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TL v60n3: History of the Library at UT Chattanooga
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 60 Number 3



 The History of the Library at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga


Steve Cox 

University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

University of Tennessee, Chattanooga


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In 1872, Chattanooga’s city leaders, many being northern businessmen who had relocated to Chattanooga after the Civil War, began to discuss opening a major southern university in Chattanooga.  Talk and planning continued throughout the 1870s, and with help from the Methodist Church a university was planned, and construction began in the early 1880s. 

When Chattanooga University, with a teaching staff of seven, first welcomed students through its doors in September 1886, the university was contained in one building named Old Main, located on the present site of the campus quadrangle (see fig. 1).  The first year’s enrollment totaled 175 students, which included men and women.  Old Main housed all the classrooms and laboratories.  No university or college is complete without a library, so Chattanooga University offered its students and faculty a small one-roomed library in Old Main.  This library would begin to grow through donations from personal collections of faculty members, some donated after their retirement and others bequeathed to the university upon their deaths. Many of these books came from the personal libraries of Professor Percival C. Wilson, Rev. J.J. Manker and Dr. John Race.  Since many of these donors were clergymen associated with the Methodist Church, many books of the library in these early years were theological texts, including some older monographs dating back to the 1600s. The one room library remained in Old Main for the next thirty years.  During these early years there is no mention of a librarian of any kind in the school catalogs. It is possible that some students were charged with overseeing the collection. 

Figure 1. Old Main, the original building on the campus of Chattanooga University, opened in 1886 with a one-room library.

In 1889, just three years after Chattanooga University opened, the Methodist Church merged the school with Grant Memorial University in Athens (which had previously been East Tennessee Wesleyan University), renaming the university US Grant University, with Chattanooga and Athens branches.  This merger would remain intact under this name until 1907, when the school was renamed the University of Chattanooga.  As a result of the 1889 merger the school of theology was moved from Athens to Chattanooga, bringing many of its theology texts with it. It was during these years that the university in Chattanooga had theology, medical, and law colleges, and the library made efforts to provide material for these schools, except for the medical school.  A curious statement is found in several of the 1890s school catalogs, addressing the absence of a library for the medical school, stating that “no library has been provided, simply because medical students at college have no leisure for reading to any great extent outside of study in their room and their own textbooks.  And miscellaneous consultation of libraries further tends to distract attention from the curriculum and mentally demoralizes the reader to that extent.”   

In 1907 the library’s collection was first cataloged to the Dewey Classification system.  By this time the university was adding approximately 200 books per year.  (It is not known what system, if any, they used prior to this, although some extant labels suggest it was numerical.) The first mention of a librarian in any official university document (the 1909-10 catalog) names Marguerite Aull, possibly a student, as a librarian.  However, the first full-time librarian is listed in 1912 as Mildred Hart, a graduate of the University and professor of modern languages at the University since 1910. 

In 1917 Old Main was razed in favor of newer, “more modern” buildings, and the library, by then containing over 8,000 volumes, had already been moved the year before, to the second floor of the newly constructed administration building.  The library would remain in this building for the next twenty-three years.  In 1918 Nita Marie Tansey, also a graduate of the University, and a Latin professor, took over as librarian, and held that position until 1926, the year she married University of Chattanooga chemistry professor Irvine Grote (co-inventor of Rolaids).  The position of librarian then went to her sister, Viola Tansey.  For the next eight years the library would have several librarians: Mary Young serving 1929-1930, Viola Tansey again in 1931, Anita Stephens in 1932-1934, and Dr. Gilbert Govan beginning in 1934.  The library grew under the leadership of Dr. Gilbert Govan, an historian, who was library director until 1962 (see fig. 2).  His twenty-eight year tenure at the library would be the longest of any other director or dean, before or after him.  Under Dr. Govan’s leadership the library’s holdings grew from 18,000 volumes to 80,000 at the time of his retirement.

Figure 2. Gilbert Govan, library director from 1934-1962.

In 1939 the University and the city began constructing a building on campus to house both the city and university libraries, in separate collections. The building (now Fletcher Hall, which houses the School of Business) was built on McCallie Avenue and opened in the spring of 1940, with 35,000 volumes in the University library (see fig. 3).  The library would remain in this building for the next thirty-four years. In 1961 this library was named the John Storrs Fletcher Library in honor of a long-serving trustee of the university.  After Dr. Govan’s retirement in 1962 the library director was Dr. Albert Bowman, another historian, who would serve for the next seven years.  The library at this time had a staff of less than ten.  In 1969 the University of Chattanooga merged into the University of Tennessee system, becoming the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), ending an eighty-three year period as a private school.  Dr. Dewey Carroll, a Chattanooga native and University of Chattanooga alumnus, took over as director of the library in that year, and would be the first professionally trained library director at the University. Under Dr. Carroll’s directorship the library’s collection would grow from 111,400 volumes to over 170,000. 

