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A Brief History of The University of Georgia Libraries

The Libraries' collections have, from the beginning of the Institution, been intertwined with the history of the University. As the University expanded and grew in different academic directions, so did the Libraries' holdings reflect that growth. From the outset there existed a vital recognition that the Library was the heart of the University. When the Board of Trustees provided for the first professor in 1800, they also established that a library collection be purchased for the sum of one thousand dollars. Unfortunately this collection was destroyed in a fire in 1830. A new collection received an official headquarters in 1831. The structure, known as the Ivy Building because of the foliage scaling its walls, was constructed just north of Demosthenian Hall. 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. This structure, known as the Academic Building today, did not continue to house the collection, however. Around the turn of the century George Foster Peabody donated money to construct a new library. This facility, the neoclassical building which presently houses the Georgia Museum of Art, was built in 1905 and is shown below.


The UGA Library (ca. 1912)


Inside the UGA Library (ca. 1912)

The Georgia General Assembly enacted legislation in 1931 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 colleges in Athens: the State Normal School (now the headquarters of U.S. Navy Supply Corps School), the State College of Agriculture and the University of Georgia. The unification of their libraries, however, was a slow process and as of 1938, there were three main libraries and nine departmental ones.

The Peabody building served to house the growing 30,000 volume collection on north campus until 1945. At this time the Library holdings numbered 205,000 volumes. Expansion room was required and the Costa Building in downtown Athens was designated as a temporary annex. Still another annex was added in 1947 in a prefabricated building on Jackson Street.


Jackson Street Annex

In 1952 a much larger building with 146,900 square feet was constructed with a combination of state money and a bequest from Ilah Dunlap Little. The Ilah Dunlap Little Memorial Library currently houses the Main Library.


Ilah Dunlap Little Memorial Library

The 92,000 square feet Science Library was completed in 1968 to accommodate the growth in the life and physical science collections needed to support the developing research emphasis on south campus. In addition to the Science Library, science branch collections were established in Griffin, Tifton, Skidaway and Sapelo, Georgia.


Science Library

In 1974 a 209,206 square foot annex was constructed on the back of the Main Library. In addition, small collections in the Georgia Center for Continuing Education and the College of Education were established. A large repository, located on South Milledge across from Whitehall was recently built and occupied in fall of 1993.


Main Library w/annex

The growth of the Libraries reflects budgetary allocations. The book budget has expanded from the original grant of $1,000 to approximately five million dollars annually, but uncontrollable factors such as general economic conditions, wars and their aftermath have often dictated what amount could be expended on the collection. There has always been a need to press for additional funds to keep the Libraries growing at the same pace as the University. The Law School Library is administered separately by the Law School.

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.


SOURCES: Preservation Planning Program Background Paper, 1990; A Pictorial History of the University of Georgia by F. N. Boney, 1984.

Content last updated: 5/17/94

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