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Libraries History: Home

Brief, illustrated history of the University of Wyoming Libraries


  The UW Libraries have come a long way since the gift of 300-some books from Charles E. Clay in 1887 provided the first library for the infant university.  This timeline below is subdivided into five sections, based on the main library:

Historical Sources are provided at the bottom of the page.

The Old Main Era (1887-1922)

Old Main in 1908.

Old Main Library interior with Grace Raymond Hebard in
middle, circa 1900.

Initially, the Library was housed in the University's only building, University Building (now known as Old Main).

  • Gift from Charles E. Clay (from Rock Creek, WY) started the University of Wyoming Library, located in the University Building.
  • Aven Nelson, biology professor, was appointed the first Librarian.
1889 Justis F. Soule, Latin professor, was appointed the second Librarian.  He started using the Dewey Decimal system for organizing books.
1894 Grace Raymond Hebard, secretary of the Board of Trustees, was appointed the third Librarian.  She resigned in 1919 to devote full-time to teaching Wyoming history.
1897 The Library received its first acquisition budget ($1,400); previously it had grown through gifts and annual student fee of $1.50.
  • The Library was moved to the first floor of the Main Hall (now Old Main) because the books' weight.
  • The Library introduced the card catalog, replacing the handwritten book catalog begun by Aven Nelson.
1907 The Library was designated a federal depository library.
1917 The Library's collection reached 17,000 volumes and had subscriptions to 200 journals and magazines.  The collection in agriculture had been moved to the Agriculture Hall because of lack of space.
1919 Reba Davis was appointed the first full-time librarian.
1921 President Aven Nelson chartered a train to take students to Cheyenne to lobby the Legislature about the need for a new library building.

The Library Building Era (1923-1956)

Library Building from 1936.


Interior of Library Building from 1936

The three-story Library Building (now Aven Nelson Memorial Building) opened in 1923. 50,000 volumes and over 400 periodical subscriptions were moved from Old Main and other locations that had been used to hold materials that wouldn't fit. The building also housed the History, English, and ancient language departments as well as the College of Law (and its library).

1929 Mary E. Marks was appointed the new Head Librarian.
1932 The Hebard Room, named for Grace Raymond Hebard, was designated by the Librarian.  It contained materials on Wyoming and western history; which was bolstered by Hebard's collection of books, manuscripts, and realia following her death in 1936.  This special collection has been through many name changes to the current Hebard Collection in the Libraries' Chisum Special Collections and the administratively-separate American Heritage Center.
1939 Mary Marks proposed a new library to replace the current building--the request went nowhere.
  • The Branding Iron complained about lack of space in the reserve room, lack of elevator, failure to stay open on Sundays, and lack of new books.
  • The Librarian's report indicated that the library staff was composed of six librarians, one stenographer, and three student employees.
1945 The University created the University Archives as part of the Libraries to handle a number of gift collections of individual and organization papers.
1949 N. Orwin Rush was appointed the new Director of Libraries.
1950 President George Duke Humphrey and the Board of Trustees organized a planning committee for a new library.
1951 The Libraries' University Archives was renamed Western History and Archives Department.
1953 The College of Law moved out of the Library Building into their new Law Building.  That open space was assigned to the American Studies program a few years later.
  • William Robertson Coe, encouraged by President Humphrey and Trustees President Milward Simpson, left a $1.8 million bequest for a library and American Studies building.
  • James Ranz was appointed the new Director of Libraries. 
  • With the Coe bequest and Legislative-approved bonds, construction of the new William Robertson Coe Library and School of American Studies began on the corner of 13th and Ivinson. 
  • The Libraries took over the Geology departmental library in the S.H. Knight Building and transferred geological materials there to expand the new Geology Library.

The Coe Library Era (1957-2008)

Coe Library from 1958.

Coe Library Reference area on main floor from 1958.

The four-story William Robertson Coe Library and School of American Studies opened; students and staff transferred 260,000 volumes, 500,000 documents, maps, manuscripts, and microforms from the old Library Building and other locations on campus.

1958 William Robertson Coe Library was dedicated.
1962 Director Ranz was appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs; Ray Frantz was appointed the new Director of Libraries.
1968 Health Sciences Information Network (HSIN), a document delivery service to health science professionals in Wyoming, began.
1969 James H. Richards, Jr. was appointed the new Director of Libraries.
1970 With the completion of the George Duke Humphrey Science Center, the Libraries transferred science and engineering materials from Coe to a new Science and Technology Library (often shortened to "Science Library") in the Center.
1971 The Film Library in Knight Hall was transferred from the Adult Education Department to the Libraries and took the name Audio Visual Services.
1973 President Humphrey and the Board of Trustees started planning for adding an annex to Coe Library.
1974 After being fired by President Carlson, James Ranz returned briefly to the Libraries as Interim Director.
  • Robert H. Patterson was appointed Director of Libraries.
  • Coe Library added electronic security gates at the entrance to cut down of losses of materials.
1977 Construction of the stack tower on the back of Coe began.

