Babbidge Library To Celebrate
Volumes from the personal library of Charles Storrs made up the first library collection of the Storrs Agricultural School in 1882. Beginning with that collection of a few hundred books, the University Libraries now have more than 2 million volumes.
Over the years, the books have been housed in a series of buildings, but most are now in the Homer D. Babbidge Library on the Storrs campus. This fall, the University community will celebrate the 25th anniversary of Babbidge Library.
The collection of Storrs's books and additional volumes was first housed in Old Whitney, a former state orphanage at the corner of North Eagleville Road and Route 195 which became the first academic building of Storrs Agricultural School when it opened in 1881. When a new administration and academic building - known as Old Main - opened in 1890, the library collection was moved to new quarters in that facility.
A new library was part of the Charles L. Beach Building, when it opened in 1929 as a replacement for Old Main. Then in 1939, after the former agricultural college became the University of Connecticut, the first library building opened. It was named for Gov. Wilbur Cross in 1940.
The library's collections grew and programs evolved over the nearly four decades that the Wilbur Cross building was its home. An annex was built in 1964 to accommodate a burgeoning student body and the University's growth as a public research university. There were approximately 300,000 volumes in the collections when Homer Babbidge became president in 1962. By 1970, the library would mark the acquisition of its millionth volume.
Plans for a new library began in the late 1960s. After the proposal had wended its way through the political system and the General Assembly had approved $19 million in bonding for construction of the facility, a groundbreaking ceremony was held in 1975. The list of state dignitaries for the event was headed by then-Gov. Ella T. Grasso.
Briefly in 1975 the yet-to-be built library was named for Connecticut's Revolutionary War hero from Coventry, Nathan Hale. But reaction was negative, and the name was changed to the University Library. That would allow for naming the building in memory of UConn's eighth president - Homer D. Babbidge Jr. - in 1985, the year after his death. Later that year, the University was classified for the first time as a Carnegie Research I University.
The new library opened in 1978 with 396,000 square feet of floor space, about four times the 95,000 square feet of floor space in the Wilbur Cross Library. And the new facility could hold 3.5 million volumes, compared with 1.2 million in Wilbur Cross. Seating for students and scholars increased from 600 in the old library to 3,000 in the new building.
In 1989, it was discovered that the Babbidge Library had structural problems, including the potential for its brick facade to fall away from the structure. The building was wrapped in plastic sheeting, and no bricks ever fell. Repair work was delayed by problems with the initial contractors, but by the fall of 1995, enough work had been completed for the plastic sheeting to be removed in time for the October 10 dedication of the adjoining Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, featuring President Bill Clinton.
A gala re-dedication of the Babbidge Library was held three years later, and with the changes to Fairfield Way through the UConn 2000 project enhancing its appearance, the library was reaffirmed as the academic and physical center of University life.