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TL v59n2: History of the Library at Cumberland University
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 59 Number 2



 History of the Library at Cumberland University


Eloise Hitchcock, Director


Cumberland University was founded in 1842 with programs in the liberal arts, law and theology. During the Civil War, the campus was destroyed by fire, but reopened in 1866 with a “resurgence from the ashes” (Bone, 1935, p. 105).  The first mention of the Library in the college catalogue was in the academic year 1858-1859.  Under the Law Library it states, “each student pays the University Treasurer $1, which admits him to the Law Library.  The contingent fund thus created is expended to increase the number of books in the Library” (Catalogue, 1858-1859, p. 27).  The Law Library was located in Caruthers Hall, known as the “Law Barn,” and contained 6,500 volumes of standard law books including, “all the published opinions of the courts of last resort of all the states of the Union . . . with all the Federal Courts and intermediate Appellate Courts of the State of New York” (Catalogue, 1858-1859, p. 32)  The “Lebanon Law School,” was the first school of law in the Old Southwest, opening in 1847.  Alumni include governors, senators, state court judges and two U.S. Supreme Court justices, as well as Secretary of State and Nobel Peace laureate Cordell Hull.

After the “resurgence,” Professor John I. D. Hinds is listed as the first Librarian beginning in 1873.  By this time a University Library is established containing over six thousand volumes.  Additionally, it is noted:  “The Reading Room is supplied with the leading periodicals in the English language.  They constitute, under their present admirable arrangement, a new feature in the University, and afford great advantages” (Catalogue, 1873-1874, p. 24).  In the next year the collection grew to 7,000 volumes as “several hundred books and a number of valuable maps have been added to the Library, by donation, since the last catalogue” (Catalogue, 1874-1875, p. 25)  In 1882, the collection was 8,000 volumes, and in 1883 it is noted that the Library is “free to all students” (Catalogue, 1883-1884, p. 12).  In 1887, the collection grew to ten thousand volumes, and by 1889, twelve thousand volumes were in the collection. 

In 1894, Rev. Winstead P. Bone, a professor in the Theological Department and later President of the University, is listed in the catalogue as the Librarian.  During this time a gift of several thousand volumes of Church History and Semetic languages was given to Cumberland upon the death of Yale College professor and eminent scholar, James Murdock.  It is noted that ‘a sufficient, though not yet large, number of recent and current works in all departments of theological study has been acquired  . . .and is receiving constant additions” (Catalogue, 1895-1896, p. 39). 

In the 1897 catalogue, Mrs. E. J. Hale is recognized for her gift of $1,000.00 “for the purpose of furnishing a room in the new University building . . . to be known as the Hale Reference Library, the Departmental Library of the Seminary. The room is conveniently situated, commodious, well-lighted, finished in oak, and superbly furnished with oak chairs, tables, librarian’s desk, beautiful shelving and costly carpeting” (p. 42).  It is also noted that there is a General Library in Caruthers Hall.

In 1901, the University Library collection had grown to 15,000 volumes, including the “famous Murdock collection.”  It was in this year that the University received two thousand dollars from Mr. David Earle Mitchell “for the equipment of a library adapted to the special needs of the Literary department” (Catalogue, 1901-1902, p. 10).  The Mitchell Library was established and occupied “a large and well-lighted room on the first floor of the University building, and thus is within easy reach of all students.  It is handsomely equipped with sectional bookcases, elegant tables, and a cabinet mantel, etc. and at present contains some two thousand one hundred volumes” (Catalogue, 1902-1903, p. 10). During this time Cumberland housed four departmental libraries including the University Library, Hale Reference Library of Theology, the Law Library, and the Mitchell Library.  A newly renovated Law Library opened in 1903 containing 3,000 volumes.

There were several Librarians throughout the next century.  Nellie Childress was listed as Assistant Librarian in1901-02 and Joseph Clay Walker in 1903. They are succeeded by Laban Lacy Rice in 1904 and C. H. Kimbrough beginning in 1905. No librarians are listed again until 1916 when Miss Weigel, Chairman of Domestic Arts and Science served in this capacity.  In 1920, T. M. Logan was listed as Librarian, followed by Helen Page Jackson in 1921.  Various library attendants and student assistants were listed through the 1920s.  In 1927, James Baker Bassett was the Librarian, followed by Mildred Bryant in 1929.  Martha Harris was the Head Librarian from 1930 to 1938.  The combined library collections numbered 15,500 at this time. Mrs. V.A. Sydenstricker became the Librarian of the College in 1939.  Sara Hardison was the Librarian of the School of Law from 1922-1951.  In 1950, the Law Library was renamed the Cordell Hull Law Library and contained 14,000 volumes.

In 1946, it is noted that “a professionally trained librarian and a full time cataloguer trained in library science are in charge of the [Mitchell] Library” (Catalogue, 1946-1947, p. 19). Ruth Randle was named as the Librarian of the General Library, and Nancy Gwendolyn Dillard was listed as the cataloguer.  Both of these women have Bachelor of Science degrees in Library Science from George Peabody College. Ms. Dillard became the Librarian of the General Library in 1950 and served until 1956 when Mrs. Lesta Karrah Fly, also with a B.S. degree in Library Science from George Peabody College, became the Librarian until 1972.  From 1973-1976, Cynthia Todd was the Librarian.  She has a Masters degree in Library Science from the George Peabody College for Teachers.  Cynthia Brumfield, also with a M.L.S. degree from Peabody, was the Librarian from 1977-1983. 

From1984 to 2000, Roger Michael Karl, with an M.L.S. degree from Indiana University, became the Head Librarian.  It was during this period that the University offered two courses, “Library Usage” and “Introduction to Library Resources” as Humanities electives.  From 1992 until 2004, the University Library was one of seven Divisions of the University.   Michelle Noel served as the Library Director from 2001-2007.  She was succeeded by Eloise Hitchcock, the current Library Director.
In October of 1989 a new library building opened its doors on campus.  It is named the Doris & Harry Vise Library after its principle benefactor Harry Vise, founder of the Texas Boot Company and a Trustee Emeritus of the University.  Mr. Vise, who currently lives in Nashville, is a Jewish immigrant who barely escaped Nazi Germany in 1939.  Shortly after its construction, the building was selected as a winner of the Middle Tennessee Excellence in Development Award.

The Library is 18,000-square-feet and houses meeting rooms and study areas, computer and audio-visual facilities, the University Archives, and special collections in Tennessee History, Nobel Laureates, and Children’s and Young Adult Literature. The current collection consists of 35,000 volumes and an additional 35,000 e-books, as well as access to over 33,000 journals available through more than 60 full text online databases.


Bone, Winstead Paine. (1935). A History of Cumberland University, 1842-1935. Lebanon, Tennessee: Published by the Author.

Catalogues of the Officers and Students of Cumberland University, 1858-2009.

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