The Coe Library 1.5 Era (1978-2008)

 The expanded Coe Library opened for business; with additional 60,195 square feet with seating for 800 and about 250,00 books.  The doorway to the History Building was sealed. 


Coe Library Reference Department began offering library tours and library instruction sessions for various University departments.

  • Coe's new East Wing was dedicated.
  • The Science Library had became overcrowded, and planning began to expand the facility.
1980 The Libraries implemented the CLASSIC computerized library management system also being used by other state libraries.  The system provided an online catalog and computerized check-out.
1980s The Libraries took over the UW-National Park Service Research Center library located at the AMK Ranch with Grand Teton National Park.  Materials were labeled "Jackson."
1983 Keith M. Cottam was appointed the new Director of Libraries.

Former President Gerald Ford visited Coe Library and reviewed an exhibit on Wyoming accomplishments during his administration.

1985 The Libraries started offering an online catalog, initially at reference desks, but then made available later to library users.
  • The American Heritage Center moved to their new facility in the Centennial Complex, taking along the Hebard Collection. Vacated space was used for Collection Development and Technical Services departments, a storage collection of Science journals, and hundreds of boxes of materials left by the AHC for possible addition to the Libraries.
  • The Libraries took over management of the University Lab School's library in the Education Building; it was renamed the Learning Resource Center.
  • The Libraries transferred systematic botany materials to the Botany Department's Rocky Mountain Herbarium (RMH) in the Aven Nelson Building and the RMH Library became a research branch of the Libraries.
  • The print card catalog was replaced by an online catalog.
  • The Libraries joined Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries (CARL) and replaced its online library management system with the CARL system.
1990 The Libraries celebrated the acquisition of its one millionth volume.
  • University Studies 1000 courses began for all freshmen, which included a self-guided tour of Coe and instruction on library skills.
  • The Libraries developed an outreach program, in cooperation with the Outreach School, to provide library services to off-campus students and faculty.
1993 The Libraries combined the Documents and Coe Reference departments in order to provide a single reference desk on the main floor of Coe.
1994 The Libraries relocated periodicals and photocopiers to the front of Coe's main floor.
1995 The Libraries developed its first Internet homepage and started acquiring web-based databases and journals.
  • Coe opened its first electronic classroom with 14 computers to be used for library instruction.
  • University of Wyoming Information Technology (UWIT) added its first computer lab in the main floor of Coe.
1999 The Geology Library was remodeled and renamed the Brinkerhoff Earth Sciences Information Center (often shortened to Brinkerhoff Geology Library).  At the same time Coe map collections were transferred into the Barlow and Haun Map Room.
  • In cooperation with UWIT, the Libraries began to offer wireless services for users.
  • The Libraries migrated from the CARL library system to one from Voyager; the online catalog was named Ferret.
  • Maggie Farrell was appointed the new Dean of Libraries.
  • The University's Capital Facilities Plan included a new Information, Library, and Learning Center (ILLC) as an addition to Coe.
  • The Libraries joined with the Wyoming State Library to offer state citizens an array of online databases through the WyLD system.
2004 The University Libraries Development Board was established for community relations and fund raising.

The Book and Bean coffee shop opened on Coe's main floor.

  • The Science Library was remodeled to add compact shelving to be used for Science and Coe older bound journal in preparation for the renovation and expansion of Coe.  Most Science staff were transferred to Coe and the U.S. government document collection was transferred to what was now called the Library Annex.
  • Services to make Science/Annex materials available during renovation were combined with Interlibrary Loan to become the Request It service.
  • The Libraries joined Prospector, a regional library catalog that allowed users to directly borrow books and media from the other member libraries.
  • The Library Annex reopened with greatly expanded shelving capacity and a smaller service area.
  • After moving into the new Anthropology Building, the previous Anthropology (and even earlier Law) Building was razed to make space for the Coe addition.

