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“To build up the future, you have to know the past.” — Otto Frank

“From the Past to the Future” series by Teresa Brown also appears in INSIDe, the Purdue University Libraries’ newsletter for Libraries personnel. As faculty and staff in Purdue University Libraries consolidate six libraries in the Library of Engineering and Science in the new Wilmeth Active Learning Center this summer, we’ll feature the history of each of the now closed libraries here weekly.

In 1924, the general policy of the University involved the centralization of the books and their uses for reference in the Main Library Building. In certain instances however, there were departures from this policy and collections of books were placed in other buildings on campus.

The most important of these collections was the Chemistry Library, located in the Chemistry building. It was the oldest and largest of the department libraries. Practically all the usable books and periodicals relating to Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, about 2,000 in all, were housed in this library where they were readily accessible for reference to the students at work in the laboratories of the department. University Librarian William M. Hepburn believed departmental libraries sprang from the “rapid growth of library collections without a corresponding increase in the size of the Main Library Building.”

In 1929, a complete dictionary catalog and shelf list were prepared for the books shelved in the Chemistry Library, and it was planned to include cards for the chemical books kept in the General, Chemical Engineering and Agricultural Experiment Station libraries. A tri-weekly messenger service was established to deliver books and periodicals to departmental libraries and to deliver and pick up periodicals circulated to 20 departments for faculty use.

In 1930, for the first time the Library leadership provided a part-time assistant to users of departmental collections in Chemistry and Pharmacy. According to M.G. Mellon’s autobiography, the first Chemistry librarian was Bernice Dunten, who had been a WWI Army Nurse. She remained the librarian until 1940, when she moved to the Pharmacy Library. Mellon noted that, in the hot summers of 1934 and 1936, she ejected students (presumably male) from the library for going “topless.”

Interior of Purdue University Libraries' Chemistry Library in early 2017.

Interior of Purdue University Libraries’ Chemistry Library in early 2017.

Ms. Dunten was followed by Ruth Power (1940-49), a graduate (like Dunten) of the University of Illinois Library School. She was followed (perhaps) by someone named Dunbar (Mellon is not clear about this in his autobiography).

In 1948-49, responsibility for the Chemistry Library shifted from the department head to the Director of Libraries John Moriarty.

The new Chemistry building was completed in 1955 at a cost of over $4,500,000, and the Chemistry Library moved into its new home with Librarian Fred J. Bassett (1951-56) overseeing its grand opening. The departmental library, with a capacity of 40,000 volumes, was located on the third floor of the new building. The description of the library in the open house brochure read as follows: “On entering it (the library) one finds oneself in a large, acoustically treated, air-conditioned reading room with bookshelves around the sides and long study tables and chairs in the center. The Librarian’s desk is immediately to the right, and behind this are two small rooms where books may be repaired or prepared for binding. At the left in the reading room is a long alcove for abstract journals. Beyond this is a separate small reading room with current journals and magazines arranged on open shelves. To the west of the main reading room is the stack room. The stacks are constructed in three tiers and extend from the third floor to the ceiling of the fourth floor. A small service elevator has been installed to facilitate the transportation of books between the several levels of stacks. This room is also supplied with 21 study carrels, seven on each tier. There is no laboratory above any part of the library so that a leakage of water and chemical cannot occur in such a way as to damage the books and manuscripts.”

Bassett was followed by James Van Luik, who was there for two years (1956-58). He was presumably followed by Dorothy Kreman, who served until John Pinzelik started in 1960 and retired in 1993. Bartow Culp followed until his retirement in 2009. In 2003, Michael Fosmire was appointed as Head, Physical Sciences, Engineering and Technology Division, with Jeremy Garritano serving as Chemistry librarian (June 2004-May 2014). Currently David Zwicky is assistant professor liaison for the Chemistry department.

The Chemistry library has undergone some cosmetic updates over the years including a new circulation desk and study carrels. As a teaching and research library, it has continued to stay up-to-date with the services it offers to the Purdue staff and students and surrounding community. In 2007, The Mellon CyberChemistry Lab was opened and featured 10 PCs with software specifically related to chemistry, math, and citation management. The core objective of this space was to help users more effectively apply the information that was available to them, and as a result make their assignments and their research more meaningful.