Randolph(-Macon Woman’s) College
Traditions and History:
The Past Master

R-MWC's Library

by Meredith Minter, class of 1984

      The Lipscomb Library inspires many emotions. Some students sink into their carrels with relief, glad of the silence around them. Others take advantage of the soporific lighting to doze contentedly on the sofas. Many, associating the place with the evils of parallel, venture there seldom and retreat in haste. And, on occasion, a benighted individual drifts through its doors as though expecting to find the Post Office, gazing about in bewildered stupor.

      All these groups have this in common: the library is a part of their lives. It has been important for all those who have come here. Even in 1893, when there was no library, its absence was keenly felt. A bookshelf was placed in what is now Main Hall Lobby, and, in 1896, a real library was constructed.

Lipscomb Library 1

      The gift of General Jones, this room stood where Garland stands today. Its balcony, which today forms part of A-Main, housed the circulating collection. This collection, consisting of light fiction and magazines, was kept separate from the parallel and reference works on the ground floor. While the fiction could only be used during the day, the parallel was available 24 hours a day. Not only was the library never locked, it could not be locked.

      Classification of books was non-existent—they were grouped roughly by subject. No one ever knew what books the library owned. Searching for a book was a chancy process—the seeker headed for the spot she had seen it last, and hoped no one else had gotten there first.

      By 1906, the College having more than doubled in size, this arrangement was unbearable. Accordingly, the collection was moved to a new library, also funded by General Jones, which used the space now occupied by the CDC and The Sundial.

Library 2

      At first, the library was too small to fill the building. It used only CDC and the space immediately above, which was then a balcony. Once again, the balcony contained circulating books. An employee was retained, by 1912, to work in the library; though she had little formal experience, she managed the formidable task of cataloging the books. Books were arranged by department, the order of books in each section being decided by the professors involved. The books in the balcony, while cataloged, were left to go as they might.

      The next year, in 1913, a librarian was hired who knew the Dewey Decimal System. For the first time, over the strenuous objections of professors, who felt they would never find anything again, the books were organized, and a card catalog was made. Under successive librarians, the library thrived.

      For a while, the periodicals were kept in the basement. Faculty members, stopping by, frequently scooped up a magazine to read. The copies gradually disappeared, and the librarian lamented. One day, the janitor decided to help her. Professors were greeted with a carefully printed sign, "notiz: Don't touch none of these books on no account. The Libarian [sic]."

      The collection grew so much that by 1927 it filled the entire English/Arts building, from basement to attic. A booklift, still used today in the Lipscomb Library's stacks, was built by college carpenters, but it helped only a little. Another building seemed essential.

      It was duly built, next to East Hall, and the books were transferred. That was harder than it sounds, for school was in session throughout the transfer, and library service continued uninterrupted. When a book was asked for, it was impossible to tell if it was in the old building, in the new one, or on the truck, being moved. Nevertheless, with library assistants working overtime, books were found for those who wanted them.

      With the move to the new building, two things changed. First, the vast majority of the books in the collection began to circulate. And, second, because of the new building's security problems, the library began to keep hours, opening and closing.

      At this, there was, as a librarian of the time described it, "almost open rebellion." The windows of the building had to be locked, or students would climb in and study. Studying at all hours in the library had been so much a part of routine that its loss could not be accepted. It took five years, until the last who had known the old way graduated, before the dissent ended.

      The library of the thirties was not much like the one we know. The Reserve and Periodicals rooms were reading rooms; books were chiefly kept in the stacks. That part of third floor which now houses Children's Literature was also in use; it was called the "lower corridor." A light reading room, the Browsing Room, was where the Honors Students' carrels are today.

      In 1966, Charles A. Dana gave the funds to construct the building we know. While it was being built, the books were moved from the library—the science books to Martin, others to other spots on campus. In 1967, over the summer, they were moved back into the finished building, and the library was as we know it today.

Lipscomb Library, Charles A. Dana Wing

Originally published in The Sundial on February 18, 1982 (Vol. 66, no. 17, p. 3)

This article is taken from "The Past Master," a column written by Meredith Minter Dixon, class of 1984, for the Randolph-Macon Woman’s College student newspaper, The Sundial. It is published here with her permission.

Mrs. Dixon has written an invaluable multi-volume set, Maconiana: A Social History of Randolph-Macon Woman's College. For additional information, please visit her author's page on Amazon.

Please contact Mrs. Dixon (dixonm at pobox dot com) if you have comments or questions about her articles.