The Coe Library 2.0 Era (2009+)

Coe Library after the addition to the east end of the building.  (Photo: Nancy Marlatt, 2009)

With the four-story addition, Coe Library's entrance was moved from the west to the east end of the building and added almost 93,000 square feet to the building.  Additional improvements included expanded electronic classrooms, new large meeting rooms, more study rooms, and much more study space. Other significant aspects to the expansion included:

  • A 24/7 computer lab on levels 2 and 3 that could be separated by a mesh gate when the library was closed.
  • The Hebard Collection returned from the American Heritage Center to form the nucleus of the Chisum Special Collections
2009 While construction in Coe was occurring, the Libraries migrated from the Voyager library management system to the Millennium one.
2010 Libraries begin digitizing plant specimens from the Rocky Mountain Herbarium as part of the Global Plants Initiative (GPI).

The Alma Doke McMurry Reading Room, built to the former entrance porch, was dedicated.

2012 The Libraries are admitted to the Greater Western Library Association (GWLA) to expand library services and participate in regional library initiatives.
2014 The Libraries implement the Wyoming Scholarly Repository (WySR) to house and provide access to UW faculty publications. The system also allowed the Libraries to publish the peer-reviewed Electronic Journal of Linear Algebra.
2015 The Coe Research Help Desk on level 2 was closed and answering user questions was moved to the Circulation Help Desk, renamed the Help Desk.
  • The Media Help Desk on Coe Level 1 was closed; its staff and services were transferred to the Help Desk.
  • Ivan Gaetz appointed Dean of Libraries.


Coe Library addition main floor (Source: FCI 2009); computer lab and hole-in-the-floor (Photos: Nancy Marlatt, 2009).

Historical Sources

Bauman, Charles H.  "Wyoming Goes Modular," Library Journal 84 (21): 3717-1719, December 1959. [Annex Z 671 .L7]

Chisum, Emmett D.  "The Development of the University of Wyoming Libraries and Special Collections," Annals of Wyoming 54(1): 26-35, Spring 1982.  [Annex F 756 .A67 or]

__________.  Memories: University of Wyoming Centennial, 1886-1986.  [Laramie]: University of Wyoming, 1987.  [Coe Folio LD 6263 .C48 1987]

Clough, Wilson O.  A History of the University of Wyoming, 1887-1964.  [Laramie]: University of Wyoming, 1965.  [Coe LD 6263 .C56 1965]

Davis, Reba.  "The University of Wyoming Library," Library Journal 49: 423-442, May 1, 1924. [Annex Z 671 .L7]

Hardy, Deborah.  Wyoming University: the First 100 Years, 1886-1986.  [Laramie]: University of Wyoming, 1986.  [Coe Folio LD 6267.5 .H37 1986]

Jansen, Larry.  Historical Background of UW Libraries' Automation.  [Laramie]: University of Wyoming, 1994. 

Junior Class of the University of Wyoming [later Associated Students of the University of Wyoming].  Wyo, [Laramie: University of Wyoming], 1910-1989.  [Coe LD 6268 .W86]

Mayer, Jennifer.  William Robertson Coe Library: Reflections on the Past.  [Laramie]: University of Wyoming Libraries, [2008]. [Coe Z 733 .U896 M394 2008] 

University of Wyoming.  Annual Report of the President of the Board of Trustees [title varies].  Laramie: the University, [1897-1992].  [Hebard LD 6251 .U5]

________.  "University of Wyoming Board of Trustees Minutes," 1886+

University of Wyoming Institutional Communications. UW News, 2000-present [2008-present online]

University of Wyoming Libraries.  Annual Report of the University of Wyoming Library.  Laramie: the Library, 1969/70.  [Hebard Z 733 .U896 U557]

________.  Annual Report of the University of Wyoming Libraries. Laramie: the Libraries, 1976-1979.  [Special Collections Z 733.U896 U557; online since 2010]

________.  "University of Wyoming Libraries Records, 1891-2001." [American Heritage Center Collection 554000]

________.  Check It Out.  Laramie: University of Wyoming Libraries, 2010-present.  [Coe Z 881.W8 C443]

________. Dusty Shelves: Libraries News Blog.  Laramie: University of Wyoming Libraries, 2006-present. 

________.  The Library Associate.  Laramie: University of Wyoming Libraries, 2009-present.  [Coe Z 881.W8 L52; 2009-present online]

________.  Newsletter of the University of Wyoming Libraries.  Laramie: Libraries, 1976-1983. [Special Collections Z 881.W8 N48]

University of Wyoming Science and Technology Library.  Science Library Newsletter, 1977-1983. [Hebard Z733 .W95]

________.  Newsletter of the Science Libraries, 1984. [Hebard Z733  .W953]

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