Basket of books started it all

9:25:57 AM CDT - Thursday, March 15, 2007

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

It’s been 100 years since ground was broken for the university’s first library, and two upcoming events will celebrate that occasion.

George Platt, associate professor emeritus of public administration and WSU’s unofficial historian, will share the colorful story March 25 of how a determined group of women ensured that WSU’s predecessor, Fairmount College, would open its doors in fall 1895 with the semblance of a library. Another event will be held April 12.

Platt will give a PowerPoint presentation, sharing images and documents from WSU’s special collections, during his talk “’To Advance the Interests of the Library’: The Beginnings of the WSU Libraries” at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 25, in the lower level of Ablah Library. The WSU Library Associates is sponsoring the talk.

The ladies, at the time primarily faculty members’ wives, formed the Fairmount Library Club and went door to door with baskets in Wichita, asking for book donations to replace an earlier collection of books that was stolen in the summer of 1895. One of those early donated books, along with other artifacts and documents, will be on display in an exhibition outside the special collections department on the lower level of Ablah Library.

“This was a disaster,” said Platt, about the theft of the books. “How could you start a college without books?”

The group remained active in Fairmount College days, often holding fundraisers for other projects at the then-tiny Congregational college. Its original purpose of donating books to the university continues today, however; the group still makes an annual purchase of books for the WSU Libraries.

That early basket of books formed the nucleus of the university’s library, and in 1907  Fairmount College’s first president, Nathan Morrison, secured funding to build the Carnegie-Morrison Library. The building was destroyed in a fire in 1964, but three columns were salvaged and are displayed at the 17th Street entrance to the WSU campus. A ceremony April 12 will be held at those columns to commemorate the 1907 groundbreaking. (Additional coverage on the library and the ceremony will appear in the April 5 issue of Inside WSU.)

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