Mabel Smith Douglass Library celebrates its 50th anniversary
Today's Mabel Smith Douglass Library traces its lineage to about a dozen books gifted by Rutgers
University to the newly created New Jersey College for Women in 1918. Housed upon the desk of the
school's Registrar in College Hall, these dozen volumes constituted the entirety of the college's
original library collection.
As the collection grew, the school was challenged to identify a space able to accommodate it and its
patrons. Having outgrown the Registrar's desk, the collection was moved to a College Hall closet.
When one closet became insufficient, it was expanded into a second, and then into three rooms within
the building that is now the Douglass Writing Center, at 135 George Street. When that arrangement
also grew inadequate, the collection was again relocated, this time to the basement and first floor
of today's Ruth Adams Building, then known as the Recitation Building. The collection would remain
there, under confined conditions, for several decades.
The dream of a dedicated library building for what would become the Douglass Campus of Rutgers
University was as old as the campus itself. In the early 1920s, Mabel Smith Douglass, the first Dean
of the New Jersey College for Women, called for a library in the colonial style containing "rooms
for general reference, seminar rooms, a bindery, a printing office and recitation rooms for courses
for librarians." But as the roaring twenties gave way to the depression thirties, and later the lean
years of the Second World War, a proper library building for the New Jersey College for Women would
remain an elusive, if ever present, dream.
Though there was little hope of securing construction funding in the near term, plans for a colonial
style library building reminiscent of Dean Douglass's vision were nevertheless commissioned 1936. By
then, the original plan had been altered to include typewriting rooms, a smoking room, a photograph
room, a room for radio listening, and a room for "microphotography," or microfilm. These plans would
It was not until 1958 that the New Jersey State Legislature appropriated $1,000,000 for the
construction of a library for Douglass College. To this sum was added $75,000 that had been donated
to the school for the purpose over the years. The new library would not be colonial in its design as
Dean Douglass had hoped, but would instead be modern, sleek, and functional.
Douglass Library opened its doors in the spring of 1961. A library collection numbering 133,592
volumes, representing a fraction of the new building's capacity, was carted over from the Recitation
Building. Following four decades of effort, Douglass College had a proper library.
In 1963, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) honored the new building's design with an Award
of Merit in the library category.
Following some key internal renovations and adaptations in recent years, the Douglass Library
remains a fixture in the lives of students on campus and in the social and cultural life of the
university. The library now offers a modern information commons, situating banks of computers by
easily accessible reference services; a multi-media laboratory with cutting edge software; the
Libraries newly expanded Media Center; and group study rooms equipped with WiFi and jacks for laptop
use. The library also boasts two small art galleries that regularly display the works of prominent
An exhibition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Douglass Library will be on display at the
library from June 4 through July 31, 2011. Visitors are welcome to view the exhibition and then walk
through the library, to gain an appreciation of both the rich history of the facility and the
transformations it has undergone in recent years.