The Libraries’ collections have from the beginning been intertwined with the history of the University of Georgia. As the university expanded and grew in different academic directions, so the Libraries' holdings reflected that growth. From the outset the library has been recognized as the heart of the university: when the Board of Trustees provided for the first professor in 1800, they also established that a library be purchased for the sum of one thousand dollars. The majority of the first titles selected by a committee appointed by the Senatus Academicus or Board of Trustees were multiple copies of textbooks. They also recommended a list of books that might be described as a core collection for a liberal arts curriculum intended for “the use of Students at intervals when not engaged in the Academical Studies.”
An obvious correlation exists between the library buildings or rooms in the early years, and collection growth. While there is no official record of the location of the first library, it is generally believed that it was situated in the first building on campus. By 1820, the Library had moved to a room on the 2nd floor of Philosophical Hall, known for many years as Waddel Hall, and presently the Dean Rusk Center. The Library had been increased to over 2,600 volumes by the year 1823 when a move to New College took place. An unfortunate fire destroyed the 3,000 volumes housed there in 1830.
In 1831 the library found a new beginning in the Ivy Building, constructed just north of Demosthenian Hall and named for the vines scaling its walls. By 1862, the library had amassed 18,250 volumes and needed expanded facilities. A new library building was erected adjacent to the original one. In 1905 the old and newer structures were joined by the construction of a Corinthian portico across the front and are known as the Academic Building today.
The year 1905 marked a major turning point, as the library collection had become significant enough to warrant having its own separate building. With moneys from George Foster Peabody, the burgeoning collection of approximately 30,000 books found a comfortable home in the building currently used as the President’s Office.
The Georgia General Assembly in 1931 enacted legislation that had a significant impact upon not only the university, but also on the development of the library. The Reorganization Act of 1932 mandated the consolidation of the three separate schools in Athens: The State Teachers College (Coordinate College), the State College of Agriculture, and the University of Georgia. The unification of the libraries, however, was a slow process, and as of 1938 there were three main libraries, nine departmental libraries, and a recreational collection at Memorial Hall.
When the Libraries’ holdings reached 205,000 volumes in 1945, the Costa Building in downtown Athens was used as an annex. The termination of World War II allowed for a great increase in student enrollment and subsequently necessitated still another annex, a pre-fabricated building that was constructed in 1947 across from the General Library on Jackson Street. Clearly the growth of the university and the Libraries’ collections had caused the holdings to be so widely dispersed as to be a burden to students and librarians alike.
The Ilah Dunlap Little Memorial Library, dedicated in 1953 with a capacity for 700,000 volumes, alleviated conditions for nearly twenty years. In 1967 the Science Library, adjacent to the Boyd Graduate Studies Center, was opened specifically to serve the growing needs of the science departments of South Campus. In 1974 an annex was added to the Ilah Dunlap building, known as the Main Library, and in 1992 an offsite storage facility was constructed at the intersection of South Milledge Avenue and Whitehall Road.
The growth of the Libraries has historically reflected the budgetary allocations. Uncontrollable factors such as general economic conditions, wars and their aftermath have often dictated what amount could be expended on the library. Most recently the Libraries have weathered a severe crisis in serials inflation. Traditionally there has always been a need for additional funds to keep the Libraries growing at the same pace as the university.
Book selection responsibility was initially assigned to a faculty member; then the duty was at various times shared by the President of the university, the Board of Trustees, the faculty, and committees. The librarian, who had functioned as something akin to a caretaker, although equivalent to the faculty, finally came into full control with the appointment of the first full-time library director in 1940. The Libraries eventually assumed the primary responsibility for the development of the collection to correspond with the curriculum.
The Libraries’ collections today represent a rich and varied accumulation of purchases and gifts. The DeRenne Library acquired in 1938 is of singular importance as a collection of Southern History and literature through 1930 with particular strength in the Colonial and Confederate periods. Historically there had been and continues to be at the University an undying scholarly interest in collecting material on the Civil War. This interest, combined with the generosity of such donors as Felix Hargrett, has resulted in a Confederate Imprints collection of national distinction.
The library of the American Mathematical Society consisting of more than 13,000 items was on of the Libraries’ most important acquisitions. The Board of Regents and the General Education Board of New York made a joint gift of the library with an understanding the University increase the annual appropriation for mathematics journals.
The Charles Coburn Theatrical Collection, a major gift of theatre books, programs, photographs, scripts, props and other theatricana belonging to Charles Coburn, the Savannah-born actor, was willed to the university in 1969. This donation definitely influenced the development of the Theater Arts collections.
The Libraries’ commitment to collecting Georgia-related materials has traditionally been strong: The Louis Moore collection of over 4,000 books is an example, as are the Barber-Blackshear Collection, and the E.M. Coulter Collection. Manuscripts found in the Telamon Cuyler Collection, the Keith Read Collection and the Egmont Papers form a solid and invaluable background for research in the field of Georgia history.
Newspapers, despite their ephemeral nature, have long been valued as historical documents and considerable effort has been expended to acquire as complete a collection of Georgia newspapers as possible. In 1951 the Georgia Alumni Foundation donated $8,000 to initiate the microfilming of these Georgia newspapers.
During the last thirty years, the information explosion coupled with increased financial support for the Libraries has quickened the pace of the collection building process. For example, it took nearly 185 years to add the first million volumes to the collection, but only eleven years to acquire the second million, a milestone reached in the spring of 1981. Throughout the 1980's the Libraries received generous support from the University Administration and have improved their ranking within the Association of Research Libraries.