Early Library History at USC

The first library at USC started during the first school year, 1880-1881. The collection was stored in what was then the only building on campus, located near Founders Park, close to the present Annenberg School of Communcations. Over the years, this building came to be known as Widney Hall, its facade was painted and altered, and it was moved to different parts of the campus. It survived, though, and is the Alumni House, now located across the way from Doheny Library. Here is a description of this earliest library:

Widney Hall, circa 1900
"Some seven hundred volumes in additon to three or four hundred magazines and periodicals -- mostly the contribution of Rev. Alfred Higbie, a superannuated minister of the Southern California Conference -- formed the nucleus for the library."*
Widney Alumni House, in the 1960s

The first true library was housed in the College of Liberal Arts Building ("Old College"), which was built in 1884, and designed to hold the entire USC student body -- 55 students. Rev. John Dickinson became the first head librarian (and Curator of Museums), a post he held until 1903. Old College was located on the site now occupied by the Taper Hall of Humanities.

"The first floor above the basement was sixteen feet and contained a chapel seated in amphitheater style to accommodate five hundred persons. The library, situated across the fall facing the chapel, was large, commodious, well-lighted, and contained ample room for several thousand volumes. The reading-room, the President's office, lecture room, ladies' study and rest rooms, were on this floor."*

Two wings were added to the original building in 1905. By 1928 the library had taken over not only the entire first floor of Old College, but had spread down to the building's basement.

A fundraising campaign for a new library began in the late 1920s, as part of a general endowment drive started by President Rufus Von KleinSmid. Some preliminary plans were even drawn up, but then in 1930 the Doheny family donated $1,000,000 to the university for a new library, and Doheny Memorial Library was born. When it opened in 1932, the library collection then housed in Old College was moved. Old College survived another 16 years, in increasing decrepitude, before finally being demolished in 1948.

Old College in 1945

The library in Old College, circa 1930s

Demolition of Old College, 1948

Other libraries on campus in the 1920s included the Hoose Library of Philosophy (1924), the Stowell Research Library for Education (1923), and the Clarence E. Rainwater Library of Sociological Research (1926). Some of the professional schools also maintained departmental libraries: Fine Arts, Law, Mathematics, Medicine, Dentistry, and Theology, bringing the entire university libraries' holdings to over 129,000 volumes.

Selected References:

Gates, Samuel Eugene. History of the University of Southern California: 1900-1928. Masters Thesis, 1929.

Gay, Leslie F. History of the University of Southern California. Masters Thesis, 1910.

U.S.C. News Bureau. Press Release. Sept. 18, 1948.

PHOTO CREDITS: All images on this page used by permission of University Archives. Thanks to Susan K. Hikida for her assistance in gathering both images and historical information.

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