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TL v59n4: Austin Peay State University Library History
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Tennessee Libraries

Volume 59 Number 4



History of the Austin Peay State University Library


Katie Richie

Access Services Assistant


The history of the Austin Peay State University library began with the opening of Austin Peay Normal School in 1929. At that time, the library was located on the third floor of the Stewart Building in a large reading room. Mrs. Sarah Orgain Morrow served as the school’s first librarian and the library’s only staff member. Though the collection consisted of daily newspapers, magazines, and journals, it totaled less than 1000 volumes. President Philander P. Claxton donated a large portion of his personal library to the school to supplement the collection.

The library’s second home was located in the east wing of the Browning Building which was completed in 1950. To get the materials to the new building, Austin Peay students, staff and faculty formed a human chain from the Stewart Building to the Browning Building. Each item was passed down the line keeping over 20,000 volumes in order according to their Dewey Decimal classification.

Figure 1. Austin Peay Library in the Browning Building

In 1958, Miss Johnnie Givens took the position of head librarian and spent a total of 34 years working in all three library buildings under six Austin Peay presidents. Along with Dean Felix G. Woodward, Miss Givens was instrumental in planning the current library building. She expanded the collection to over 160,000 volumes including films, tapes, and recordings.
In July 1962, an advisory committee was created to begin the planning and development of a new library building on campus. Miss Givens and Dean Woodward were part of the committee to develop a statement of building program that would be approved by President Joe Morgan in October of 1963.

The faculty advisory committee had several principles they kept foremost in their minds when planning for the new library. They wanted the building to be dramatic and stimulating so the students would be encouraged to learn to use the library as well as develop effective study habits. It was important to the committee to have a building that would stand out from the other buildings on campus, combine function and design while being open and inviting to students and faculty alike. Finally, the building needed to be flexible and able to adjust to the evolving needs of library patrons as well as the changing technology and materials in an academic setting (Waters, 1967).

Construction of the three story $1.4 million library began in late 1965. Prior to its opening on February 20, 1967, library activity was shut down for ten days so the collection could be transferred to the new building by a moving company. The library occupied the top two floors of the building, leaving the bottom floor available for classroom instruction, faculty offices, and future expansion of the library. At the time, the library did not allow food or beverage consumption, but there were designated smoking areas throughout. Ash trays were supplied to discourage patrons from using trashcans, which became fire hazards when used as ash trays.  

The university library was officially named the Felix G. Woodward library on August 13, 1971, as a tribute to the Dean of Faculty. When Woodward retired in 1968, President Joe Morgan said, “The quality of academic departments of this institution today is due to Dean Woodward’s dedication” (Waters, 1977,p 60). Woodward “had more influence on Austin Peay’s curriculum and instructional program than anyone else” (Gildrie, 2002, p 124).

In February of 1975, the library implemented a change from the Dewey Decimal system to the Library of Congress classification system. The change took place over 9 years, reclassifying more than 15,000 books each year. The new classification system saved both time and money, making the library more efficient and user-friendly. The new system was constantly being upgraded and left room for the expansion of the collection.

Figure 2. Main Floor of Felix G. Woodward Library in the 80’s

In the mid 80’s, the Woodward Library underwent a $1.1million renovation focusing on the bottom two floors. To ensure that the students, faculty, staff and community members had access to the entire collection while the renovations were taking place, the construction was done one floor at a time.

In 1987, Dr. Donald F. Joyce was selected as the director of the Woodward Library. He was the first African American to serve as director and continued in that position for thirteen years. He is credited with initiating the library’s first computer-based library system in 1994 (Gildrie, 2002). Although no official written record exists, one of the most beloved stories circulating through the library is of Dr. Joyce setting his office trashcan on fire and confirming that trash cans are fire hazards when used as ash trays.

Dr. Deborah Fetch was promoted from cataloger to director of the library in 2000 after the death of Dr. Joyce. Under the direction of Dr. Fetch, there was a reorganization of the library and a shift in emphasis in the collection from print to digital resources.    

Figure 3. Felix G. Woodward Library

Today, under the direction of Mr. Joe Weber, the Woodward Library is a large part of the growing Austin Peay community. The library has several rooms dedicated to special collections including Dorothy Dix, Robert Penn Warren, Dr. Danforth Ross, and the Hillman Land and Iron collections. There is also a room dedicated to African American resources, and a Tennessee Room with historical material about the state and the university. Recently, the library has received a collection of works by and about author D.H. Lawrence.

There are programs like Trivia Night and Murder Most Foul available to bring the students together with the faculty and staff in a more relaxed setting. The events take place after the library has closed. Trivia Night is held three Fridays a semester. Several teams are pitted against each other to answer trivia questions for a chance to win prizes. Murder Most Foul is hosted one Friday a semester. Individuals play characters in a murder mystery and try to figure out a set of clues by interacting with the other characters.

Community members, students, alumni, faculty, staff and administrators show up for Library Athenaeum presentations every semester that include a wide variety of lectures, debates, readings, musical and dance performances, and panel discussions.  

The library is also participating in the Veterans Oral History Project and is responsible for editing, transcribing, and preserving interviews of veterans and civilians from World War II and the Korean War. Upon completion of the project, the interviews will be available online for the public.

The library has had to keep up with the growing student population as well as the ever changing technology requirements. There are approximately 200 online databases, more than 25,000 e-journals, and over 50,000 e-books available to the library community. Print materials are constantly being added, making the total number of books over 216,000 volumes, bound periodicals totaling over 51,000 and government publications reaching over 90,000 volumes. The library receives over 400,000 visitors each year.

The library is the information hub of the university providing 95 computers in the Information Commons area. There are two electronic classrooms with additional computers for instruction.       


Gildrie, Richard P., & Winn, Thomas H. (2002). A History of Austin Peat State University 1927-2002. Clarksville, TN: Austin Peay State University.

Waters, Charles M. (1967, March 8). New library: it looks good… but just how good is it? The All State, p. 4.

Waters, Charles M. (1977). The First Fifty Years of Austin Peay State University. Clarksville, TN: Austin Peay State University.

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