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Lifeblood of the Institution

Gov. Cecil Andrus and President Lee Vickers break ground for the Library of 1991

While college libraries are supposed to be a refuge for students to study and where peace and quiet reside, the history of the library at the college has been far from tranquil.

The college’s first library came about shortly after its founding when several area residents donated books and supplies. However, a fire on Dec. 5, 1917, destroyed the east wing of the administration building (now Reid Centennial Hall) and along with it, the entire school library. A week after the fire, Idaho Governor Moses Alexander saw it as an opportunity and stated “the calamity may be a blessing in disguise” and pushed for funding for new buildings on the campus. Again, Lewiston businesses dedicated space for classrooms and residents again donated books and supplies. Within two months, the college had opened a temporary library on the gymnasium’s stage. A new Administration Building opened in 1921 and included space for the library. Students, faculty, and staff lined up from the old gym to the new building and passed the books hand-to-hand to move the library into the new building. The move reportedly only took an hour. It won’t be the only time this happens.

The library needed to be rebuilt after the school’s closure in 1951. When the college was closed abruptly that year, faculty and students took books from the library by the hundreds. One estimate said with the annual book-buying budget of $4,000 for a fiscal year, it would take at least seven years to get the library back to its former level. Again, the community stepped in and donated hundreds of books and magazines to help reload the shelves.

When the college became a four-year institution in the 1960s, an emphasis was placed on improving the library. Because it needed more space, the library moved from the Administration Building back to Reid Centennial Hall, where the remodeled look included green carpets and recessed lighting. The new space allowed for more than 90,000 volumes and the library remained there for a quarter of a century.

In 1991, with the student population at an all-time high of 2,800, LCSC dedicated a new library where it currently resides. The near $6 million project included more than 55,000 square feet. Again, to move the books and materials into the new building, nearly 400 community residents, faculty, staff and students turned out to form a human brigade. Thousands of books were moved on that coldest day of the year in January 1991, with hot chili available to the volunteers, along with the LCSC nursing faculty on hand to make sure no one got too cold. “Sometimes we would have a slight delay as someone along the line found a book of interest and took a few moments to browse,” library director Paul Krause said. The new library paid immediate dividends as the number of users increased from 146,000 during the last year of the old library to 213,000 users at the new facility.  “A library is the center of any institution,” then LCSC president Lee Vickers said at the time.

The new library was a symbol of LCSC’s perseverance through the years. There would be no more talk of possibly consolidating the school with the University of Idaho or of closing it all together. As then Idaho Speaker of the House Tom Boyd commented about previous legislative attempts to close the campus at the groundbreaking ceremonies, “I think this should be an indicator to you, to us, and possibly to everyone that that’s history now.”

The "book brigade" of 1991