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History of the Library

The Willimantic Normal Training School opened on September 3,1889 in the Willimantic Savings Institute building at the corner of Main and Bank streets. A diagram in the 1889-90 school catalog showed the school occupying seven rooms above the bank, with the library located off the assembly hall. This was the genesis of the J. Eugene Smith Library at Eastern Connecticut State University. Its mission was to support the educational needs of the students and faculty.

The library subsequently moved to a room in the new Administration Building which was built in 1895. By 1941-42, the library of the then Willimantic State Teachers College consisted of a suite of rooms on the building's second floor, boasting of a collection of over 21,000 volumes (including "a valuable collection of stereographs"), 95 seats in two "reading rooms" and a "modern," up-to-date card catalog. However, an early morning fire on August 27,1943 destroyed the old brick structure that housed the administrative office, the library, and most of the classrooms.

In 1947, a new Administrative Building (now Shafer Hall) was completed; the library occupied one wing of the new building, with the collection of over 15,000 volumes which have been rebuilt through purchases and gifts of duplicate items from other colleges and public libraries in Connecticut. The wing served users well until it was bursting at the seams with a collection of over 60,000 volumes plus demands from the new technologies such as "video, sound, and electronic tapes and recordings." Plans for a new, separate library commenced in 1968.

Eastern's old library, named in recognition of Dr. J. Eugene Smith, distinguished educator and president of the university from 1947-67, was dedicated on June 12, 1971. The building was designed with two principles in mind: flexibility in space and ability to accommodate "data in many forms, including video, audio, microprint, pamphlets, pictures, periodicals and books." It was projected to hold 190,000 volumes, with a seating capacity of 535, occupying 45,029 square feet.

Twenty years later, Eastern again felt the need for a new library to accommodate a growing collection and new information technologies. Yet the guiding principles have remained the same: flexibility and ability to offer new informational technologies (e.g. satellite, on-line, and Internet transmitted, laser disc and other computer-compacted formats, etc.). The mission also remains the same, although the means are updated: the library supports the educational needs of the students, the faculty, and the university community through a well organized collection and easy access to all electronic and computer-based resources.

In 1996, the University began construction for a 127,000 square foot, state-of-the-art library on the site of the old baseball field. The new J. Eugene Smith Library, which opened in January 1999, seats over 900 students and has the capacity to house over half a million volumes. The four-story library, along with the 110 foot-high clock tower, marks the entrance to the Eastern Connecticut State University campus linking the north and south campuses.