Wayne State College

About Conn Library

History of the Wayne State Library

"Libraries are not made; they grow."
Alexander Birrell, 1850-1933

Mr. Pile's College

From a small room in "Mr. Pile's College", as the local people called the fledgling school, to the somewhat "behemothic" collection of books and computers, paper and film, internet and intercom, interesting corners and interesting people, the story of the Conn Library at Wayne State College is a story of years of change and growth—with some growing pains included.

In 1891 Mr. Pile's College was housed in a three-story brick building that included classrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, living quarters for the Pile family—and a library. If there were records to show the size of the library or the number of books it held, they have been lost. "Old-timer stories" claim local people donated books for the library.

In 1910, the school was sold to the State of Nebraska and became the State Normal School at Wayne. The need for a library was noted in the October 30, 1911 FLAME, a monthly magazine published by the students. Earlier that year a cornerstone had been laid for a combination library and science building, but funds were short for the construction. In the October 30 FLAME it was suggested that a fee be charged to the students to raise the funds:

"The Normal School has a need for...a library. The library should be used for reference work and should contain all the best literature. By the use of the library one receives a larger view of whatever subject he is taking and becomes better prepared to present it a recitation or use it later in his work. By the reading and studying of literature one enlarges his vocabulary and has better ways of expressing himself. He will also receive broader views of life and other people's ideas on different subjects. In closing we make a plea for...a library so that all students may receive the best in order to be prepared for more effective service."
- The Flame, October 30, 1911 (pages 9-10)

In 1912 the Library and Science Building was completed, the first to be constructed under Ulysses Sylvester Conn, the first president of the State Normal School. The building was an imposing red brick structure with the library situated on the first floor. The building was so well constructed that it has survived and is now the home of the Humanities Division, still complete with the carving over the door, "Library and Science".

From 1912 to 1914 the Library was "in the charge of members of the Senior Class". (From, Spizzerinktum, 1914) The students were on an honor system while there and used the library for social gatherings as well as for study. It was open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. By the time 1914 rolled around, the library had a designated person in charge. The 1914 Spizzerinktum pictures a Mrs. Anna Bell Bright as Librarian. A graduate of St. Mary's Academy in Leavenworth, Kansas, she was married to Professor C. H. Bright. No information has been found about what skills she had to bring to the librarian position, but she must have been industrious and intelligent because several FLAME articles report that she and her husband traveled extensively and sponsored social gatherings for students and faculty. She also earned a Bachelor of Science Degree while at Wayne.

In 1960 Mrs. Bright attended the 50th Anniversary of Wayne State College at the age of 92. She is pictured with former faculty of the school in the WSC 75th Anniversary Commemorative Book. Anna and her husband Charles had retired in Wayne after years in California and at Chadron State College. He died in 1948 at the age of 78 and she died in November of 1971 at the age of 101. Both are buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Wayne, Nebraska.

Do women make the best librarians?

The first floor of the Library and Science Hall remained the home of the library until the mid-1950's with several able librarians in charge. When Anna Bright left the college to go to the Philippines with her husband in 1917, Miss Jessie Jenks was hired to be the school's librarian. A native of Toledo, Ohio, she was a graduate of the Library School of the University of Wisconsin. A picture of her in the 1919 Spizzerinktum shows a large-faced woman with a hint of a smile, a determined facial expression. Students' comments of her in the Spizzerintum that year reveal her as a very competent librarian, "maintaining order and quiet in such a way that one finds it pleasant and profitable to spend a good portion of the school day in the library." In September of 1925 Miss Jenks took a leave of absence to study at the University of Illinois. In her absence, Miss Nellie E. Behm became the librarian. From Muscatine Iowa, Miss Behm was a graduate of the Library School at St. Louis University.

The July 13, 1931 Goldenrod, as the school newspaper was called by this time, reported that Nellie Behm, who was on leave of absence taking work at the University of Chicago, had resigned as Librarian and Miss Josephine Silvers "would continue in this position." This statement would suggest that Miss Silvers was already working at the Library in Miss Behm's absence, but no information could be found to verify that. The 1931-32 and the 1933-34 school catalogs list Josephine Silvers as the Librarian and state that she had earned a BS in Library Science at the University of Washington. Also listed is Mildred Snyder as the Assistant Librarian. She had received her BS in Library Science at the University of Illinois.

