By Roderick J. McDavis, President
Feb. 18, 2014
It’s hard to imagine a university without a library or books. But in 1804, when the Ohio Legislature established Ohio University, that was the case—Ohio University was little more than a grand conception in the middle of a great wilderness. It wasn’t for another decade, in 1814, that the Library of Ohio University was established.
Ohio University, the oldest institution of higher education in the Northwest Territory, had its origins in Boston where Manasseh Cutler and Rufus Putnam formed the Ohio Company of Associates to purchase western land and promote settlement. It was Cutler, the so-called father of Ohio University, who later persuaded Congress to create a 46,000-acre land grant for a university in the newly opened 1.5 million acres in the Northwest Territory.
In May of 1809, the Board of Trustees appointed a committee to look into buying books and the “necessary apparatus” for experiments, which included instruments such as telescopes, protractors and moving models of the solar system. A year later, the committee appropriated $308 for materials, and finally in 1811, the University purchased its first books. They were expensive, and the trip to collect them was difficult, but the trustees fully recognized their value.
The Board of Trustees officially titled OHIO’s collection of books the “Library of Ohio University” in 1814 and adopted rules and regulations for its use including: “No student shall be allowed to have in his possession more than one book at any one time,” and, “No book shall be used by a student without being previously covered with a wrapper of paper” (Minutes). These books were housed in the Academy, which sat close to where Galbreath Chapel sits today, and at that time, was the only building on campus.
With an air of fondness, alumnus Solomon S. Miles (1816) reminisced about that first library when he wrote, “I enter the [Academy] building and there I see … as of old the small library in the northwest corner of the building, with its terrestrial and celestial globe standing in the window and a small case of surveyor’s instruments, the only apparatus of the then infant college” (Hollow).
Thus, Ohio University Libraries began. Since then, it has grown to incorporate 3 million volumes, comprehensive electronic resources and world-renowned special collections. It is ranked among the top 100 research libraries in North America and is a member of the prestigious Association of Research Libraries. And today, as we commemorate our University’s founding, our reflections focus upon Ohio University Libraries and the vast contributions of this institution to our transformative learning experience.
Through the 2014 Founder’s Day website, we have an opportunity to encounter our shared history in new and exciting ways. It is my hope that by delving deeper into the Ohio University Libraries, you will come to treasure an entity that has been the lifeblood of our academic community for two centuries. I extend sincere congratulations to the generations of faculty, librarians, students, board members and donors who made this incredible milestone possible, and acknowledge the 200-year tradition of aiding academic excellence that has always defined Ohio University Libraries.
Quoted text sources:
Hollow, Betty. Ohio University, 1804-2004: The Spirit of a Singular Place. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003.
Minutes and Resolutions of the President and Trustees of the Ohio University, Vol. I: 1804-1832, Mahn Center, Ohio University Libraries.
The Ohio University and surrounding community is invited to celebrate University Libraries’ 200th anniversary at the Founders Day Symposium from 1:30 to 4 p.m. March 25 on the fourth floor of Alden Library.
Titled “Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation,” this event will serve as the official kickoff for University’s Libraries’ bicentennial. Speakers at the symposium include:
The Founders Day Symposium is one of several events in the coming year that will celebrate University Libraries’ long history of service to the University and Athens communities.