University of Arizona

A (Brief) History of The University of Arizona's First Library

A (Brief) History of The University of Arizona's First Library

The beginning of the new semester is quickly approaching while renovations on Old Main are wrapping up. If you stop by the new home of the Office of the President you will notice some Special Collections photographs of the early history of the UA along Old Main’s walls. Old Main, the oldest building on campus, is the symbol of the University. In 1885 Tucson was given $25,000 by the Arizona Legislative Assembly to build a university which was a disappointment to Tucson residents but after persuading land owners to donate 40 acres, construction began in 1887 and the first classes were held in 1891. Old Main housed everything from classrooms and administrative and faculty offices to sleeping rooms for students. When classes began the University did not officially have a library or librarian but that would soon change.  

Who was UA’s first librarian?  English professor Howard Judson Hall was one of the six original faculty members in 1891 when classes began. Professor Hall’s duties soon expanded from teaching English courses to include caring for the collection of books in the Dean of Agriculture Frank Gulley’s office. In 1896, due to the expansion of the library collection, it was moved to a separate room where Professor Hall was responsible of acquiring, cataloging and supervising use of the library books. By 1900 the library was crowded and Professor Hall advocated building a separate building for a library and museum which occurred in 1905. Howard Hall did not get to see the transfer of the library though, having taken a position as an English professor at Stanford University where he remained for the rest of his career. Professor Hall began a long line of librarians at the UA that spanned several library buildings across campus including Old Main, the Library and Museum building, the current Arizona State Museum and finally the four current campus library buildings. You can find a collection of Howard Judd Hall’s papers, AZ 034 along with other collections on the early history of the UA in Special Collections. Another helpful resource is A Photographic History of the University of Arizona, 1885-1985 by Phyllis Ball which relates a detailed account of the founding of the University and it growth and development through the 1980’s with most of the photos coming from Special Collections. 

-Lisa Duncan

Unidentified Students in the Library in the Northwest Corner of Old Main, 1899