Randolph College
Traditions and History

History of the Library

Compiled by Cynthia Leonard, class of 2010
January 2010

      Today, the Lipscomb Library is an impressive institution. It is home to over 200,000 volumes and provides access to 500 print and 20,000 electronic periodicals. The library also includes several remarkable collections—the Pearl S. Buck Collection, the Lininger Children’s Literature Browsing Collection, the Watts Rare Book Room, and the Charlotte Cushman Collection.

      The library has not always been such a notable establishment. During the first year Randolph–Macon Woman’s College was open—1893–1894—the library was merely a bookshelf in the parlor. Within two years time, however, it had grown to over 500 volumes.

      In 1895, the west wing of Main hall was completed, and the small library was relocated to the first floor, with a second–floor gallery that provided additional shelving for books. In 1905, Mr. and Mrs. George Morgan Jones gave the funds for a large collection of books and a new library building to house them. The Jones Library, which has since been renamed the Thoresen building, was situated on the west end of Main Hall and had space for 20,000 volumes.

      Professors J. L. Armstrong and Henry D. Blackwell served as librarians during the early years of the Jones Library, and in 1912 Mrs. Frances E. Donnelly began working to catalogue and reorganize the library’s many volumes. Upon the inauguration of Dr. Webb as President of Randolph–Macon Woman’s College, the search began for a full–time professional librarian. Miss Lelia Forbes, a graduate of St. Lawrence University and the Pratt School of Library Science, arrived in November, 1913, and began her service immediately. Additionally, Mrs. Thomas B. Jennings was appointed as cataloguer in 1914. Together, the two women used the Dewey Decimal System to catalogue and shelve over 9,700 volumes. It took them nearly four years (it was completed in June, 1917). Miss Forbes can be considered the founder of the library, since her efforts of book organization, faculty consultation, and collection expansion caused the library to become the scholastic and cultural center of the College. Under her guidance, the library grew quickly. In 1920, the library was described as "modern and well–selected," containing 17,573 volumes and a subscription list of 130 periodicals.

      In the autumn of 1925, Dr. Anderson, then President of the College, asked the Board of Trustees to consider building a new library, as the current collection of 33,000 was quickly outgrowing its building. Mr. Stanhope Johnson was selected to design the new library, and Mr. Warren H. Manning, a landscape architect, suggested the location. The new (and current) library was to be built between East Hall—now called Moore Hall—and Norfolk Avenue. Mr. Johnson began the design process on May 9, 1928, and the building was completed in the summer of 1929. It formally opened on November 1, 1929, with four floors and enough shelf space for about 100,000 volumes. For the first time, the library set a formal schedule of open and closed hours.

      Dr. Anderson, in his address at the dedication of the library, described the library in detail. The exterior of the building is in the colonial style, consistent with the style of the rest of the campus buildings. The interior, he said, is Georgian Colonial and is artistically finished throughout. The main floor of the library, which connected to East Hall via an enclosed walkway, was beautiful, open, well-lit, and embellished with numerous details. This floor contained the circulation desk, a librarian’s office, two work rooms, and the General Reading Room. This room served as a picture gallery as well, since several of the college’s prized artworks were displayed on the walls. The upper floor was home to the Browsing Room, for recreational reading; the Rare Book Room, which today contains both the rare book collection and the Collection of Writings by Virginia Women; and two staff rooms. The bottom floor contained several small study rooms and offices, while the second and third floors held the stacks and a few work rooms.

      The head librarian, Miss Martha Bell, along with her staff, Miss Hortensia Tyler Gemmell, Miss Mildred Johnson ’27, and several student assistants, were honored at the opening ceremony. Miss Forbes, now Mrs. Austin Clark, who had by this time become the first woman librarian of the Smithsonian Institution, was also in attendance. Dr. Charles C. Williamson, director of the School of Library Science of Columbia University, gave an address "Library Science in a Machine Age," which argued the importance of maintaining high standards and a high quality of personnel in library work. The new library was standardized in every respect, having been organized from the start by the Dewey Decimal System as well as catalogued by author, title, and subject matter.

      And so the library continued to be a well–run, useful institution for quite a few years. The special collections grew in size, especially the Rare Book Collection and the Collection of Writings by Virginia Women both of which can still be found on the 5th floor. Miss Martha Bell, who retained the post of Librarian for quite some time, noted in 1945, "the library seems to be a busier place than it used to be; frequently, especially at night, there is scarcely a vacant seat in the rooms on the main floor." Also in 1945, the Alcove was put into use as a place for a small collection of popular outside reading, as to make the selections easier.

      In 1959, the library was given its distinctive name, the Lipscomb Library. Herbert C. Lipscomb, Ph.D., had been the head of the Latin Department at R–MWC for 45 years at the time of the naming, and was very active in many campus activities, especially those concerning the fine arts. Dr. Lipscomb was one of the most loved and respected teachers our campus has ever seen. It is particularly appropriate that the library honors his name because of his unrelenting love of knowledge, as well as the pursuit of "the life more abundant," as evidenced by this quote from one of his students.

It is not the Latin literature itself with its innate beauty, philosophy, and wisdom which is our most valuable treasure stored up in Dr. Lipscomb’s classroom. It is not even the permeating sense of art and beauty surrounding our teacher, nor his desire that we drink deeply of all knowledge in the classics—and in the morning New York Times! The greatest contribution he has given us is joy in all that is fine and beautiful, appreciation of perfection, delight in the correlation of all learning and all living. He gave us the vision of Vita Abundantior.

      Miss Martha Bell, who was head librarian when the new library was built in 1929, retired in 1965 after nearly forty years of service. Shortly thereafter, the library received a generous donation from the Charles A. Dana Foundation which, along with donations from numerous alumnae and individuals, paid for the construction and furnishing of the Charles A. Dana wing of the Lipscomb Library. While the new wing was being built, all the books were moved to other buildings on campus. When construction was finished, the library’s capacity was effectively doubled to 200,000 volumes, and study tables and couches were provided for nearly half the student body. A few lucky professors were given their own library rooms for research.

      The wing officially opened in 1967, with P. Miller Boord as the new Library Director. His tenure continued until 1979, when Ruth Ann Edwards took over the position, followed by Theodore Hostetler in 1993, and Lisa Broughman (R-MWC 1994) in 2017.

      Slowly but surely, with the help of many benefactors, the library at Randolph–Macon Woman’s College—now known as Randolph College—has developed into an institution that serves the educational needs of thousands of young women and men, as well as faculty and the greater Lynchburg community. Though some aspects of the library have changed over the years, such as the conversion of the card catalogs to an electronic cataloging system, the gradual shift to online rather than paper resources, and the inclusion of several computer labs, much has stayed the same. The library has always provided top–notch materials to the faculty and students of the College. As the heart of campus, the library provides the resources for the pursuit of knowledge, which is a key aspect of Vita Abundantior—the life more abundant.