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The Evolution of UNR's Libraries

by Shelby Abart


Morrill Hall, 1932
Morrill Hall, 1932
Students at work inside Clark Memorial Library, 1960
Students at work inside the
Clark Memorial Library, 1960

The Early Years

For centuries libraries have been a key component in students’ search for knowledge. During its nearly 125 years of existence, a goal of the University of Nevada, Reno has been to provide a high quality library to meet the research needs of students and faculty. That goal, however, has often been challenged by inadequate space and/or funding for resources. When the state legislature approved the University’s move from Elko to Reno in 1885, only $500 was appropriated for purchasing books. Hannah Clapp, who served as the University’s first librarian from 1887-1901, helped organize the very small collection of books and pamphlets in Morrill Hall. Situated near the entrance gates of the University and containing classrooms, Morrill Hall was a great location for the University’s first library. By 1913, however, both student enrollment and the size of the book collection had grown considerably. It was time to expand, and the Board of Regents took action to obtain funding for a new library.

Alice McManus Clark Memorial Library

In 1926, William A. Clark, Jr., donated $250,000 to the University of Nevada, Reno for the construction of a new library. Clark’s father was the well-known mining tycoon William Clark, after whom Clark County was named. The new library was named in honor of William Clark, Jr.’s wife, Alice. Because this building was specifically designed to be a library, reading rooms and collection shelving areas were in abundance, making access to resources much more convenient for students and faculty.


Entrance gates to the University; Morrill hall off to the right, 1903
Entrance gates to the University;
Morrill Hall off to the right, 1903
Looking across Manzanita Lake at Clark Memorial Library, 1927
Looking across Manzanita Lake
at Clark Memorial Library, 1927

By 1944, the library held over fifty thousand volumes. This was a dramatic improvement over the roughly five thousand volumes that comprised the collection when the University moved to Reno fifty years earlier. Before long, however, the University was again faced with the challenges that accompany success. The growing number of books and other resources surpassed the capacity of the Clark Library. To accommodate these books, departmental collections had to be stored in various locations on campus. This provided a temporary but less than ideal solution.


In December 1956, after significant growth was projected for the University, librarian James J. Hill and the Faculty Library Committee realized that the university needed a new library four times the size of the Clark Memorial Library. Therefore, in 1959, after state funding and private donations were obtained, the Board of Regents approved the new library’s architectural design and the razing of the campus infirmary building next to Lincoln Hall. Ground was broken for construction of the Noble H. Getchell Library in January of 1960, and the cornerstone ceremony was held on September 19, 1961. Getchell Library opened for use in February 1962.


Getchell Library & The Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center

Getchell Library commemorating 100 years of UNR libraries, 1985
Getchell Library commemorating 100 years of UNR libraries, 1985
South façade of Getchell Library, 1962

South façade of Getchell Library, 1962

Front entrance to Getchell Library, 1962
Front entrance to Getchell Library, 1962


The University of Nevada, Reno’s newest library was named after Noble H. Getchell, a prominent mining magnate who served as a Nevada State Senator from Lander County for twenty years. Mr. Getchell owned the Betty O’Neal mine in Battle Mountain, the state’s leading silver mine, and the world’s second largest gold producing mine at the time, the Getchell Mine.

While planning the interior of Getchell Library, it was decided to place a piece of historical art at the entrance to the rare books collection. In the fifteenth century, it had taken Florence sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti 25 years to make his bronze “Gates of Paradise,” which were completed in 1452. Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt donated a replica of the Gates to the university in 1948. The University of Nevada Sagebrush, the university’s student newspaper, did a story in February of 1962 about the gates titled “Bronze Gates Guard Rare Books.” The story reveals that the gates were first stored in a Quonset hut on campus because no suitable location could be found for them. This lovely addition to the Getchell building allowed one of the finest pieces of Italian art to “… serve as a reminder of early Renaissance relief sculpture in a building of modern architecture.” The Ghiberti Gates now serve as the focal point of the entrance to Special Collections and University Archives on the third floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, the University’s most recent addition to its libraries.

Getchell Library was warmly welcomed by the students and faculty, who had a unique hands-on experience in preparing for its opening. In January 1962, librarian Sam Wood organized a “book walk” for volunteers to trek through the snow and help transport stacks of books across campus from Clark Library to Getchell Library. The dedication ceremony for Getchell Library was held on June 2, 1962. Professor James D. Hart, Acting Director of the Bancroft Library at the University of California, was invited to speak at the ceremony. He observed, “This library building, the books that it houses, and the purposes to which it is dedicated represent the legacy of our academic heritage in this country. The building and the books are both physical and symbolic evidence of that cultural continuum depended on our institutions of higher learning and the libraries which are their focal points.”

Only twelve years after it opened, Getchell Library was in need of expansion. Thankfully, when first constructed, anticipation of an eventual enlargement was accommodated by building the whole north wall out of tinted glass which could be easily removed to construct an addition. The $3 million addition was completed in 1977, increasing the area of the library to nearly 180,000 square feet, making it UNR’s largest building.


Front steps and roof architecture
of Getchell Library, 1965
North façade of Getchell Library, 1965
Current library: The Mathewson-
IGT Knowledge Center, 2008

The remodeled library provided improved access more room for the growing collection, making research more convenient for students and faculty alike. In that pre-Internet era, and even now, national accreditation teams consider the size of an academic library’s collections when calculating the university’s ability to provide quality education for students and adequate research resources for the faculty. Thus, an academic library is a key resource in supporting the university’s core mission.

Not everything college students learn comes from course lectures; library research takes up even more time than attending classes. Fortunately, thanks to legislative funding, skilled staff, and generous support from the public, the library system at the University of Nevada, Reno has been able to grow with the growth of campus.

After more than 40 years of service as the University’s main library, Getchell Library ran out of space and presented structural obsolescence problems. It proved to be impossible to renovate the building by making it higher or digging to insert a new level below it. Longtime planning for a new library was finally approved by the Board of Regents during the economic boom of the early 2000s. The Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center opened in August 2008 in time for the fall semester. Housing both traditional library collections and state-of-the-art technological resources, the Knowledge Center is well positioned to meet the information needs of twenty-first century students and faculty. The students’ heavy use of the computers, group study rooms, the @One applied technology area, and other facilities in the building illustrate how the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center has assumed Getchell Library’s role as a center for campus research and activity.

Suggested Reading

Hulse, James W., Oases of Culture: A History of Public and Academic Libraries in Nevada. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2003.

Hulse, James W., The University of Nevada: A Centennial History. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1974.