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Past and present: The history of ONU's Heterick Memorial Library

The outside of the Heterick Memorial Library. (photo/Heterick Memorial Library)

The outside of the Heterick Memorial Library. (photo/Heterick Memorial Library)

Ohio Northern University's Heterick Memorial Library is a large building on campus dedicated to helping students progress in their studies. Whether it is by providing them a quiet studying place or providing books for needed reference materials, the library is a resource students have come to know and be familiar with while they pursue their undergraduate educations. However, this is not the first library to have been on ONU's campus. The library began with two literary societies, and then it grew into three organizations.

ONU was founded by Henry Solomon Lehr in 1871. When he died, he split his own personal library between two groups of students: the Franklin Literary Society, as well as the Philomathean Literary Society. The groups kept the collections given to them in their own meeting rooms. As years began to pass, the collections continued to grow until they grew into the combined collection the library has today.

Eight years later in 1879, the Hill Memorial, home to ONU's Department of History, Politics and Justice, opened on campus. The two societies gathered their books and relocated to the third floor of Hill. Just a year after, in 1880, a third society, the Adelphian Literary Society, was founded. This society, which also received books from Lehr, was located in a building known as the Normal School Building. This building no longer exists today, as it was replaced with the current Lehr Memorial.

Though small compared to the collection the libraries on campus have today, the societies continued to gather books and added them to their own collections. The societies’ personal libraries grew. However, very few people could make use of the collections. Only those who paid $3 or gave $3 worth of books could make use of the libraries. 

In 1911, the entire first floor of the Normal School Building was turned into the university library. The west side of the floor contained shelves full of books while the east side was used as a reading room due to the better lighting use in it. Records show that books were donated to the library and may have been the source for most of the material received.

In the same year, the Franklin Literary Society contributed its entire library and combined it with the university’s library. The donation added 2,000 volumes to the collection. The Philomatheans gave their own collections of the same amount of volumes in December, 1912. Not long after this transfer, the Adelphians added their books into the library, as well. Once the transfers were complete, the literary society libraries had finally ended.

On Nov. 4, 1913, the Hill Memorial caught fire and destroyed much of the societies’ libraries and a large amount of the building. No one was injured in the fire and some parts of the societies’ collections were able to be saved. After the fire, in 1915, what was left of the library was moved to the second floor of the Lehr Memorial, where it stayed until 1930, where the library was then moved to Brown Hall, which acted as a combination of the gymnasium, as well as a cafeteria for the school.

When Presser Hall was created, it became the current ONU Department of Music. In 1953 though, Presser Hall became the new library. Due to having more open space, the school was able to triple the size of the library's collection, which was necessary due to the growing increase of student enrollment during the 1960s.

The first building to ever solely be created as a library was today’s Heterick Memorial Library in 1968. That February, students helped move the books from Presser Hall to Heterick. In October, the library was formally dedicated. Taking the future and a growing possibility of an even larger student population into consideration, Heterick was made with an area of more than 53,000 square feet, allowing for capacity of around 625 students. Over time, two more floors were added to the library, allowing even more students to gather within its building. The larger library was dedicated in 2000.

Heterick worked hard to keeping its computer technology up-to-date to help serve the ONU community. In 1971, being an original OCLC library, Heterick received computer-generated catalog cards. Both Heterick and the Taggart Law Library joined the academic library sharing consortium, OhioLINK, in 1995. Yet despite having joined OhioLINK, Heterick continues to allow its own collection to grow, both computerized and with publications.

During the summer of 2016, the first floor of Heterick was remodeled into a more modernized area, adding more seating space. With brighter colors and the addition of a café, many students were excited to see the changes to the first floor. These changes have made the library more open and inviting than it had previously.

According to University Archivist Paul Logsdon, the library was built in a specific way that would allow necessary additions. 

“It was built like a box,” he said. 

The library was built in such a specific way that floors could easily be added. On top of each floor, in the ceiling, are concrete slabs that can be removed to add more stairs and doorways for each floor. An increase in student population was taken into high account that there would be a time when an extra floor or two would need to be added.

Marisa Lucas, a junior creative writing and literature major, expresses her thoughts of the old library compared to the new library:

Walking into the library before the renovations made me feel as if I immediately had to go into study mode. But now I feel as if I can ease myself into my studying and it’s more open. I like it.”

Lucas is not the only student happy with the renovations that have happened to the library. Senior forensic biology and psychology major Alyssa Jones says that she loves the renovations, reflecting that she wishes the second and third floors can have similar renovations. She especially enjoys the addition of the coffee shop.

The coffee ship is super convenient for late night caffeine needs! I love the seating arrangements [too].”