Treasure Room was moved to the 8th floor, to what is now the W.T. Bandy Center. When Special Collections was established in 1965, part of the department's mission was to establish and maintain an archive of university-related material to document the history of the university. Special Collections was moved to the H. Fort Flowers wing of the library, when it was built in 1969.

Science and Engineering Library

The Stevenson Science and Engineering Library was formed in 1972, when the departmental collections were consolidated and moved into the new Science Library in the Stevenson Center for the Natural Sciences. Prior to that time, the Geology and Pharmacy libraries were located in Old Science Hall (1889); the Biology Library was established in Old Science Hall (1900); and the Chemistry Library was established in Furman Hall (1907). In 1929, the Biology Library moved to Buttrick Hall and, in 1932, the Geology and Physics Library moved to Garland Hall. The Science and Engineering Library is named for Sarah Shannon Stevenson, wife of Eldon B. Stevenson ('14), for whom the Stevenson Center is named.

Walker Management Library

The original building housing the Graduate School of Management was a converted funeral home called Alexander Hall. The library occupied a basement room. When the school out grew Alexander Hall, plans for a new building included a two story library with walls of windows. In 1982, those plans were realized and the Management Library now occupies one quarter of the Owen Graduate School of Management building, known as Management Hall. The library is named in honor of Anne Marie and Thomas B. Walker, Jr. ('47) whose initial gift helped ensure the construction of the building and the development of the library's collections.