The Crouch Years

In 1936, Miss Lois Crouch began work at the library as Assistant Librarian with Mildred Snyder as the Librarian. The 1938 school catalog lists Miss Silvers on leave of absence; it is assumed that Miss Snyder took her place for the time being. However, the Goldenrod of October 2, 1936, reported Miss Snyder as being in California and Miss Crouch taking her place as Assistant Librarian. So there is a little discrepancy as to who had what position during this time. The 1937-38 and the 1938-39 school catalogs list Josephine Silvers as Librarian and Lois Crouch as Assistant Librarian. The 1939 Summer Catalog lists Lois Crouch as Librarian and Francis Davis as Assistant Librarian. The 1939-40 school catalog lists Lois Crouch and Francis Davis as Assistant Librarians. No mention of a Head Librarian is made.

The 1940-41 school catalog lists Miss Lois Crouch as the Librarian. It was the beginning of her long tenure as Librarian of the Wayne State College Library. Miss Crouch was a native of Sioux City, Iowa and received her Master's Degree in Library Science at the University of Illinois. She had five years library work experience in the library at Goucher College, Baltimore, Maryland. During Miss Crouch's tenure, many books and periodicals were added to the collection. In 1936 the Library boasted 17,600 volumes and subscribed to 162 periodicals. By 1949, the Library had doubled its holdings with 36,875 volumes of books in its collection, 3,921 bound volumes of periodicals, and 2,892 volumes of children's books.

Beginning with the 1950 Summer Session Wayne State Teachers College offered two new courses in Library Science. There had been a course since the mid-30's called simply "Library". That course description reads:
"Use of the library; an elective course open to lower division students. This is a study of books as tools, brief survey of the classification of books, the catalog, common reference books, magazines and magazine indexes."
(From the 1936-37 edition of the Wayne State Teachers College Catalog)

The new Library Science courses were designed to allow teachers to be certified as school librarians. Two courses taught cataloging, reference work and book selection. Miss Crouch and a new librarian, Mr.Yale K. Kessler would be the instructors for these courses. The courses remained a part of the Education curriculum until the mid-1980's.

Yale K. Kessler was hired as Assistant Librarian in 1950. He had earned a Bachelor's Degree in Library Science from the University of Illinois. In 1952-53, his title was changed to Associate Librarian and in 1957-58 the school catalog lists Miss Crouch as Head Librarian.

The Conn Library

The new Conn Library building was constructed on the site of what had been the president's house. Plans had been finalized in 1954 and the president, Dr. John D. Rice, and his wife vacated the president's house and it was then demolished. The new Conn Library was finished in 1956. It was named in honor of U.S. Conn, president from 1910-1935. Pictures of the new building show it facing south with imposing columns and federal style trim.

The new library was ready to open for the Fall Term, 1956. Miss Crouch was proud of the air-conditioned 92 X 140 foot structure. The library housed periodicals and reference books with a check-out desk on the main floor. Upstairs was a fully equipped kitchen, conference rooms, the book stacks and a curriculum laboratory. The curriculum laboratory was something new to WSC students. In an article from the Goldenrod on October 2, 1959, Miss Crouch stressed the importance of the "lab" that housed a collection of textbooks from elementary and secondary levels of education. Students could use these texts to make lesson plans, and to do their student teaching. Looking from our vantage point of computers, scanners, digital this and that, the curriculum laboratory of 1956 seems a bit provincial, but it was innovative and much needed for its day.

The basement housed a small film library. The film library's holdings were impressive for 1956: 500 film and 400 film strip titles, 300 recordings and a number of tape recordings, 5 motion picture projectors, 2 opaque projectors, and 2 tape recorders. Most of the films were of an educational nature and were able to be checked out to area schools. Instructors were encouraged to learn how to run projectors themselves!

The audiovisual instructor, Dr. Clifford Wait and his staff also had offices in the basement. They could borrow and loan films for faculty. The Wayne Stater newspaper staff had their offices in the basement with a complete photography laboratory to put out the Stater.

The library hours were: 7:45 am to 9:00 pm Monday through Thursday, 7:45 am to 5:30 pm on Friday, and 8:00 am to 12 noon on Saturday.

Miss Crouch retired in 1961 after 25 years at the Wayne State College Library and was given the honorary title of Librarian Emeritus. Mr. Kessler was appointed Head Librarian and held this position until 1970.

Here come the Baby Boomers!

By 1969 the library needs had outgrown the present building and an addition was planned at a cost of $600,000, one third of which was paid by a federal grant. An additional 27,069 square feet would expand the usable space and seating would be available for 1,100 people. The addition pushed the library building out to the south and would provide room for the reference collection on the main floor and curriculum lab in the basement and book stacks on the second floor. Construction of the addition was a daily bother to students who had to enter the library through what had been the east windows! A set of wooden steps was constructed to allow students to climb up to the windows on the outside and then descend down to the library floor on the inside. The noise level was hard to study by.

