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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.

by Carolyn Laffoon and Teresa Brown

On July 1, 1967, the Department of Geosciences was formed in the School of Science; it was previously a part of the School of EngineeriPurdue Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Libraryng. The geology library materials were stored in the basement of the Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering Building and were a subset of the Civil Engineering Library collection. Marjorie Meyer staffed the library one-quarter time as the library assistant. Dr. Wilton “Bill” Melhorn, the first department head, was instrumental in establishing the Geosciences Library. Dr. Ted V. Jennings, as library committee chair, assisted in selecting library materials to purchase.

In 1970, the department and library moved across the street into the old Pharmacy Building. Located on the first floor of the Geosciences Building, the library had fire exit doors that overlooked the old fountain situated in front of Hovde Hall of Administration. The library originally consisted of the main room with four study tables and 16 seats, as well as a large room to the immediate southwest. Original built-in wooden shelves and several rows of old army-green surplus shelving housed the entire collection. As the collection grew, the library extended into surrounding rooms, adding three additional rooms before moving to the newly constructed location. The library title morphed from “Geosciences” to “Earth and Atmospheric Sciences” when the department changed names in 1986. In 1988 the Library moved, with the department, to the Civil Engineering Building, now named Hampton Hall of Civil Engineering. The name of the library was changed to “Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences” in 2012 when the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences underwent a name change to incorporate a new Planetary Sciences major.


In 1971, after one year in the Mathematical Sciences Library, Carolyn J. Laffoon took the library assistant position in the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences Library (EAS). In 1987, she obtained her Master’s in Library Science from Indiana University, while simultaneously working full-time in the EAS Library. Upon graduation, she was promoted to Professional Librarian of the EAS Library and served in that role until her retirement in 2011.

In 1988, with the move to the new facilities, the university merged the map collection housed in Stewart Center Special Collections with the second campus map collection held by the Department of the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. Virginia Carter transferred from Special Collections to the EAS Library Map Room as the library assistant and map curator. She worked there until her retirement in 2000. Rebecca Richardson assumed the position of map curator/library assistant and student supervisor the following year, until she finished her Master’s in Library Science. Scott Bonner succeeded Rebecca in 2001 and was the primary force behind merging the two map collections, so library users could easily find maps for themselves. Hired in 2002, Claire Alexander held the position as the map curator/library assistant until her retirement in 2011. Donna Slone worked in the CFS Library from 2004-2007 and moved to Physics where she spent part of her time in Engineering. She moved to EAPS in 2012 and will move to Hicks Library with the map collection. Terry Wade, hired in 1999 as library assistant in Physics Library, splitting her time between Physics and EAS until 2001, when she became a full-time EAS Library assistant supervising the main collection and student staff members.

Over the course of the existence of the EAS library, several faculty librarians have overseen the library, including:  Richard Funkhouser, 1970-1980; Martha Bailey, 1980-1982; Dennis Parks, 1982-1986; D. Scott Brandt, 1987-1989; Robert “Pat” Allen, 1990-1997; and Michael Fosmire, 1998-2003, when he was appointed Head, Physical Sciences, Engineering and Technology Division, which included EAS. Megan Sapp Nelson, associate professor, assumed supervision of the EAS library in 2011. She will continue as the liaison to the EAPS department after the closure of the departmental library in 2017.

Additionally, in August, 2006, Chris Miller joined the Purdue Libraries as its first GIS Librarian. Nicole Kong was hired in 2012 as GIS Librarian and two Geographic Information Systems Analysts, Yue (Shirley) Li and Bertin Mbongo were added in 2016.

Purdue's Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences Library in early 2017

Purdue’s Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences Library in early 2017


The collection consists of research materials primarily for geology, atmospheric sciences, geophysics, geochemistry, hydrogeology and environmental ecology. The EAS Library is a U.S. government depository collecting documents and maps dealing with geology and meteorology. An official depository for the U.S. Geological Survey, it has a fairly complete collection of state survey materials. The map room consists of over 204,000 maps and 140,000 aerial photos, including historical aerial photos of Tippecanoe County. Among the most unique item in the collection is 5 volumes containing the very first original aerial photos ever taken anywhere! They happen to be of the Wabash River Valley, c. 1929.  (No other library has this set!) These materials were transferred to Purdue University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections. They were digitized and plans are to add them to the GIS server.

Historical Changes

The EAS Library has evolved, along with libraries as a whole, from manual to electronic circulation and overdue materials; from card catalogs to online catalogs, from print reference sources to primarily online databases, such as GeoRef and Meteorological and Geoastrophysical Abstracts (MGA) and reference sources, from face-to-face reference to digital reference (i.e. Ask-A-Librarian service) and email reference, from print journals and books to ejournals and ebooks available on desktop personal computers, and from teaching basic bibliographic instruction classes in the library to teaching classes mostly from computer labs to demonstrate database usage, web searching techniques and webpage evaluation. (Searches that used to take weeks, now take minutes, and even seconds!)