Figure 3. A joint city and university library opened in 1940. It was later named Fletcher Library.

Enrollment was expected to climb at UTC due to the merger, and the university’s resources and facilities would be expected to keep up.  A SACS self-study in 1971 determined Fletcher Library to have inadequate space, an inadequate collection for its expected increased enrollment, and an inadequate number of staff.  Therefore, a new library was in order, and would be the first new campus building planned after the 1969 merger into the University of Tennessee system. Plans were drawn up for a new library that would hold nearly ten miles of shelving.  Construction began in September 1971 and the library opened in January 1974 (see fig 4.).  Dr. Carroll left in 1972, and Dr. Joseph Jackson took over as library director in early 1973.  Also in 1973 the library joined the Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET), which helped direct the library towards the road of modernization.  Shortly after Dr. Jackson arrived, the library began re-classifying its collection from the Dewey system to the Library of Congress system, an eight year project completed in 1981.  In 1975 the library established an Audio-Visual Department.  In 1983 the library installed Hewlett-Packard minicomputers with VTLS software and became one of the first libraries in Tennessee and the Southeast to have an online catalog.  On November 8, 1986, the Library would be named the T. Cartter and Margaret Rawlings Lupton Library, after this philanthropic family, in honor of their gracious support and gifts to the University and Chattanooga over the years.  In the early 1990s, a room in Lupton Library was set aside as the Fellowship of Southern Writers’ Room, for the group of notable southern writers that was founded several years earlier in Chattanooga.  Meeting every two years during the Festival on Southern Literature, the Fellowship conducts their business meeting in the room, which has a collection of most of their works.

Figure 4. Lupton Library opened in 1974.

Dr. Jackson retired in 1994.  Sheila Delacroix was hired in 1995 and served until 2003.  During her directorship she arranged for the first renovations of the Library’s interior, enhancing the ability for students to use the materials, and changing the worn carpet, furniture, and some shelving.  She also pulled in outlying collections from other departments and locations throughout the campus and integrated them with Lupton Library.  The first University of Chattanooga Foundation Professorships for librarians (who have faculty status) were secured during her tenure.  She also steered the Library towards the trend in increased digitized resources and online systems, and launched its capabilities to become a 21st Century academic library. Dean Delacroix also dealt with budget cuts and changed the online catalog from the VTLS System to the current Virtua system.  She resigned her position in 2003.  In the summer of 2004 Theresa Liedtka was appointed Dean of Lupton Library, coming to Chattanooga from California State University- Fullerton.  Dean Liedtka renovated most areas of the library, pulling Lupton Library into the 21st century with more online access, digitized resources, and newer, more attractive furniture and furnishings.  She also spearheaded the planning and development for a new library on campus.

Today’s T. Cartter and Margaret Rawlings Lupton Library holds nearly half a million volumes in its circulating collection, which supports the University’s teaching and research programs, including its graduate and doctoral programs.  There are over 90,000 bound periodical volumes, one million microform items, and a growing number of electronic journals, representing over 13,000 unique periodical titles, some of which have ceased publication.  There are over 1,300 print periodicals that the library currently subscribes to, including newspapers.  There is a Special Collections department for manuscripts and rare books, and the University Archives are also housed in the library. The current staff is comprised of 16 professional staff and 15 support staff. 

In 2007 UTC was given permission and funding to proceed with plans for a new, much-needed, library (see fig. 5).  When the current library opened in 1974, UTC had an enrollment of 4500 students, and in the fall semester of 2009, the student enrollment topped 10,000 students for the first time.  Despite the growing enrollment, there have never been any library expansion projects to keep up with the increase of students.  After two years of planning, including design and blueprints, groundbreaking took place on January 29, 2010, with an anticipated opening for early 2012.  The state-of-the-art library will have 188,000 square feet (as opposed to the current library’s 116,000 square feet), and will cost $48,000,000.  This will be the fifth location on campus for the library at the university.  The new library will be on the northwest edge of campus, and will be an attractive, inviting information center for students, faculty, and guests. 

Figure 5. The new UTC library is expected to open in early 2012.

Today’s academic library is far different than the libraries college students used in the 1800s.  At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, students today have the latest in technology and can look forward to a 21st century library, increased digital access, and the world of information in front of them.


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