The Big Move: McEwen Library Opens

Randall Bowman
October 11, 2013

McEwen Library, June 1968.

McEwen Library, June 1968.

The 1960s brought many changes to Elon College, not the least of which was a new library.   With one reading room that could only seat one hundred students at a time, Carlton Library was now too small to serve the growing college of 1200 students. A new library, with space for a larger book collection, was needed.  Plans for the new facility were drawn up by the architectural firm of Guy Crampton and Associates of Raleigh, North Carolina.  Abrams Construction Company of Greensboro, North Carolina was the general contractor.  McEwen Library, as it would later be named, cost $700,000 to build, and was part of a large campus expansion that took place in the mid-1960s.  On Parent’s Day, Saturday, November 4, 1966, on the same day the Long Student Center and three other buildings were dedicated, the ground-breaking ceremony for the library took place.  By the summer of 1968, the new building was ready to be occupied.

June 15, 1968, was “Move-in Day” for the library.  Classes were suspended, and Elon students, faculty, and staff turned out to help move the entire collection of 67,000 books from Carlton Library to the new building in one day.  Despite the blistering summer heat, many local residents came to the campus to help.  They may have been enticed by the prospect of a free steak dinner; anyone who carried ten loads of books was given a ticket to a cookout.  The move became one of the significant events in Elon College’s history, with extensive coverage by local radio and TV stations and newspapers. The goal of finishing by 5:00 pm was missed by only five minutes, with the last book arriving by 5:05.  The next day, McEwen Library opened to the public.

The new building incorporated the most modern concepts in library planning at the time.  With a capacity of 120,000 volumes, it had almost double the storage space available in Carlton.  The stacks were open, which meant that library patrons could now browse the stacks themselves.  There was study space for 600 students over three floors; 235 private study carrels were available, also a first.  The new library also had 24 listening tables for vinyl records and cassette tapes, as well as readers for microfilm and microfiche.  In addition, there was art exhibit space and a Church History room to house the archives of the Christian Church.  Finally, the new building had air conditioning–something the old library lacked–which was no doubt a great relief to all those who helped move the books on that hot July day!

At first the new building was simply called “The Elon College Library.”  On Saturday, May 20, 1972, the building was officially dedicated and named the Iris Holt McEwen Library, in recognition of the long service of Ms. McEwen to the college.  McEwen Library stood next to McEwen Dining Hall, which had been named in honor of her late husband, James H. McEwen, in 1956.

In 1978, the college opened the Learning Resource Center.  Although “the LRC” was located on the first floor of the Mooney Building, it and McEwen Library formed a single administrative unit.  The LRC offered a number of new services including video production facilities, video equipment checkout, tutoring services, and academic computing services.

Technology would have a major impact on libraries, and McEwen Library was no exception.  In 1993, the card catalog was replaced by an online catalog.  This catalog was called I.R.I.S, which stood for “Information Retrieval in Seconds,” and was named for Iris Holt McEwen.  In 1995, 42 new computers were installed around McEwen Library, giving library patrons access to several CD-ROM databases, as well as the Internet.  Elon had joined the North Carolina Piedmont Area Library System, known as “NC-PALS”.  This consortium allowed McEwen Library’s patrons to search for books in the collections of several private colleges in the Triad region.

In the summer of 1995, McEwen Library underwent a renovation.  According to an article published in the Burlington Times-News, seldom-used books were moved off-site to make room for other books.  The technical services department—responsible for purchasing and cataloging new library materials—was also moved off-site to Arts West to free up space.  In addition, the bookshelves on the first floor (which had been seven feet tall) were replaced by shorter shelves, allowing visitors a clear view of the entire floor.

However, this renovation was a temporary fix.  It was clear that Elon College had outgrown McEwen Library, and planning began for a new, state-of-the-art library.  The result was the Carol Grotnes Belk Library, which opened in 2000.  After the library moved out of McEwen, the building was renovated to become the new home for the School of Communications.

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