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History of Seymour Library

Stacks of library books inside Seymour Library.

Briefly in the Beginning

Identifying bookplate from original library collectionHiram Huntington Kellogg, Knox College's first president, acquired the first collection of books for Knox during a trip to Europe in 1843-1844. Together with volumes donated by Galesburg families, these occupied a room in the College's earliest building. Later a library room was established in Old Main. In 1910, the collections were moved into the central section of Alumni Hall which was not being used as a theatre at the time. Known now as the Knox Manual Labor College collection, the remains of that library is still among Knox's treasures. Library Director Jeff Douglas's article " Before Seymour" details the College's early libraries.

Henry M. Seymour Library 1928-1957

Seymour LibraryBy the end of World War I, Knox urgently needed a new building to house the growing collections and make them accessible to students and faculty. In 1920, Henry M. Seymour promised the Trustees a library building and personally made good a pledge. He selected the architect (Coolidge and Hodgdon of Chicago), oversaw design and construction, and provided the handsome cream-colored limestone from a quarry on his farm in Payson, Adams county, Illinois. The building was dedicated on Founders Day, 1928.

Knox was justifiably proud of its new library. It was a comfortable and attractive place for students and a fitting site for the College's important special collections. The College hoped the Henry M. Seymour Library would bring students and books together in a way that would open their minds and transform their lives. As librarian Lucius Elder put it in a booklet printed to celebrate the new building:

“... The library is the place where students come to know about books, to form friendships with books as the repository of human experience, storehouses of wisdom, the records of great lives and the effort to struggle up to something higher than the clod of the worm. This new library of ours which Henry M. Seymour has built for us must be in all the years to place where men and women deepen and enrich their lives by touching countless other lives through the medium of the printed page. That it will be and can do these things no one who has seen it can doubt. ”

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View from Cedar Street shortly after construction was completeCirculation Desk (2nd floor)Study area in the stacksFounders' RoomStandish Room opens to the Finley RoomMain Reading Room

The Edward C. Caldwell Addition, 1957 - 1987

By 1954, however, the College had grown considerably and the Library's collections had grown as well. New space was a critical issue in Seymour Library. Alumni and friends of the college met a major challenge grant from the Kresge Foundation with a generous outpouring of support. Books were moved elsewhere and construction began in 1957. The 1928 west stack wing was demolished and a new large four-level addition was built in its place. Updated and modernized the entire building took on a new modern look. Designed to accommodate 150,000 books, the newly remodeled library more than doubled the size of the old.

The addition was named in memory of Edward C. Caldwell, class of 1886, president of the McGraw - Publishing company, a Knox Trustee from 1923 - 1949, and a life-long Knox supporter. It was through his generosity that the first collection of rare books came to the College. In 1928 Edward Caldwell donated the beginnings of the Finley Collection, celebrating the history and romance of the Old Northwest Territory. He named the collection in honor of his good friend and fellow alumnus, John H. Finley, who had been president of Knox from 1892-1899.

In the decades since 1958 a specialized library has developed outside the walls of Seymour Library. Construction of the Umbeck Science Math Center provided space for a library specific to the sciences. The science library on the second floor of the Science-Math building includes scientific and technical titles as well as reference materials and journals related to natural sciences, mathematics and psychology.

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View showing new West WingCirculation Desk and Lobby (1st floor)Study Carrels in StacksReading Room in Caldwell WingStudy Area (1st floor)Library

A Library Renovated -- 1987 -- TODAY

Fifty years after construction of Seymour Library and thirty years after a major addition, changes to Knox's library were in order. Inspired by the atmosphere of Henry Seymour's 1928 building, project architect Steven A. Foote, principal of the Boston firm of Perry, Dean, Rogers and Partners, developed a striking new renovation design. The warmth and of the paneled rooms of the original building are carried now throughout the wing constructed in 1957.

A key goal of the Library renovation was to enhance Knox's capability to preserve and protect its valuable rare book collections and college archives. Brought together in the self-contained Special Collections Reading Room, rare books and manuscripts can be preserved in an ideal temperature and humidity controlled environment.

Throughout the Library, students have a variety of different locations and types of study spaces available to them, including intimate rooms for quiet reading, such as the Finley Room, the Bookfellow Room and the Standish Room. Study carrels provide private space and computer hook ups for those who need them. Since the fall of 2003 Seymour Library has gone wireless and now the sky's the limit. Students engaged in ongoing research may apply to use private offices in the Library's tower area for the duration of their projects.

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Circulation DeskPeriodical Browsing Area (1st floor)Bookfellow Room (2nd floor) & skylightAlumni Reading RoomSpecial Collections & ArchivesCecil Room (exterior)

A Gallery of Librarians

Name Years with the Library Title
Holmes, Jessie 1909-1919 Librarian
Nelson, Ada Matilda 1919-1923 Librarian
Elder, Lucius 1923-1941 Librarian
Orne, Jerome 1941-1943 Librarian
Richards, Benjamin B. 1946-1958 Librarian
Morris, Warren Mac 1958-1972 Librarian
Wilson, Douglas L. 1972-1991 Director of the Library
Douglas, Jeffery 1991- present Director of the Library
Knox College

Printed on Thursday, April 25, 2024