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The Many Homes of the Tarleton Library

By Frank Chamberlain

The Tarleton library has been housed in more locations than any other facility on campus. From 1899 until 1956, it had been moved a total of eight times before being settled in its current home. The library has evolved from very rudimentary beginnings to becoming one of the most modern buildings on campus (Guthrie 114).

President E.E. Bramlette initiated the earliest incarnation of the college library in 1902. The books were originally stored in one of the classrooms in the original Campus Hall. In 1904, a third floor was added to the building, allowing the growing library to be kept in this new area. The library quarters were expanded in 1909, with books actually being stored in the presidential office suite. The facility remained at this location until 1915 (Grissom 106, Guthrie 28, 114, King 45).

Stocking the newly established library with reading materials presented a problem for President Bramlette. The school lacked the funds to actually purchase books, so a “literary reception” was organized to solicit donations from the community. Louise Linn Bramlette, the president’s wife, played a key role in this endeavor. Mrs. Bramlette was a charter member and first president of the Stephenville 20th Century Club, which actually organized this book drive. This first gathering collected approximately 250 books. In the next few years, the Tarleton library received its initial stock of nearly 600 books from community donations. Although many of these publications contained less than scholarly reading material, they provided the base upon which the library would be greatly expanded in the near future. In 1904, the board of directors appropriated an annual allotment of funding to be used to bolster the library’s holdings (Grissom 106, Guthrie 29, King 45).

After the 1915 demolition of the original College Hall, the library led a rather nomadic existence. Generally, it was moved into whatever building had most recently been constructed. Over the next 41 years, the library resided in the Mollie Crow Administration building (1915-1918), Mary Corn Wilkerson Dorm (1918-1919), new Administration Building (1919-1929), north wing of the Dining Hall (1929-1935), and two locations within the Science Building (1935-1956). Despite the frequent relocations, the library suffered from chronic overcrowding due to the growing number of acquisitions and rising student enrollment. In fact, during the 1950’s, the lack of space became so severe that librarians frequently had to turn students away during busy hours because there was no room for them to sit (Guthrie 114-115).

In 1955, President E.J. Howell received authorization to build a permanent home for the Tarleton library. This new red brick building cost $400,000 and was equipped with the most modern facilities available at the time. More importantly, the two-story structure was able to accommodate the growing number of students for many years. An annex was added to the west side of the building in 1968 in order to provide additional classroom space for the university. Today, this section is known as the Mathematics Building (Guthrie 115).

The Tarleton library received the current name of “Dick Smith Library” in 1974. Dr. Smith was a social science professor at Tarleton from 1933 until 1973 and was one of the most respected figures on campus. He was also one of the college’s most generous benefactors, establishing the “Dick Smith scholarships” and making substantial contributions to the library. Upon his death in 1974, the building was named in his honor (Guthrie 116, 393).

By 1983, overcrowding had once again become a serious issue and forced a major renovation of the Dick Smith Library. At this time, the library assumed its present shape and size. During this period, the building was expanded and the facilities were greatly improved. Many of the library’s state-of-the-art technology were implemented. These improvements included electronic scanners for checking out books, microfilm, and microfiche. The expansion provided space for a large circulation desk, more study and photocopy rooms, and extra room for the acquisitions, cataloging and administration. In this new arrangement, the basement contained the children’s literature, educational materials, and computer lab. The first (& main) floor contains reference materials and periodicals. The second floor is home to the stacks, administrative offices, and group study rooms. In 1985, an on-line search module replaced the antiquated system of using card catalogs. The library attained its current look and much of its technology during this rebuilding process. It remains the academic heart of the campus (Guthrie 254).

In 2002, increases in student enrollment and the steady growth of the library collections have made further renovations necessary. The library will be expanded into the space formerly occupied by the Mathematics annex. According to this plan, the mathematics classes will be moved into the old Science Building (which will also receive a major overhaul.) The computer lab that was once housed in the basement level will be moved into the former math classrooms and a larger study area with tables will occupy the top floor of the annex. One of the main results of the renovations will be a substantial increase in study and research space throughout the premises. The periodicals section on the main floor will be expanded to include most of the area. Several office areas will be built anew or reconfigured to allow the expansions. The renovation to the science building is set to begin in the summer of 2003 and be completed by the winter of 2005. The remodeling of the library is slated for completion in the winter of 2006.

Grissom, Preston B. “The Development of John Tarleton College”. Unpublished M.A. thesis. West Texas State Teacher’s College, 1933.

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999.

Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999. King, C. Richard. The John Tarleton College Story: Golden Days of Purple and White. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1998.