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The Story of Notre Dame
Academic Development: University of Notre Dame / by Philip S. Moore, C.S.C.


VIII. University Library and Archives


For its first thirty years the "frontier school" which was the University of Notre Dame in infancy had no General Library. Students were required to read few books outside their textbooks, and these books were borrowed from the personal libraries of the teachers. Father Auguste Lemonnier, fourth President of the University (1872-74), was the first to sense the need of a General Library; Notre Dame was beginning the transition period from "frontier school" to "well-equipped college."[178] His idea was that there should be a growing collection of books which could be circulated among the students, and to which he consequently referred as a "circulating library."

Because he conceived this idea, the Library at Notre Dame will always be linked with the name of Auguste Lemonnier. But it was a young man, James F. Edwards, who had a passion for collecting and whose interest Father Lemonnier aroused in the idea, who actually implemented the idea and got the Library underway.[179] Edwards had come to the campus around 1860 and joined the Faculty in 1870. He is said to have been an ineffectual teacher,[180] but his pertinacious work as a collector for some forty years resulted not only in the beginning of the Library but also in laying the foundation of the archival collections of the Catholic Church in America, with which his name is primarily associated and to which we shall return later. A third achievement of Mr. Edwards was a collection of portraits and souvenirs of the bishops of the United States, which arranged in the cruciform gallery of the Main Building, and known as the Bishops' Memorial Hall, was an outstanding attraction for many years.[181] Edwards went to work on the Library project, and before Father Lemonnier's untimely death a few months later had collected 1200 books, while by the fifth year he had gathered 10,000. This was the disastrous year of 1879, when on April 23 fire destroyed the college building and with it the fruits of Mr. Edward's work. As Father Hope has remarked, "this heart-breaking blow might have discouraged a less stout-hearted man," but "the fire was to him (Edwards) more a challenge than a defeat."[183]

Back to the task of collecting he went because even more than in the initial years 1874-79, the University had little or no money after the fire for library purchases and depended upon Edwards and his many friends to build up library resources. But he now thought of organization in his task and founded a Library Association. This was known as the Lemonnier Library Association, first mention of which appeared in the General Catalogue for the schoolyear 1880-81 (p. 48). Just how this Association functioned is not clear, but friends of Notre Dame donated books generously for the times. By the schoolyear 1880-81, 7,000 books were announced in the library collections; by the next year 16,000, and by 1884-85, 25,000.

During this five year period the actual count of books seems to have been made and announced. Then appeared the disconcerting phenomenon of the text of the Annual Catalogue being reprinted for stretches of several years without change in the book figures. From 1885 until 1924 we can now deduce only the general picture of library accessions. Thus the figure remained at 25,000 until 1889-90. Then in the next three years it jumped to 32,000, 35,000 and 50,000, respectively. The acquiring of 15,000 books from 1891-92 to 1892-93 seems extraordinary. But however that may be, the 50,000 figure was not changed until 1897-98, when it jumped to 55,000. In that same year mention of the Lemonnier Library Association disappeared from the Catalogue.

For the next fifteen years, from 1897 to 1912, no actual count of books was made and the figure of 55,000 was drearily reprinted year after year. Then things improved and the figures were changed almost every year -- 65,000 in 1913-14; 90,000 in 1915-16; between 90,000-100,000 in 1916-17; between 100,000- 105,000 in 1917-18. Then the figure stuck again at 105,000 until 1924.

From 1924 on more dependable records of library holdings than the announcement in the Annual Catalogue exist. The figures taken from these records have been set forth for the years 1924-1949 in Wilson and Lundy, Report of a Survey of the Library of the University of Notre Dame for the University of Notre Dame, Chicago, the American Library Association, 1952, p. 37. At the end of 1924 there were 128,145 books (excluding Law) recorded at the University; at the end of 1949, 280,903. These figures reveal that it took almost twenty-five years for the collections to double themselves. On the other hand, they have doubled themselves again in about ten years, the holdings at the end of 1959 being 537,510 volumes, again excluding Law. Both these periods deviate from the average for uiversity libraries as established in 1944 by Fremont Rider in his The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library. Mr. Rider demonstrated that on the average these libraries were doubling, and had long doubled, every sixteen years. The notable lag in the doubling period for the years 1924-49 is primarily to be explained, though there were other reasons, by slow growth during the earlier years of this period and during the World War II years; the notable acceleration in the doubling period for the years 1949-59 is eloquent testimony to the University's research development during this period. It is anticipated that for the future our doubling periods should level out at about the average established by Rider, or between fifteen and twenty years.

