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The First Coe College Library

Coe's First Library:  No Room and Not Many Books

In June of 1881, three months before the college's first classes, the Board of Trustees' Library Committee reported that there was no money authorized for the purchase of books and no books had been purchases.  The committee's three members, which included President Phelps, recommended that $250 per year be appropriated for library purchases (a sum to be matched by the committee's own fund-raising) and that a library space be provided in one of the rooms in "Old Main."

Fortunately for the Library Committee, Coe had been designated as the beneficiary in a will for T. M. Sinclair, a member of the Board of Trustees who died in March of 1881.  The insurance policy gave the college $5,000, and a sum of $1,000 was immediately set aside for the purchase of new books.  The college's first catalog described this fund as providing the library's "nucleus, around which we hope to be gathering continually."  The largest donation occurred when the widow of Rev. James Knox, a man prominent in the formation of Parsons Seminary and the Coe Collegiate Institute, donated her husband's library to the college.

The college's first library made its home in one corner of the chapel in the top floor of the new college's only building.  The college's first librarian was Professor W. W. Gist, Coe's professor of mathematics.

Because of the College's difficult economic constraints, there was virtually no money for purchasing books or magazines.  Cosmos article in fall of 1890, written in a humorous and gently satiric vein, suggests that the books were at one time piled on the floor in disarray: "Shakespeare lay in humble repose at the feet of Dante, while both were overshadowed by the work of Poe.  The great speeches of Webster and Hayne lack back to back in silence.  Republicanism sat smiling in the lap of democracy, and a Chemistry and Greek lexicon, were bound up with Dante's Inferno in the meshes of a spider web."  By 1890, however, the books had been organized in cases according to the Dewey Decimal system, and the library was open a few hours each day.

June 1891: Trustees have Marshall appeal to the Ministerial Union of Cedar Rapids for assistance in strengthening the library.  The ministers decide to recommend to their congregations that one Sunday each year be designated as "Coe College Sunday" -the offerings to be used for the purchase of books and periodicals.  By 1895, the library's holdings had reached 2,500 volumes.

Library hours were not extensive.  In 1892 the library was open 9-12 a.m. and 1:30- 4:00 p.m.  Because of lack of usage, the hours were reduced in the fall of 1894 to 9-11 a.m. and 2-3:30 p.m.  During that entire school year, only 155 books were checked out of the library, mostly be female students.

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Coe College
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