by Stan Campbell, Director of the Library
By 1862, only 10 colleges in the United States had constructed free-standing buildings to serve as academic libraries. Among those colleges were Williams College, Yale College, Amherst College, and Harvard College. Also among that group of 10 was Centre College of Kentucky. Sayre Library and Sayre Hall
Sayre Library, built in 1862 and named in honor of David Sayre of Lexington, Ky., was an unusual, even unique structure. The wooden octagonal building was 40 feet in diameter and stood two stories high. The architect, Mr. Charles C. Miller, designed the "1st story 13 feet in the clear, 2nd story 26 feet in the clear," according to the archival record. His notes indicate that it was intended to hold 20,000 volumes, although it is doubtful that it ever held that many. Mr. Miller noted that the constructor “has proposed to build the building complete for the sum of five thousand and five hundred dollars ($5,500),” assuming that no one wished to cut any corners.
As early as 1822, 40 years earlier, the College board of trustees had drafted guidelines for library services. The trustee minutes of 1822 include the following stipulations:
- A librarian shall be appointed by Faculty from among the instructors or students every year.
- No persons except a professor, officer or Trustee shall be admitted to the Library or to handle or to use the books
- No student shall keep a book longer than as follows: to wit, a folio two months, a quarto one month, and any other book two weeks.
By 1852, the library collection, which was housed in several private collections among campus, consisted of roughly 2,000 volumes and was in the care of Dr. Ormond Beatty, professor of mathematics and, later, president of the College. The construction of Sayre Library allowed the College to consolidate most of the librry collections in one place.
Sayre Library served for more than 30 years but by 1894 the College and the collection had outgrown the old octagonal building: the College then erected Sayre Hall, just east of Old Main, which stood on location now occupied by Sutcliffe Hall. Once again named to honor David Sayre, the second Sayre library was larger than the first but still relatively small. A photograph of the interior reveals three levels of closely packed wooden book stacks, a library of natural light and striking shadow.
In 1913, the College had outgrown Sayre Hall and needed a new library. It was then that famed industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie contributed $30,000 toward the construction of Carnegie Library and the establishment of a special library endowment. Carnegie, having sold his interests in Carnegie Steel to U.S. Steel in 1901 for a reported $300 million, set about giving his fortune away. In the process, he would build more than 2,800 libraries in the United States alone. Carnegie's grant, however, came to the College decades before Carnegie's foundation began the extraordinary enterprise of building libraries and home and abroad. The Carnegie Library, with a capacity of 70,000 volumes, served as the central library for 54 years. Although not designed in the classic Carnegie style, Centre's Carnegie Library, with its Ionic columns and stained glass windows, was a striking addition to the campus. Restored in 1993, it still serves the College community today.
How the Collection Grew
In less than 100 years, from 1819 to 1913, the College had built three different libraries and the book collection had grown from a few dozen privately owned volumes to one numbering in the tens of thousands. Still, resources were limited. As late as 1930, for example, the budget for books in English was $135; philosophy, $85; and chemistry, $10.
During the decades of the two Sayre libraries and the Carnegie Library, Centre benefited from some extraordinary gifts. Early in the College's history, most of the library holdings came from the private collections of its professors. To this day, patrons leafing through an older volume may come across the signature and marginalia of Professors Ormond Beatty and John C. Fales, both of whom donated many books to the library. Professor of Theology Robert W. Landis donated more than 3,000 volumes to the collection. In 1958, LeCompte Davis, Class of 1896, well-known lawyer and bibliophile, donated his private collection of 8,000 rare, valuable books to the College. Included were examples of incunabula, many rare volumes in natural history, and sixteenth century French imprints.
The Grace Doherty Library
Fifty years later, the Carnegie Library was overflowing with some 70,000 volumes. In addition, Centre's women, still housed several blocks form the main campus in the old Kentucky College for Women, moved to the main campus in 1962. With that substantial increase in the student body, the old building was suddenly too small. In 1967, the college constructed the Grace Doherty Library. Funded largely by a gift from the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation, the new facility - dubbed "he Hall of Learning" - was unique for its time, integrating the main library, classrooms, faculty offices, language laboratories, and audio/visual services into a single, flexible space. At a capacity of 165,000 volumes, the new library more than doubled the capacity of Carnegie.
But 20 years later, the Centre College student population had once again increased dramatically, growing from 680 in 1967 to 861 in 1988. The library collection was also straining the limits of Doherty's capacity. Just as important, something brand new, a technical revolution, was just beginning. In 1988, Centre renovated Doherty and the surrounding building, which had been named the Crounse Academic Center, in honor of Mr. and George P. Crounse, in 1986. The renovation enabled the library to expand into some classroom space.
The New Grace Doherty Library and Crounse Hall
As the millennium drew to a close and revolution in technology continued to develop at an astonishing rate, it became apparent that the College would have to expand and completely update the library and Crounse Academic Center. The challenge was to create a library to meet the needs of the 21st century, a library both fully functional and aesthetically pleasing.
With a capacity for 350,000 volumes, comfortable seating for 350, wireless technology, and a new computer laboratory, the library provides students and faculty with a full range of library services in a beautiful, unique environment.
In 183 years, Centre College has planned, built or renovated libraries on six different occasions, each time to meet the needs and challenges of growth and change. Each succeeding library has inherited books and traditions from its predecessor. It is a long, clear line from the old wooden Sayre Library to the new Grace Doherty Library.