The University of Texas

Branch Libraries at the University of Texas

The history of early branch libraries at the University of Texas is very sketchy. The existence of various library collections was often poorly documented at the time, and even less evidence remains today of what these libraries contained, where they were physically located, or what eventually happened to them. Their governance is also open to debate. Most were centrally administered (if not actually staffed) and their collections owned by the University Library. Others were more independent and ephemeral, managed exclusively by their respective academic departments. The Law Library was formally independent after 1895. According to Moloney, there were as many as 23 separate collections in 1922, although some of these were housed in the central library building. Branches were created, merged, split, and abolished with some frequency for many years.

Decentralization was in large part the consequence of inadequate space and facilities in the buildings that housed the central library (Old Main 1884-1911; Battle Hall 1911-34; and Main 1934-77). While decentralization was an administrative expedient, it was not always popular. Humanities scholars whose work required interdisciplinary reading routinely protested the scattering of collections, but others, particularly science faculty, vigorously defended their branches and the local autonomy that came with them. But this independence often came at the price of poor-to-nonexistent service, inadequate hours and poorly trained staff, lack of inventory control, and erratic, uncoordinated management.

In later years, the University and the library made concerted efforts to consolidate scattered subject branches, provide better bibliographic control (cataloging) of collections, and eliminate many informal departmental "reading rooms" that had sprung up organically over the decades. (1) The biggest strides in this regard occurred in the 1970s, when the Perry-Castañeda Library opened and absorbed a number of non-science branches into a new central library facility.

Separate Subject Collections in 1900

All were located in Old Main except Chemistry, which was housed in the Chemical Laboratory. These collections were associated with their respective "schools" (i.e., departments) and were not yet represented in the main catalog.
Source: Moloney, p.119-20.

Separate Collections and Holdings, 1932

Name Volumes
Anthropology (b) 400
Architecture 2,000
Archives and Rare Books 5,500
Botany-Zoology (a, b) 6,750
Chemistry-Pharmacy (a, d) 5,500
Classical Languages (b) 1,200
Education (b) 15,000
Engineering (i) 4,000
Economic Geology (j) 3,000
Geology (b, c, e) 4,750
Home Economics (b) 250
Latin American 27,500
Law (f) 34,000
Newspapers 18,000
Philosophy and Psychology (b) 2,150
Physics (a) 3,250
Reserve Book Collection (b, g, h) 12,000
Wrenn (g) 15,000


Source: Moloney, p.307.
BOLD: In existence today.
a. Established before 1911.
b. Established after 1923. Now the Classics Library in WAG.
c. Existed earlier in various forms as part of professor's or departmental office.
d. Pharmacy moved in with Chemistry in 1931 but was regarded as a separate collection. (The College of Pharmacy had moved to Austin from Galveston in 1927.)
e. Geology split from Botany-Geology-Zoology Library after 1923. Moved to Geology Building in 1967.
f. Split off as a separately administered branch in 1895.
g. Housed in central Library Building (now Battle Hall) after 1911.
h. Moved to Old Main in 1925.
i. Moved to ECJ in 1974; moved temporarily to PCL in 2013; scheduled to move to new EERC building in 2017.
j. Established in 1909.

Other known departmental collections, branches, or "seminar libraries" known to exist at various times before 1932 included:

Later Branch Libraries

Berry, Margaret C. Brick by golden brick: a history of campus buildings at the University of Texas at Austin, 1883-1993. (Austin: LBCo., 1993).

Moloney, Louis C. A History of the University Library at the University of Texas, 1883-1934. (D.L.S. Dissertation, Columbia University, 1970)

1. Peter Flawn, president from 1979 to 1985, wrote of the "departmental library" dilemma in his A Primer for University Presidents (UT Press, 1990, p.119-122). He noted the challenges facing administrators when dealing with the inevitable and usually stealthy appearance of faculty reading rooms and shadow libraries: "If you cave in and give official recognition and support to one new departmental library that just grew, next year there will be two or three more." From the point of view of a president or head librarian, the branch and departmental library problem resembled a game of whack-a-mole.


Perry-Castañeda Library
101 East 21st St.
Austin, TX. 78713

Phone: (512) 495-4250

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