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last updated: 10/2/2012

Tradition, Innovation, and Vision

Indiana University Libraries: Committed to information access through the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries

The Vision of Theophilus A. Wylie 

Indiana University was only about two decades old in 1841 when the Board of Trustees envisioned the printing of a catalog of all the books in the library, alphabetically arranged and numbered. By the next year, that fifty-page volume was prepared and printed, beginning the Libraries' tradition and commitment to work with the most up-to-date ideas and technologies to make information resources available to students, faculty, and the public.

Theophilus A. Wylie, a chemistry professor and librarian, created that first catalog and established a lasting foundation for the IU Libraries. In June of 1842, he "laid before the Board a Catalogue of the Books in the University Library." Three hundred copies were printed.

A modest man, Wylie did not give his name as author to be published in the Catalogue. In January, 1884, an inquiring mind on the staff of the Indiana Student revealed Wylie’s authorship and indicated his zeal for scholarship and detail. The reporter wrote: “The name of the librarian is not given in the Catalogue but it is known to be the work of Dr. T. A. Wylie who is yet here to acknowledge it. The classification is according to the system given by Professor Park, of the University of Pennsylvania, in his Pantology. It is very simple, involving such retty little things as Psychonomy, Callography, Physiconomy, Idiaphysics, Chreotechnics, and many other -ics, -onomies, -ologies, and -ographies.”

Today, two known copies of the Catalogue are held by the University Archives. It is remarkable that any copy of the Catalogue exists, as the fires of 1854 and 1883 destroyed most university records. 

Theophilus A. Wylie

Rebuilding the University Library after Two Fires

Wylie's Catalogue served until 1854, when fire destroyed the library's 5,000 volumes. The library's collection would not have another catalog until 1882 when William Wesley Spangler, Indiana University's fourth librarian, prepared the library's first card catalog for books in the collection.

Spangler classified the books according to subject by the "decimal system" when, nationally, library classification and cataloging were in their infancy. Melvil Dewey's Decimal Classification had been published only six years earlier and card catalogs were not common, according to Mildred H. Lowell (Indiana University Libraries 1829-1942).

The library endured yet another loss on the night of July 12, 1883, when lightning struck the newest building on campus, and fire thoroughly consumed it and its contents. Lost was the library of 12,000 volumes and 3,000 pamphlets, along with the museum, the apparatus of the scientific department, and the university records. Recovery after the fire was rapid, due to an appropriation of $30,000 by the state legislature, and monetary donations and contributions of books from citizens of Indiana. The 2,225-volume library moved into the newly constructed Wylie Hall in 1885. Catalogers were the first staff members hired to prepare the new card catalog. In 1885 the books were classified by subject and made available on open shelves. Some cataloging was accomplished in the next few years, and in 1889 three catalogers were added to the library staff. By then the book collection totaled 8,000 volumes.


The Collection Grows

From 1888 to 1904 the library, then located in Maxwell Hall, employed four full-time catalogers and four assistant catalogers. In 1900 the 30,000 volumes in the library classified by Dewey were reclassified (using the Danforth classification system) and recataloged, as were the incoming 3,000 books per year.

Librarian William Evans Jenkins established policies concerning cataloging and classification during his administration (1904-1921). To accomplish more cataloging he acquired a typewriter and employed an additional cataloger. Jenkins ordered duplicates of printed cards from the Library of Congress. According to Lowell, Jenkins felt that these cards would be advantageous from a point of economy, legibility, accuracy, and fullness of information.

During the first four years of Jenkins' administration the catalog was remade and expanded from 72 drawers in 1904 to 180 drawers in 1908. According to a reporter for The Daily Student (May 1, 1906), the new cases were built by the Library Bureau and finished in the style of the woodwork of the new library building [Franklin Hall].

As the library collection grew and the catalog became more complex, the Danforth classification proved itself increasingly deficient. According to Lowell, "[t]he Danforth classification was not standard; it was not up-to-date; there was no expansive feature nor an alphabetical arrangement under classes; the notation was inferior; and there was no index."

In deciding to reclassify, Jenkins considered such factors as cost, the amount of time reclassification would take, the confusion that would ensue from the library being in a state of upheaval, insufficient staff, and a lack of consensus among librarians about a system that could be regarded as practically final. United States involvement in World War I as the impetus behind his decision. The war years were ones of lower book budgets and lower enrollments for the university. Decreased circulation resulted in less work for the staff.


Adopting Library of Congress Classification

Reclassification of the library collection of 125,600 books to the Library of Congress (LC) classification system began in 1918. At this time, the Library of Congress classification was receiving universal recognition and was considered the most modern, scholarly, and definitive system used by large libraries. Indiana University Library became the 48th library in the United States to use it.

To learn as much as possible about procedures and techniques, Librarian Jenkins and Head Classifier Ida Wolf visited ther libraries that were using the Library of Congress classification. Miss Wolf even spent her six-week vacation at the Library of Congress, where she was given a desk in the shelf list department and did actual work for the library.

