Apr 06th, 2022

A Short History of the High Point College and University Libraries – Part 1, 1924-1977

A note about academic libraries.

Academic libraries and academic library collections started to appear in the United States in the late 1700s, with schools like Harvard and Yale having libraries for the use of students and faculty. These early academic libraries were very different from the library that we associate with current day universities. For instance, they were open only a few hours a week. The library at the University of Virginia was open about 9 hours a week and even the Yale library was open only 30 hours each week. For the most part these early library collections were small; the Harvard collection numbered about 13,000 volumes. Many of the items found in these early library collections were donations from benefactors and even then, much of the materials were used by students for memorization and recitation not research. Facilities were another issue, and it was not until 1840 that an academic library collection was housed in its own facility in the United States. Most libraries shared a space.

At the same time, literary societies were the dominant social organization, and these debate and social clubs were popular on campuses in the late 1800s. Students clamored to join these organizations and at many schools the entire student body were members. Some of these associations kept small libraries containing current books and magazines. In fact, at UNC Chapel Hill one of the large literary societies had a collection three times the size of the campus library collection! Beginning in the 1920s active literary societies began to wane on college campuses as Greek societies became the dominant social organization. The materials held by the literary societies were often given to the campus library which expanded their collection and service role. The addition of this current content along with a change to longer hours helped academic libraries become the institution that we know today. Their role as information providers became woven into the academic fiber as campuses met the influx of the post-WWII student boom. [1]

yadkincollegeNot surprisingly, the library at High Point College had a modest beginning. High Point College and High Point University traces its roots back to Yadkin College (seen here in a photo from the 1960s) which opened in 1851 and closed in 1924 as High Point College accepted its first students. The new library received the content of the Yadkin College Library – about 455 volumes. [2]

Photo: Yadkin College Library in the 1960s. Courtesy of the High Point University Archive.

“When the school opened in 1924 all classrooms and services were in Roberts Hall – When completed, Roberts Hall housed the entire operation of the college, except for residence: offices, classrooms, laboratories, bookstore, auditorium, library, dining room, and kitchen.” [3]

All campus activities were carried out in Roberts Hall and in the evening, students would visit and socialize in Roberts (the class size was small with only 13 students in the first graduating class in 1927). The auditorium was on the Finch side of the second floor and the library was on the opposite side. Faculty members–especially language professors–were often given the duties of directing early libraries at colleges and Universities. High Point was no different.

Early High Point College Librarians, 1924-1937


Wrenn Library – A new library is being built.

The president had this to say: “Friday, October 30, the contract for the Wrenn Memorial Library was signed. Monday following the work started, and the contractor is driving ahead rapidly on the construction. The completed building will probably cost nearly $130,000.”

“At the graduation exercises in 1935, President Humphreys introduced Mrs. M.J. Wrenn and announced that she would erect on the campus a library building in memory of her late husband, ‘who was a member of the Board of Trustees from the beginning and who loved the institution dearly.’ The audience responded with applause, and Dr. Humphreys praised Mrs. Wrenn for her demonstration of faith in the College. As the erection of the building progressed, Mrs. Wrenn followed it with great interest and never failed to have a check ready as each expense arose.” [4]

This is a great photo that was taken from atop Wrenn library during construction of the building in 1936. The building in the background is the Women’s Dorm now called McEwen on the current campus. ­­–Courtesy of the High Point University Archive.


Wrenn Library Nearing competition in 1937. Courtesy of the High Point University Archive.


A completed Wrenn Library is shown in this 1950 photo. Photo courtesy of the High Point University Archive.

While it provided a place for books and study areas, Wrenn Library’s basement was the place to go for weekly dances and socials, as noted in No Easy Task.

Prior to 1935 dancing was not allowed on campus or at any school related social event. “Fulfilling the prediction made a few years earlier, dancing now occupied a recognized place on the campus as administrators sought to inculcate social graces in the students. Dormitory students and faculty were guests Friday night at the initial formal dinner given in the College dining hall. The menu included fruit cocktail and baked chicken, and the tables were decorated. After the dinner many of the students went to the library basement for dancing, while others enjoyed ping pong, bingo, and other games in the club room.” [5]

1938 1946
Librarian 1938-1946


1947 48
Librarian 1947-1948


wrenn4 The new library became a focal point for college academic work as well as social gatherings. Here is a photo from the 50s showing the interior of Wrenn.

This is the main area and encompasses the entry way with the classic fireplace on the end. This area has been partitioned in the current Wrenn building.

The portrait over the fireplace is of MJ Wrenn, donor for the construction of the building:


The card catalog is seen on the right-hand wall next to the arch. It has been preserved and is on display in Smith Library and is still full of cards.

After it was retired in 1984 it became what is called a “shelf list”, meaning each card represented a book in the collection.

The large oak tables seen in the photo have been restored and are part of the reading/study area in Smith Library.



Library book checkout cards. Each book in the collection was given an accession number as it was added.  The books also received a “check out” card. The student or faculty member would sign the card to indicate they had borrowed the material. That card was kept by the library pending the return of the book. Once the book was returned the card was placed in the book and returned to the shelf. Many of the older books in the current library collection still have these cards in a small pocket in the back of the book. Libraries have removed most of these cards from the collection since they often include a social security number along with the name. Today of course we track our books with barcodes and RFID tags.


Wrenn Library Expands After Accreditation, 1951-1977


In December 1951, the “Southern Association voted its approval to grant (High Point College) accreditation. Dr. Cooke told the trustees: It is with a very keen sense of pride and gratification that I am able to report to you that High Point College has been fully accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools and the University Senate of the Methodist Board of Education.” [6]

To accomplish the goal of getting the school accredited, there had to be many changes such as better financial controls, an established endowment plus expanded library collections where older materials were removed and new materials were added. The library was no longer the sole responsibility of one person and in the 1950s the collection and staff size increased.

In 1948, Marcella Carter joined the faculty as the librarian. She would stay at the University for 30 years retiring in 1978.

Librarian 1948-1978



“The library grew in number of books, in circulation, and in staff. Miss Marcella Carter, who came to the college in 1947, supervised the activity and growth of the library. In less than ten years the number of books in the library doubled — from 15,000 volumes in 1948, to 30,338 in 1956; and in the next decade the number doubled again — to 61,025 in 1965. Total number of volumes increased by 30,000 in the next ten years — to 90,236 in 1974 — and the net increase would have been greater had it not been for the many obsolete books discarded during this period. Book space increased in 1953 through new steel shelves, and in 1959 an addition to the rear of the building provided five floors of stack.” [7]

The library had open stacks starting in 1970. This means students could browse the collection and remove books to read or borrow. Until this point, students had to look up the book in the book catalog and write down the title and the call number and the book was pulled for them to read or borrow.


The campus map circa 1965.

In the early 1960s a 5-story addition was added to Wrenn to hold the growing collection and by the 1970s the library got added staff. In 1974 the collection totaled nearly 90,000 volumes. In 1978 Mrs. Marcella Carter retired after 30 years as the director and Larry Keesee took that spot.


By 1977 there was talk of a new larger library.



[1] Budd, John. 1998. The Academic Library: Its Context, Its Purpose, and Its Operation. Library and Information Science Text Series. Englewood, Colo: Libraries Unlimited

[2-7] Locke, William R. 1975. No Easy Task: The First Fifty Years of High Point College. High Point, N.C.: High Point College.

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