Kresge Library

Oakland University Library


1959-1969, by Elizabeth Raczkowski

1970-1979 by Nicole Sheard


1959-1969, by Elizabeth Raczkowski

On the afternoon of October 27, 1961, over three hundred students pushed book carts piled with the contents of Oakland University’s library across the wide mall of the new campus. They lined up outside the new library building, unloading their carts one at a time, and then turned back for more. After nearly four hours, the students had successfully dismantled the library’s former location in North Foundation Hall and moved into the new Kresge Library.

            With a generous donation for construction costs, the Kresge foundation, headed by Stanley and Sebastian Kresge, allowed Oakland University to expand their campus, and create a library suited to the academic missions of the University. On October 17, 1960 the ground was broken and construction began. The building itself was built with the needs of a rapidly expanding student body in mind. Upon the completion of construction, the library had the capacity to hold 200,000 volumes and allowed for easy expansion in the form of additional wings as the class sizes grew. It opened for student use in October of 1961.    

            Even before the library moved to its impressive new building, plans were underway to make Kresge Library an impressive and individualistic institution. From early on the library invested interest in making the faculty and students an active participant in everything the library had to offer. From the physical moving, to the everyday operations and inner workings of the library, students and staff have worked side by side since the library’s inception.

            In the winter of 1965, a group of students formed the Student Library Committee. The committee was created to improve communications between the library staff and the student population and to advise the librarians on the needs of the typical Oakland University student. The committee advised library staff on policy changes and encouraged the purchase of materials for student use. They created student centered activities like a paperback exchange and encouraged the exhibition of student art in the library. The committee was widely successful in the early years and was invited to write an article published by the American Library Association and was invited to speak at a Michigan Academic Library Council conference on the subject of student involvement in library operations. 

            It was important to the staff and the university that Kresge Library be an institution that catered to and encouraged undergraduate students. From the beginning the faculty and staff of the university worked hard to make sure that library was accessible and useful, that the library’s offering would be used and needed. As grad programs were introduced to the university - nine had been added by 1966 - the library expanded its research holdings, always making sure to keep up to date with undergraduate materials as well.

            From 1959 to 1969 there were many incredible acquisitions, both gifts and purchases, that filled the new bookshelfs and encouraged the academic success of Kresge University. In 1960, before the new library was completed, Librarian David Wilder acquired 10,000 volumes from an out of print bookstore in New York and 1,000 volumes of Medieval history from the personal collection of Dr. Sidney Painter of John Hopkin’s University. In addition to books, Wilder Secured the acquisition of one of the country’s largest phonograph collections, filled with rare and valuable recordings from virtually every composer. The library continued to make important purchases despite the tight budget of a University in its infancy. In 1969, Librarian Royce Butler secured what he called “the most important acquisition ever” to grace the university, the Lincoln and civil war collection of William Springer, which included original documents signed by Lincoln, first edition books, and civil war era paraphernalia.          

            In 1962 the Friends of Kresge Library was formed and set about raising money to buy volumes to add to the growing collection. In addition to Friends of Kresge Library, several gifts were given from persons affiliated with the university. C Allen Harlan, a former member of OU’s Board of Trustees donated $10,000 to buy books centered on humanities and in an impressive move in 1967, the students of Oakland University proposed a memorial fund in honor of the University’s late benefactor Matilda R. Wilson. $100,000 was borrowed and set aside to purchase reference books and bibliographic materials. The students agreed to pay back the loan over time with additional student fees. In return, Oakland University students were given a collection that they could truly call their own.

            There were a number of impressive operations for the library in the first ten years. In the early years, Kresge prided itself on a firm relationship with its students and initially refused to implement any electronic or policing system to watch over library patrons. The only system to assure the security of the library’s contents was the honor system. Library staff stressed the need to instill in students a sense of ownership and pride in their library. Students were allowed to take out as many books as they needed. There were no late fees and no due dates, and were only required to return books if they were requested by another student. This lasted several years as the students felt confident that they could police themselves, but in 1964 an electronic check out system was installed as it was discovered that the lack of a formal checkout system made circulation hard to track, and the absence of due dates made too many books inaccessible for students. The newly implemented three week due date and minimal fine program quickly allowed for retention of volumes and the staff was able to record circulation patterns and keep needed books on the shelves.

            Along with their progressive views on the monitoring of the library, Kresge Library made headlines with the first computerized library system in the state of Michigan. The computer printed out badges for each student to check out books with. The computer was self-sufficient and could recognize overdue books, issue notifications to tardy patrons and perhaps most importantly to the librarians, allowed for efficient monitoring of circulation. Librarians could now record usage patterns which allowed for more effective maintenance of the library’s extensive collection.

            The computer system was not the only technology used in Kresege. In 1964 the library installed a state of the art broadcasting system accessible to students throughout the library. Patrons were given wireless headphones that connected to a transmitter in the library. Students used these headphones to listen to prerecorded readings of assigned texts. The library branched out from simple music and audio book offerings and arranged for self-guided library orientation programs, research guides taped by professors for students, and even attempted to record professors’ lectures so that an absent student might catch up on missed classes.

            The early years of the library were not without their problems. An issue that seemed to plague the university library was a high turnover rate of staff that didn’t allow for continuity or progress in the day to day operations of the library. With the continually expanding university and the nationwide shortage of librarians that plagued the nation in the sixties, it wasn’t possible to keep up at times. Yet each librarian through those early years agreed that these were the concerns of a new library and could be fixed with time and permanence. 

1970-1979 by Nicole Sheard

            The seventies at the University Library started off with a sense of newness and change. In 1971, the library Dean, W. Royce Butler retired and George L. Gardiner took his place. Also that year the University Senate recommended that all professional librarians be accorded faculty rank and status.  In 1971 the Constitution for the Library Faculty was established, which recognized them as full university faculty members with the goal of allowing them to participate more effectively in the concerns of the university.