Miss Wolf began reclassification to LC in the fall of 1918, after her return from Washington D.C. She reclassified books a class at a time, and used student hourly help to change the cards in the catalog. Due to Miss Wolf's energy and efficiency, the cost of the reclassification project was inconsequential and the process of change was almost unnoticed by users of the library.


The Library Moves to Tenth Street

From the 1940s through the 1970s, the university continued to broaden its objectives and serve the cultural, professional, and practical needs of the state. Of paramount concern to library staff and university administration was a new facility for the burgeoning library, which occupied what is now Franklin Hall. As early as 1948, President Herman B Wells "set university sights on a new library," according to Thomas D. Clark. 

Asking for $11.9 million in 1964 to build a modern library plant, Indiana University received an appropriation of $2.1 million from the Indiana General ssembly to help finance the undergraduate portion of the new building. In 1966, pecific plans to construct a library at 10th and Jordan streets were initiated.

The new building, which opened in 1969, was planned to seat 3,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students; the undergraduate section would house 100,000 volumes, and the general and graduate section would house 2,500,000 volumes.

It remains one of the largest library buildings in the United States.
Construction of the Main Library at 10th Street.

IU's Computerized Information System

In January 1990 the IU Libraries unveiled its first electronic information system. Records for materials purchased since 1976 and previously available only through the card catalog became available electronically. Students and faculty could access records from each IU campus, and scholars throughout the world could access the system via the Internet.

The familiar manual circulation system also changed significantly. For the first time, bar codes on books and University ID cards allowed users to check out materials automatically, replacing the antiquated McBee card, upon which patrons wrote information about themselves and the books they wanted to borrow, while making sure each lengthy request went through three carbon copies.

By the late 1990s, the Internet and the World Wide Web had transformed research and instruction at the IU Bloomington Libraries. In 1997, the Libraries installed more than 650 new computer workstations to prepare for a Web-based cataloging system.

The Libraries also dramatically increased the number of full-text, networked electronic databases. In addition, Library Electronic Text Resources Services (LETRS) provided access to scholarly electronic texts. Created in 1993, LETRS also offered application tools, instruction in their use, and consultation at its facility in the Main Library. The Victorian Women Writers Project demonstrated the potential and appeal of this resource.

The groundbreaking VARIATIONS project marked the introduction of digitized music distributed over a computer network and provided a stepping stone for the formation of the university-wide Digital Library Program.

In 1997 IU joined the Digital Library Federation, a national program administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources. Through the council, IU joined an elite group of research libraries dedicated to developing digital libraries. The IU Digital Library Program continues to make important collections of the IU Libraries--from music to literature to historic documents--available to researchers worldwide.

Student using the Variations software.

We Celebrate Progress and Innovation

By the mid-1990s the Main Library, built to hold 2,600,000 volumes, had exceeded its capacity by more than a million volumes. To address this problem, the Trustees of IU approved the construction of an off-site shelving facility and state-of-the-art preservation lab that would conserve and protect the Libraries' collections for an estimated 400 years.  Designed to hold 2.7 million volumes and to allow for same-day delivery service, the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF) and E. Lingle Craig Perservation Laboratory opened in 2002.   

In 1996 the Indiana University Libraries received a generous contribution from Walden University to establish an endowment to support a librarian's position. And, in 1997, the IU Libraries became the first unit on the Bloomington campus with an endowed deanship, thanks to a $2 million gift from Ruth Lilly in support of the Bloomington Academic Endowment Campaign.

The Libraries further expanded its resources by partnering with the University Information Technology Services and creating the IU Information Commons in the fall of 2003. Occupying 27,000 square feet of the first floor of the Main Library, the Information Commons is a state-of-the-art technology and information center that includes more than 250 individual and group workstations, wireless networking, library reference services and resources, technology consultants, and a multimedia production laboratory.

In 2005 the Libraries expanded the Information Commons by adding another commons on the second floor of the West tower of what became the Herman B Wells Library in the same year. The renaming of the Main Library served to recognize the contributions of Indiana University's beloved former president and chancellor.

Wells' vision during his 62-year leadership of IU included the recognition that a university is defined, at least in part, by its libraries. During his tenure as president, collections at the IU Bloomington Libraries grew by more than 640 percent.

Today the Libraries are taking advantage of new technologies and expanding global telecommunications networks to connect users with the information they need. No longer are the Libraries' resources confined to physical space; instead, students, faculty, staff, and other IU affiliates can access a wealth of multimedia databases practically anytime and anywhere.

Since the university's founding in the early 1800s, the Indiana University Libraries have grown from one room in the first College Building to a state-wide system with more than 10 million volumes. As symbolized by work on the catalog, IU librarians have promoted progress and innovation, fostered common goals to organize and describe materials, and improved access to information for generations of users--both in Indiana and the world.


Photographs courtesy of the University Archives and the IU Foundation.


last updated: 10/2/2012