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ONU Library History

When Henry Solomon Lehr founded Ohio Northern University in 1871, he divided his personal library between two student groups, the Franklin Literary Society and the Philomathean Literary Society. These collections were kept in the societies' meeting rooms and were enlarged over the years.

In August 1879, Hill Building was opened, and the two societies moved their facilities to its third floor. The Adelphian Literary Society was founded in 1880, and it also received books from Dr. Lehr. The Adelphians were located in the old Normal School Building, on the site of the present day Lehr Memorial. A University-sponsored reading room also existed at the time.

The 1880s through the 1890s was a period of growth for the society libraries even if, by today’s standards, they were comparatively small. Access was limited to society members though both the Philomatheans and Adelphians allowed persons who contributed “… directly to the library three ($3) or its value in books …” to use their facilities.

The growth of the university curriculum after the turn of the century demanded better library facilities. The society libraries were geared to supporting the literary and oratorical activities of their respective organizations. While this was an acceptable approach in the 1870s and 1880s, the growth of the university's curriculum, especially that of the professional programs, later made such arrangements increasingly anachronistic.

By 1911, however, a true university library had been formed. This facility occupied the entire first floor of the Normal School Building. The west room was used for shelves and book cases while the better-lit east room was used by patrons as a reading room. The size of the collection is not known nor is the library's budget apparent. Donations of books appear, however, to have been an important source of materials.

In 1911, the Franklin Literary Society voted to contribute its library to the university. Use of the society's collection had been declining for several years, and this donation would have made some 2,000 volumes available to the entire student body. There was apparently enough internal dissent to delay the actual transfer until fall 1913 and not before the founder of the library, Dr. Lehr, was forced to state his views on the matter. As he observed:

     The Franklins take no periodicals and magazines at present. Seldom [are] any     

      books taken from the library. Often on Saturday [the one day on which

      materials were circulated] the cases are not unlocked, and even when books

      are returned they cannot be cared for.

This was clearly not what Lehr had in mind when he gave the Franklins part of his personal collection years earlier.

The Philomatheans lent their library of some 2,000 volumes to the university in December 1912. Like the Franklins, they concluded that the labor involved in running a modern library was beyond their resources. Their collection had been available to their members on Saturday evenings only. Earlier that fall the society amended its constitution to indicate that, although the books would be housed in the university library, the actual ownership still remained with the society. The option to reclaim the collection was never exercised, and the books were, for all intents and purposes, a part of the university library.

By the following spring, the Adelphians, the final holdouts, authorized the formation of a committee of three "to consider the advisability of transferring the books of the Adelphian library from the [society's] hall to the university library." After considerable discussion, the motion passed unanimously, and shortly thereafter the era of the literary society libraries ended.

A fire on Nov. 4, 1913, destroyed much of the societies' libraries and completely gutted Hill Building. The university library, formerly in the Normal School Building, opened in 1915 on the second floor of Lehr Memorial.

Brown Hall, a combination gymnasium and cafeteria, became the library's next home in 1930.

During summer 1953, the library was moved from Brown Hall to Presser Hall, thus tripling the amount of available shelf space. Prior to being a library, Presser had served the music and theatre departments.

Today's Heterick Memorial Library, the first structure on the campus designed solely for library purposes, began with ground breaking ceremonies in August 1966. In February 1968, students helped to carry the collection from Presser to Heterick. The building was formally dedicated in October of that year.

The library was designed with the future in mind. With a total area of more than 53,000 square feet and seating for ca. 625 students, the library has proven an adequate facility over the years. Provisions were made when the building was constructed for the addition of two more floors as needed.

By 1997, it was obvious that more space was needed for student seating, computer facilities and a growing collection. Expansion planning began that year with the decision to add a third floor and renovate the existing building. The modernized and enlarged library was dedicated in fall 2000.

In recent years, the Heterick Memorial Library has employed computer technology to better serve the university community. As one of the original OCLC libraries, Heterick began receiving computer-generated catalog cards in 1971. In 1985, the library received its first CD-ROM periodical index, and by 1992 several had been added to the emerging campus network.

In fall 1995, Heterick and Taggart Law Library joined OhioLINK, a resource sharing consortium of Ohio academic libraries. Through OhioLINK the Northern patrons can locate and borrow materials from other member libraries and receive their requests via a courier service. Although Heterick continues to run locally-owned computerized periodical indexes and other such publications, a growing number of online indexes are available through OhioLINK as well.


Henry Solomon Lehr

Materials Relating to Northern's Founder

University Publications