The Wayne Stater of February 2, 1970, included an editorial in which a student complained about not having a quiet place to study. She expressed amazement that there were not more complaints! Finally, the addition was ready to open in the Fall of 1970.

Uncle Sam moves in

In June 1970, Conn Library began receiving its first government documents, having been designated as a federal depository in the previous months. Charles E. Current, the first official documents librarian, was instrumental in applying for WSC to be a documents depository. The facility operated apart from the main library and was located in the basement addition of the library building. The collection was arranged in alphabetical order and was available for the general public to use. This was the first step in making Conn Library a regional service library. The most popular document among WSC students in 1971 was The Presidential Commission on Campus Unrest! (Wayne Stater, May 20, 1971)


Typing labs appeared in 1971. Two electric typewriters, purchased by student activity fee money, were placed in the library for general patron use. (Wayne Stater, June 4, 1971) Xerox copy machines also became available for student use during this time. Paper for the machines, called Xerox paper, had to be specially bought, but students were delighted that they could reproduce journal articles, etc. for a dime a page. At one point, the charge was dropped to a nickel a page to encourage students to copy their articles as opposed to ripping the pages out of journals!

Other "technology" appeared as fast as it could be purchased. A mimeograph machine was made available for student use. The Information Retrieval Center was established in 1971 to allow students to watch broadcasts and taped sessions as their instructors assigned. Microforms and the machines to read them were added in 1972, including the ERIC collection for education students. All this and still books were being added at the rate of 5,000 to 6,000 volumes per year!

More librarians

In 1971, Yale Kessler resigned after a 9 year career at Conn Library. As a tribute to Dr. Kessler, an art collection in his name was established in 1971. The first painting to be acquisitioned was "Trail's End at Scott's Bluff" by George J. Hautzinger of Omaha. The collection of paintings is now cataloged under Kessler Art Collection in the library's online catalog. (Wayne Stater, Sept. 11, 1972)

Beulah Neprud was appointed to direct the library on an interim basis. She was already on staff, teaching the Library Science courses, which by this time had evolved into a minor in the Education department. In 1972, Charles W. Stelling came to Wayne as the new head librarian. He was a graduate of Concordia College and received his library degree from the University of Minnesota. In the 1976-77 school catalog, Stelling is listed as Director of Information Services, a new title for the library and for the head librarian. Dr. Stelling resigned in 1977.

Library automation

ID cards made news in the December 6, 1971 Wayne Stater. Students were assured the new plastic ID cards would be useful in the new check-out system at the library. Previously, students were required to remove a card from each book they wanted to check out and then sign the card and give it to a library worker who stored the card in a check-out box according to the due date. The new plastic cards allowed check-outs easily and without having to sign names several times. Check-out cards were the beginning of many improvements toward library automation. The age of computers and library automation was just around the corner.

The library director to ride the waves of library automation was Jack Middendorf. With a Doctorate in Education from Indiana University, Dr. Middendorf came to Wayne to teach library courses as well as to direct the library. The 1980's issued in the DIALOG subject searching online for a huge fee, early versions of library cooperation online and the most innovative library cataloging shared system, OCLC. Changes were happening so fast, it was almost a daily occurance to find new ways to automate some task or service in the library.

Several of our present librarians were on staff in 1991 for the biggest library automation project, installing and implementing the INNOPAC system. The project was accomplished in just one week with the help of 40+ paid students who barcoded books and prepared them for automated check-out. The result was a state-of-the-art online catalog called CONNection and circulation system—all computerized.

Into a new century

Dr. Middendorf retired in 1993 after 15 years at Wayne State College. For two years Ms. Maureen Battistella directed the Library. She left to work in South Dakota in 1995 and for a time Jan Brumm who was on the library staff took the interim position. In June 1996 Dr. Stan Gardner was hired to direct the Library. Under Dr. Gardner's direction and in cooperation with Campus Network Services, the World Wide Web became an integral part of library research for Wayne State College students. The use of computers for research reached every part of campus and beyond.

Realizing the importance of the printed word and knowing that the library book collection was woefully out-of-date, Dr. Gardner pursued a campaign of purchasing current books and materials for the library. Currently, the library holdings are numbered at 230,000 bound volumes including periodicals. The government documents collection is now cataloged in the INNOPAC system and accessible to users on the online library catalog. The usage of government documents has greatly improved as a result.

The old Curriculum Laboratory and the old Information Retrieval Center were combined to be the Information Technology Center. Here students find current textbooks for elementary and secondary school use, an expanding collection of video and DVD films, equipment for viewing and projecting, and digital cameras. In addition, services for lamination, letter-making, and color printing are provided. Students can purchase construction paper and other supplies for class and dormitory projects.

