At least two different buildings have housed Ouachita’s main library, though we’ve generally had more than two libraries at any given time. The single room in the Gothic structure known as Old Main from the moment of its completion in early 1889 had fewer books than each of the school’s literary societies. Eventually numbering six—three each for females and males—these societies met in Old Main classrooms and focused on debates by males and “cheering on” their “paired” male society by females, and on producing a literary magazine (Ripples). The college library consisted mostly of classics and supplemented faculty personal libraries in curricular support. Literary society libraries were more popular and current, meant for leisure reading, debate preparation and focusing literary output for publication. So that’s seven libraries a decade after Ouachita’s opening. By World War I, only one remained.
In the night after graduation 1949, Old Main burned. Human chains of hurriedly-roused campus denizens moved what contents they could out of the building and away from fire and water. Old Main could not be saved. Its demise resulted in separate buildings for science and the library. One library hero, religion professor Dr. George T. Blackmon, saved materials from being bulldozed into the ravine by maintenance chief Wimpy Hendrix. Another great library hero, El Dorado native Miss Emma Riley, became benefactor for the new building that would bear her name. The science building had its library, so then we had two.
The new Riley Library conformed to then-current practice of separating patrons (in a reading room) from materials (in stacks) but lacked any real security. Its three doors allowed materials as well as people to walk out. But as the number of patrons and holdings grew, the building that had been planned to house the main library for the foreseeable future became too small. Ouachita added onto the reading room end in the late 1950s and in the late 1960s added a three-floor bookstack to make the library into an “L” shape. By 1970, we had three libraries: the main one, one in science and one in music.
In a decade, the main library had run out of room in a building that had been added onto three times and through those additions had assumed a confirmation less than ideal. Through staff planning and the generosity of Frank Hickingbotham, Ouachita lopped off the reading room and its addition, then came across the face of the L’s most useful leg with an addition that would bring the whole closer to square. When it opened in 1987, a portion of the original building remained, as did one of the old additions, with a new face. Though rectangular, it resembled an ammonite, with the original core surrounded by successive enlargements. What we had in 1990—a science, a music and the main library—we still to a certain extent have. And the second building, added onto at least thrice, remains the main library.
How many libraries have we had? Counting “official” student and curricular libraries, the answer might be nine. How many buildings housed a library? The answer might be two for the main library, two different ones for the science library and two for the music library—a total of six. But the real answer, particularly to the last question, depends. For almost two decades, Ouachita’s library has made materials available outside the building via the internet and our proxy server. Indeed, the internet came to campus because of a library grant. So, actually, any building from which someone accesses library materials becomes, in a very real sense, the library’s building. We thus have unlimited buildings!
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