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TL v58n4: History of the Libraries at Middle Tennessee State University
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 58 Number 4



 History of the Libraries at Middle Tennessee State University


Sue Alexander, User Services Librarian
Kathy Field, Collection Management Librarian


Soon after Middle Tennessee State Normal School was opened on September 11, 1911, the first librarian was hired.  Betty Avent Murfree, who would be the head librarian until 1935, opened the first library at the school in 1912 with only 75 donated books.  This library was housed in room 69 on the third floor of Kirksey Old Main the school’s first building and had only eight double-tiered shelves.  “Miss Murfree, with patience and dogged determination, devised many unique methods to acquire new and attractive books” (Pittard, 1961, p. 49).

When the library’s collection had grown to over 2,000 volumes, and the Normal School had become Middle Tennessee State Teachers College, a new building was erected across from Old Main, designed to hold 20,000 volumes (Figure 1).  This building was eventually named the Murfree Building, or as alumni fondly remember it - “the new classroom building”, and sat on the site of present day Peck Hall.  It also housed the English Department.  Since it was easily accessible to all the other buildings on campus, it was considered by many to occupy a central place of importance in the academic life of the college.  In January of 1935, Isa Lee Sherrod Freeman was hired as an associate librarian and, after Mrs. Murfree’s retirement, became the head librarian.  According to Mrs. Freeman, she and Mrs. Murfree handled all phases of library activity, with the help of students who were paid 35¢ per hour. The library had closed stacks so the circulation desk workers had to locate the requested item for check out.  Mrs. Freeman taught “How to Use the Library” classes to freshman, English students and also some library science classes.  When Mrs. Freeman resigned in July of 1940, she was replaced by W. Knox McCharen who held the position until 1946. 

Figure 1. The Murfree Building, erected in 1935, was the first library building on campus.

In 1958, during the tenure of Catherine Clark as the head of the library, the Andrew L. Todd Library was constructed in 1958 at cost $450,000 in (figure 2).  Andrew Lee Todd, sometimes referred to as the “godfather” of the college, was influential in bringing the normal school, one of four created by the General Education Bill of 1909, to Murfreesboro and continued to support the school until his death in 1941.  The new library was designed to hold 150,000 volumes.  John David Marshall became the university librarian in 1967 and held that position until 1976 when the present library dean, J. Donald Craig took over.  During Mr. Marshall’s tenure, an addition was added to the Todd Library in 1970.  The library was now designed to hold 225,000 volumes but by 1996 it held more than 600,000 volumes, almost three times its intended capacity. In April of 1987 a celebration was held to commemorate the half-millionth volume added to the library collection, an identical reprint of the Gutenberg Bible.  Also in 1987, a proposal was submitted for the implementation of a computerized library system for the Todd Library, which was “long overdue” according to Sidelines, the student newspaper (October 23, 1987).

Figure 2. The Andrew L. Todd Library, built in 1958.

Renovation of the crowded Todd Library was discussed for several years, but MTSU’s eighth president, Dr. James Walker, pursued funding for a new facility.  State officials finally approved $33 million in funding, and ground was broken for the new library on September 11, 1996, during the celebration for the University’s 85th birthday.   The new building opened on January 5, 1999, with a formal opening ceremony April 19, 1999 (Fig. 3).  Also in 1999, the library implemented a new integrated online system.

Figure. 3. The James E. Walker Library, built in 1999.

As the library prepared for the formal opening, Dr. Walker stated, “Nothing is more significant for the academic core of a university than this symbol of learning.  The library belongs to all of us because learning is the bond that brings us together, enriches our lives, and carries us all to greater heights" (Tozer, 1999). Because President Walker was an avid supporter of the library, a leader in higher education, and a partner in securing funding for the new building, the library was named in his honor.  The James E. Walker Library was formally dedicated in November, 2001.

Walker Library has four floors, 250,000 square feet, 350 public computer workstations, and seating for 2,600, including 1,000 individual study carrels.  Facilities for private study include 43 group study rooms and 60 faculty research offices.  Two electronic classrooms are used to provide bibliographic instruction, teaching the use of databases and other resources.  Designed to house 800,000 volumes, it currently holds well over 1,000,000 items.  Extensive access is provided to local and remote electronic information resources.

One of the library’s distinguishing features is a four-floor, 72-foot high atrium that serves as the central organizing element for the interior spaces and which brings controlled natural daylight to the reader and study spaces.  The building infrastructure includes an extensive electronic information distribution system that is connected to the campus-wide fiber optic backbone.  Services include an Adaptive Technology Center for use by students with disabilities, an Electronic Information Center with 60 computers, a Special Collections area, and a Reference/Information area with 40 public catalog terminals.  In 2001, some renovation was done to the third floor so the Curriculum Collection could finally be moved from the Todd Building.  And in 2008 a very popular coffee shop was added to a study area at the front of the building.

In a statement in April, 1999, Dean Don Craig said, “For seven years, individuals and groups worked to envision this library and to bring it to a reality on campus.  The building has been designed to be expandable, accessible, efficient, and capable of taking advantage of technological advances.  Most of all, it is centered on the students, faculty, and researchers we serve every day.  We are proud to offer services, information, and research materials to the broad university community in such a fine facility” (Tozer, 1999).



Freeman, I.L. (1987). Reminiscences: 1935-1940. Todd Library Update, 9, 5.
Pittard, H. (1961). The First Fifty Years. Murfreesboro, TN: Middle Tennessee State College.
Tozer, T. (1999). Public Invited to Library Open House April 18: Formal Grand Opening will be Monday, April 19, 2 p.m. The Record, 7(19), 1-2.


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