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The Power of the Library

Recently the Harold B. Lee Library released a promotional video touting the resources available for students in the library (Click here to view the video.). These resources include databases, e-books, journals, books, and librarians. They are the key to successfully completing an academic career. Brigham Young University students have the privilege of studying in one of the best research libraries in the United States. This has not always been the case.

The first library at Brigham Young University was housed in the Lewis Building and was destroyed when the Lewis Building burned to the ground in 1884. The school bounced around to various locations for the next eight years and had no real home for the Academy’s students let alone its library. This situation began to be rectified when the Education Building was completed in 1892 . A corner of the Education Building was dedicated to housing the library.

The corner room devoted to library usage in the Education Building, ca. 1913.

This space grew increasingly cramped until Franklin S. Harris was able to convince the General Church Board of Education to fund the construction of a building dedicated specifically to the library on Temple Hill. The new building featured a spacious reading room and closed stacks. It also featured a rare materials room. Completed in 1925 the new building was named after Church president Heber J. Grant.

The Heber J. Grant Library, completed in 1925, was the first building dedicated specifically to the library.

The Grant building served the library until the completion of the J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Library in 1961. The new building enabled the library to grow from 330,000 volumes in 1961 to over 1,200,000 in 1974.

The J. Reuben Clark Jr. Library was completed in 1961 and represented a move to what would become the center of campus for the library.

In 1974 planning began for an addition to the Clark Library and the name of the library was changed to honor Church president Harold B. Lee. The new addition was needed to accommodate the library’s growing print collections. It was completed in 1976.

An architect's rendition of the 1974 addition to the library.

A second addition to the library was planned in the 1990s and completed in 1999. The new addition featured space for the library’s periodicals collections, special collections and improved access to technological resources.

The entrance to the 1999 addition to the Harold B. Lee Library (Courtesy BYU Photo)

The University Archives is home to several collections that document the history of the Harold B. Lee Library. They include:

  • MSS 2207 Harold B. Lee Library files, ca. 1955-1993. This collection contains files dealing with collection acquisitions for the library. It contains records for collection development, integrated library system, Alice Louise Reynolds and other collections, different library departments’ papers, library annual reports (1955-1985), budgeting requests and records, insurance values reports, library policy and procedure manuals, and other miscellaneous papers. Click here to access the finding aid for this collection.
  • UA SC 114 Daily Universe announcement of the new BYU library. This collection consists of a newspaper announcement of the new J. Reuben Clark, Jr. Library.
  • UA 1002 Harold B. Lee Library 1st addition drawings, ca. 1974. This collection contains two drawings of the 1974 addition to the Harold B. Lee Library. A large drawing is framed and a smaller drawing is accompanied by text discussing the involvement of Brigham Young University students in funding the addition.
  • Z 679.5 .G76 1982 The building of the south wing of the Harold B. Lee Library : a case study in library planning and decision making by Anne Kathryn Grout.
  • MSS SC 3064 Harold B. Lee Library addition construction : photo overview, 1996-2000. This collection contains photographs documenting progress on construction of an underground wing on the north side of the Harold B. Lee Library on the BYU campus.
  • UA 1015 Biennial and Annual Reports, 1973-2001. This collection contains biennial and annual reports documenting the activities of the Harold B. Lee Library for each academic year. They include discussions of personnel changes, significant accomplishments, organizational changes, library needs, and professional activities.

If you would like to learn more about the development of Brigham Young University’s world class research library, please contact the University Archivist at (801) 422-5821 or gordon_daines@byu.edu

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