Retracing our steps to the beginning, the embrionic University Library initiated by Father Auguste Lemonnier and Mr. James Edwards in 1874 was housed somewhere in the Main Building, which was destroyed by fire in 1879. When the new Main Building arose on the ashes of the old, Edwards prevailed upon the then President, Father William Corby, to give over to the Library -- named the Lemonnier Library -- the whole front projection of the third floor. This provided a space 130'x50', with a gallery around the entire room.[184] Here the Library remained for thirty-five years, when both its book and seating capacities had become over-taxed. Decision was, therefore, made to construct a separate library building, and the result was the present University Library, which was dedicated in June, 1917.

Now this building has become woefully inadequate in seating capacity, and is approaching its limit of some 500,000 book capacity. A truly magnificent new library building is well along in the planning stage. This building will be designed to house a College or Undergraduate Library and a Research Library. The area allotted to the College Library will have a book capacity of approximately 150,000 volumes and a seating capacity of well over 2,000; the area allotted to the Research Library, a book capacity of 1,850,000 volumes and a seating capacity of between 600 and 700. For years to come this building will handsomely provide the physical facilities which are needed.

Before the University Library was established there were small departmental book collections. Later some of them developed into branch libraries of which today there are five: in Architecture, Biology, Engineering, Law and Science.

The Metallurgy section of the Engineering branch library has its separate quarters in the John F. Cushing Hall of Engineering, and the Geology section of the Science branch library its separate quarters in the Geology Building. Of the 537,510 volumes in the library system as of June, 1959, 91,199 are located in the branch libraries of Architecture, Biology, Engineering, and Science, and 446,311 in the main library building. To these holdings must be added 58,601 volumes in the Law collections, which have not been included in the records of the library system since 1924. This brings the total number of books on campus to 596,111.

A principal mark of a great university is a great library, measured both by the quantity and quality of its collections. Though in the last ten years Notre Dame's holdings have doubled, we cannot say that we have as yet achieved a great library. This is true both quantitatively and qualitatively. But we have strong collections in a number of fields, and with the onward march of the University we will one day lay claim to a truly great library, in itself and in relation to the great libraries of other great universities of the world. To hasten this day, there has recently been founded a Notre Dame Library Association. Under the sponsorship of the Women's Advisory Council, this Association is being organized on a national scale. Its purpose is "to provide for an association of persons having an interest in the Library of the University of Notre Dame; to make known the needs of the University's Library; to increase the resources and collections of the Library by encouraging the donations of library materials or funds for the purchase of materials which are beyond the scope of the regular library budget; and thus to foster the preservation of culture and to support the educational, research, and publication programs of the University of Notre Dame."

We have already referred to the pioneering efforts of James F. Edwards in collecting archival material on the Catholic Church in America. For almost forty years he spent his summers and other free periods visiting episcopal archives throughout the United States. He was exceptionally successful in prevailing upon many of the bishops to transfer from their archives to the University invaluable materials. Today this collection numbers some 250,000 pieces and is unquestionably one of the richest sources of American Catholic Church history to be found anywhere. In addition about 200,000 personal papers of prominent Catholics have been acquired. These include the papers of Edward N. Hurley, Frederick Kenkel, Bishop Philip McDevitt, Rev. George Sauvage, C.S.C. and Frank Walker, and several smaller groups of papers. Several hundred feet of microfilm of missionary letters from European archives constitute the Bishop Frederic Baraga Collection, and negotiations are underway for the microfilming of other collections in the depots of Europe.

The University Archives include the correspondence of the Presidents of the University and about 100,000 miscellaneous pieces gathered from other administrative offices and from private individuals. This source for the history of the University is complemented by a Notre Dame Collection in the Library which contains publications of the Faculty, publications of the Notre Dame Press, and all books, articles, etc. written on the University or in which reference to the University is made.

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