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History of College Library

Undergraduate libraries were not often discussed during the first part of the 20th century, either here at the University of Wisconsin or nationally. It was thought that the basic library collections were able to meet the needs of all users, undergraduates, graduate students and faculty.

As a result of the rapid increase in the student population after World War II, undergraduate service became an issue for library and university administrators. With the growth of a complex research-oriented library and university system, undergraduate students were often bewildered. Huge card catalogs, closed book stacks and extensive reference materials overwhelmed new students and many did not seek assistance.

Harvard’s Lamont Library was the first large university’s effort to open an undergraduate library. Many other universities followed suit, such as Michigan, Texas and South Carolina. Some established full-scale libraries while others provided separate reading rooms aimed at undergraduates. One characteristic of these projects was that the books were housed in open stacks. Through design and layout undergraduate libraries and reading rooms tried to convey an informal and accessible air.