           Unfortunately, there were ongoing financial difficulties.   The library’s book budget declined compared to previous years while, at the same time, the costs of materials went up. During the 1971/1972 fiscal year, the University Library was only allocated 5.5 percent of Oakland University’s operating funds. The low percentage of funds given to the new institution was detrimental to its growth and its need for more material. The library was resourceful and utilized some grants it had received to purchase material needed to expand its collections.  For example, to support the Chinese language program, one special purchase  included  microfilms that contained Chinese language material.   

           Despite the library’s financial woes, new services within the library started to evolve. The Oakland County Library Board established a hotline reference service at Kresge Library in 1972. Its purpose was to allow Oakland County residents who were not Oakland University students, access to the library materials;  the services  included lending books, photocopying articles and phone reference.  In  1974 Audiovisual Services was transferred from the Office of Research and Instructional Services to the University Library

          In order to alleviate some of the stress associated with preparing for finals, the library decided to throw a party called “Library II” on April 17, 1972. Seventeen hundred people were in attendance, including faculty, staff and students. Held on the then empty fourth floor of Kresge Library, it was a very laid-back and amusing occasion that included films, refreshments, and live performances by bands.

           A birthday open house was thrown in 1974 in honor of the young library turning 15 years old. This celebration was a continuation of the party thrown 2 years previously and was called “Library II.” The party included the viewing of silent films.  Also in 1974 the Instructional Materials Center moved to Vandenburg Hall, thus freeing up space on the fourth floor of the library. 

         In order to enhance the variety and quality of resources available at the library in 1975, generous donors gave many valuable collections to the University Library.  Mrs. George T. Trumbell, donated a $20,837 collection that included 74 titles. Some works included in this vast collection were a five volume edition of Vaticano, by Camillo Guerra and an eight volume set of Cook’s Voyage by Strahan and Codell.  Another donated work included a 1,000 volume nursing collection from Grace Hospital. Finally, General Motor’s Research Laboratories Library loaned 1,100 volumes that contained information on physical and natural sciences. More donations were given to the library in 1976 in monetary form from various groups.  The Friends of the Library raised $23,000 of which the proceeds went towards more books and other library necessities. The Michigan Library Network Program also gave a grant for $7,700. One of the library materials that contributed greatly to the growing number of items was microfilms. For example, during the 1976-1977 fiscal year, $33,600 was spent on microfilms to enhance student and professorial research.

           Towards the end of the decade Kresge Library was to be expanded by 230,000 spare feet; however, the  budget would only allow for a 200,000 square feet expansion. The need for more space was evident as  Oakland University’s population continued to grow, and a more and more items were being added to the collections. However, the expansion would be delayed for a number of years because of financing difficulties.

          Librarians Elizabeth Titus and Eileen Hitchingham saw how often students  got confused and overwhelmed by all of the options available when conducting research and looking for information.  They proposed a University Library Instructional Program in 1975. Its purpose was to help students narrow down their research topics and to teach them what resources might be useful.  The Program never was fully implemented because of the lack of funds.  However, never shying away from lending a helping hand, librarians continued to teach students how to effectively access  research materials and how to produce a bibliography, adding instruction  to their regular job duties. In 1978 a library instruction group was started in order to coordinate and expand instruction activities.   While there was a relatively high number of staff willing to instruct, the number of students using the program remained constant in the beginning. Since the program was fairly new, the library staff decided to advertise the program more effectively to increase the number of users.

        Towards the end of the decade funds started to improve, resulting in more advances at the library. A signage system was added, replacing all old signs with plexiglass signs and an information kiosk was added to the lobby. New furniture was also placed on all of the floors. Students not only saw the benefits of new decor in the library, but also the benefits of more research material. The OU Foundation raised $14,000 that went towards adding needed titles to the reference collection. The Alumni Association donated $3,500 that would go towards a subscription to the American Psychological Association’s Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology.

            The library became even more accommodating to students towards the end of the decade when they started to close three hours later on Fridays and Saturdays. Kresge Library also started to open up an hour earlier on Sundays during the Fall and Winter semesters. Three additional hours were added to the Spring and Summer schedules.

            Newer technological advances were adopted by the library in 1979. Due to prior security devices becoming obsolete, the library incorporated  the Checkpoint System as a means of security. The Checkpoint system called for tagging or putting protective labeling on the materials, which prevented them from being stolen. Another technological advance, which proved not to be as efficient as the new security system, was the Automated Circulation System. The system gave the library staff problems when it lacked the ability to keep accurate records and identify  overdue materials. A problem also arose with out-of-sequence records which left the staff with an unusable system for many weeks. 

          Students voiced their opinions of the library’s effectiveness when some of them filled out a survey. While the number of students to fill out the survey was low, it was helpful to library staff in determining what needed to be improved. Most students agreed that, for the most part the library was accommodating, but that many of the books that the library was supposed to have were not shelved. The students also had an issue with not having enough photocopy machines.  Despite these two concerns, overall students appeared to be content with library services. One of the reasons cited for the students’ high satisfaction with the library was the helpfulness of the library staff and faculty members. In honor of their diligence an awards ceremony was held on February 16, 1979 called, “The Very Last Cinnamon Roll Party.” The purpose of this ceremony was to recognize and honor dedicated library staff members. Poetry readings took place along with the distribution of awards, party favors and of course, cinnamon rolls.


(edited by Linda Hildebrand)

Created on 12/12/06 by Linda Hildebrand / Last updated on 8/25/13 by Linda Hildebrand
Oakland University

Oakland University, Kresge Library
2200 N Squirrel Rd., Rochester, MI 48309
(248) 370 - 4426