Archives of Appalachia

A Unit of the Center for Appalachian Studies & Services at East Tennessee State University

Back to the Books

Today is the first day of classes at East Tennessee State University and we’re taking a look at just a small segment in the history of one of the most important buildings on campus – the library.

Sherrod Library – 1941 (Currently, Nicks Hall)

Although ETSU began in 1911 with the formation of the East Tennessee State Normal School, it was not until 1923 that the first library structure, now the B. Carroll Reece Museum, was constructed with funding from the General Assembly. In 1931, Sherrod Library (now Nicks Hall) was built. Here’s a description of the 1931 Sherrod Library:

“The new Library Building is an imposing three-story brick structure….the large reading room on the first floor[that] provides tables and seats for four hundred students, while the fire-proof stack-rooms will take care of about a hundred and thirty-five thousand volumes. There are several basement rooms, including a recitation room, an office, and what is known as the Little Theatre, a small auditorium used for conferences and other gatherings. On the second floor are two recitation rooms and a teacher’s office. The third floor is occupied by what is known as the Historical Museum”.[1]

The new and much larger library reflected an expanding university in need of space for more textual resources. However, while the university had more space with the new building, they needed funds to fill the shelves.

A letter from university president, Charles C. Sherrod, in August 1938 indicates that the book budget for the 1938-39 school year was $2,300. Sherrod was responding to Dr. William Warner Bishop, chair for the Advisory Group on College Libraries for the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Bishop had previously informed Sherrod that the State Teachers College (the name changed to State Teachers College in 1930) was one of the colleges which the Carnegie Corporation of New York was interested in bestowing a library grant.

Andrew Carnegie, one of the wealthiest men in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, earned his wealth by profiting in the steel industry. After Carnegie sold his business, he set up a philanthropic organization, known as the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which founded libraries throughout the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Some readers may be familiar with “Carnegie Libraries,” which are often public libraries that bear his name.

As a child worker in Pittsburgh after emigrating from Scotland, Carnegie educated himself by utilizing the private library of a retired merchant, Colonel Anderson, who allowed local boys to use his books. Later in life, Carnegie wrote,

“….I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in a community…”[2]

However, university records within the Charles C. Sherrod Collection and the Sherrod Library Collection indicate that the Carnegie Corporation branched out from public libraries to assist higher education with the formation of its Advisory Group on College Libraries in 1928. In order to obtain the most resources for each dollar, this group awarded colleges a grant on a credit basis. Each grant recipient had to place their order to the Advisory Group (based at the University of Michigan) who would combine orders and as a result, garner larger discounts with publishing companies. With this centralized method, approximately 10-15% more books were purchased. [3]

Interestingly, the Carnegie Corporation took a proactive approach in deciding colleges would receive funding. In spring 1938, Sherrod received a letter informing him that the Carnegie Corporation would like to send a representative to tour the college and its library facilities. The group had “assembled a good deal of information about teachers colleges in the United States, and have had the help of various experts in making the selection of teachers colleges to be visited.”[4] In December 1938, the Corporation awarded the State Teachers College $6,000 for the purchase of general education books specifically for undergraduate students. The grant, to be awarded over a three year period, almost doubled the book purchasing budget of the college. (The Carnegie Corporation was blunt in discouraging universities to use the grant money as replacement funds. Instead, they repetitively suggested that universities use the money to “secure both current and out of print foreign books” and thus, broaden the educational material available.[5])

David Coney, who reviewed Bishop’s report, Carnegie Corporation and College Libraries, 1929-1938, emphasized the impact this monetary gift had on institutions during the 1930s with his observation that, “The grants, perhaps by accident, upheld college library appropriations during the depression years and enabled libraries to increase their rate and quality of accessions at a time when otherwise the opposite would surely have happened.” [6] While more quantitative data and research is necessary to understand how the Depression affected Sherrod Library during the Depression, we can be sure the grant was much appreciated by the university community.

Sherrod Library Today

Sherrod Library Today


[1] Burleson, David Sinclair. History of the East Tennessee State College. 1947, pg. 46-49.

[3] Coney, Donald. Review of Carnegie Corporation and College Libraries, 1929-1938 by William Warner Bishop. Library Quarterly (April 1939, v.9, no. 2, pg. 219).

[4] Charles C. Sherrod Collection, Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee. Series 1, Box 40, Folder 13: Carnegie Grant (May 3, 1938).

[5] Charles C. Sherrod Collection, Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee. Series 1, Box 40, Folder 13: Carnegie Grant (August 13, 1938).

[6] Coney, Donald. Review of Carnegie Corporation and College Libraries, 1929-1938 by William Warner Bishop. Library Quarterly (April 1939, v.9, no. 2, pg. 219).

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About Laura Smith

I'm the Education & Outreach Archivist for the Archives of Appalachia at East Tennessee State University. Please contact me if you have any questions about the collections or visiting the Archives.

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This entry was posted on January 17, 2013 by in 20th Century, Appalachian History, ETSU History, From Our Collection, Letters.
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