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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 on a regular basis.

by Teresa Brown

In the 1950s, and into the 1970s, the Schools of Engineering were served by many separate libraries:

  • Aeronautical Engineering was at the airport until it was combined with the Engineering Sciences Library in the mid-1960s. That library was then combined with the Industrial Engineering Library in the late 1960s and was located on the third floor of Grissom Hall.
  • Chemical and Metallurgical Engineering was first noted in 1927, located in an office. In 1971, it was remodeled and moved to the basement of the Chemical Engineering building, now Forney Hall of Chemical Engineering.
  • In 1963-64, the Civil Engineering Library was formally named the R.B. Wiley Memorial Library for Civil Engineering and moved into the Civil Engineering Building (Hampton) from the old Civil Engineering Building (Grissom Hall).
  • Electrical Engineering Sciences was located in the Electrical Engineering in three rooms on the second floor.
  • Mechanical Engineering was located in the Mechanical Engineering building on the second floor.
  • The Nuclear Engineering Library moved from the Michael Golden Engineering Laboratories in July 1971 to the second floor of the Engineering Administration building (the current site of the Wilmeth Active Learning Center) and included departmental faculty office space.

A look back at the engineering libraries at Purdue

In 1977, all the libraries were combined into the Siegesmund Engineering Library. (Editor’s note: I worked in all these libraries as a student employee, 1973-1977, under Ed Posey.)

A.A. Potter Engineering Research Center

A.A. Potter Engineering Research Center

Siegesmund Engineering Library

On April 22, 1977, the A.A. Potter Engineering Research Center was dedicated and a unified engineering library was opened for business.

Funds for the $6 million building were made possible partially by gifts received from engineering alumni and other friends of the Schools of Engineering during Purdue’s 1969 Centennial Fund Drive.

The Potter Center was named in honor of Dean Emeritus Audrey A. Potter who served as Purdue’s Engineering Dean, from 1920-1953. Dean Potter was born in Vilna, Russia, and came to the United States in 1897. He was an educator, counselor, inventor, administrator and author who was dedicated to making Purdue’s Engineering Schools one of the most recognized in the country.

The new library was named in honor of John C. And Lillian W. Siegesmund, benefactors of the building and library project.

At the time of the library’s grand opening, Edwin D. Posey was the Engineering Librarian. The merger of the six individual engineering libraries and the Goss Collection were Posey’s main reason for staying at Purdue for 26 years.

“Basically the individual engineering schools were against a merger, but many people, besides the librarians, could see the advantages that a single engineering library would offer its students and teaching staff,” Posey said.

It was billed as a “unified” engineering library, which in addition to the traditional library services, would have computer-controlled, student-activated storage and retrieval systems.

The original library plans included 45,000 square feet, but when enough funds could not be raised, the space was reduced to 24,000 square feet. Rather than give up the idea of a unified engineering library, Posey worked with the building’s architects to create a floor plan that included the Mezzanine floor in addition to its two floors of space.

Once the building was completed, “Operation Booklift” took place. The task of moving and shuffling 100,000 books (1/10 of the entire libraries’ collection) to the new library took approximately 5,300 staff hours, $11,000 and over two months to complete. It was the largest physical movement of books in the university’s history.

Since its grand opening in 1977, the Engineering Library has had two head librarians, Ed Posey and Sheila Curl. In 2003, Michael Fosmire was appointed as Head, Physical Sciences, Engineering and Technology Division. Prior head librarians included Mary Lee Rudd and Richard Funkhouser.