Cyber Cafe

In the Fall of 2002, the Library acquisitioned 30 laptop computers to be checked out and used in the library by students. It was an instant success—students stood in line to receive a laptop as soon as it was returned. Over the course of the last 4 years the library has added 60 additional laptops and each one is used to the fullest extent each day. In addition, the library became wireless. It is now a familiar site to see students lounging in the Great Plains Room or in the lobby upstairs with a laptop. Study groups love the advantage of gathering around a laptop to share information and organize their projects.

In January 2006, a permanent coffee shop/convenience store opened in the the library. Sponsored by Chartwells Food Services, the "Jitters at the Library" shop is situated directly in the middle of the main floor of the library and caters to students, faculty members and college staff with Starbucks Brand coffee, sandwiches, salads, smoothies, and all kinds of treats. 

The Renovation

By the mid-2000s the Conn Library building's inadequacies had become very apparent.  Antiquated heating and cooling systems, leaky windows, insufficient electrical service, mold and asbestos issues, and crowded restrooms represented just a few of the building's structural issues.  Beyond structural problems, the layout of the building was no longer appropriate for the educational mission of a modern college library.  The building lacked study rooms and collaborative space.  Technology implementations had been done in makeshift fashion out of necessity.  Originally designed as a "book warehouse", the library building no longer met 21st century learning needs.  

In 2010 the Conn Library renovation was put on WSC's 10-year Master Plan.  In 2011 money was budgeted to hire an architectural firm (Jackson & Jackson, Omaha), and in 2012 the campus community participated in a series of discussions led by our architectural team and library design consultant Scott Bennett (Library Space Planning).  Numerous useful ideas were generated during discussions with students, faculty, and staff.  A focus on creating a better learning environment for students drove most decisions. Key changes that emerged from these discussions included: moving the majority of the book collection to compact shelving, moving the Holland Academic Success Center and all tutoring services from the Student Center to the Library, creating dedicated space for the WSC Archives, creating more than 20 study rooms for students, and adding a second entrance on the north side of the building,  Following these discussions the Library Renovation Program Statement was published in May, 2012.  Plans were made to completely demolish and remodel all interior sections of the building.  Only the outside brick walls were to remain untouched.

Design and Development work on the renovation plans followed, and was completed by the summer of 2013.  Our architectural and engineering team finalized floor layouts, mechanical systems, and new building features.  Dozens of meetings were conducted on campus to ensure needs were met and ideas implemented.  Simultaneously, NSCS and WSC leaders were seeking out funding sources for the project.  Their efforts suceeded when the Nebraska State Legislature appropriated funds to cover part of the costs.  Additional funds were secured from the LB309 Task Force, as well as subsequent fund raising from the WSC Foundation.

With funding secured, Beckenhauer Construction was hired to perform the renovations.  The project was divided into four phases.  Construction crews demolished and and then rebuilt different portions of the building interior in sequence, allowing the library to stay open for the campus community throughout the renovation process. Construction started in the spring of 2014, and finally finished during the summer of 2017.

Conn Library was transformed by the renovation.  Almost nothing remains of the old interior of the building.  

Thanks go out to dozens of individuals who helped create this new learning resource for the campus. This was truly a campus-wide effort. Special thanks should also be made to the major donors for this project: Gardner Foundation, Peter Kiewit Foundation, Robert B. Daugherty Foundation, Barbara K. (class of ’76) and C. James Kanter, Dr. Kenneth & Caroline McDonald Eng Foundation, Florence O. Ferrin (class of ’42), Valmont Foundation Inc, The Sunderland Foundation, Hugh M. Gailey (class of ’53), Marjorie (class of’82) and William Holland, Terry (class of ’70)) and Linda McClain.

Wayne State College Head Librarians and Library Directors

Anna B. Bright: 1912-1917
Jesse Jenks: 1917-1925
Nellie E. Behm: 1925-1931
Josephine Silvers: 1931-1934; 1937-1939
Mildred Snyder (Interim?) 1934-1937?
Lois Crouch: 1939-1961
Yale Kessler: 1961-1970
Beulah G. Neprud: 1970-1972
Charles W. Stelling: 1972-1978
Jack L. Middendorf: 1978-1994
Maureen Battistella: 1994-1995
Jan Brumm (Interim): 1995-1996
Stanley Gardner: 1996-2006
Dave Graber: 2006-Present

Maria S. Johnson
Reference Librarian 
August 2002
Updated: October 2006

Updated: June 2017 by Dave Graber