Skip to main content

Library History

Explore the history of San José State University Library.

Library History

Library History

The San José State University Library has a long and interesting history. 

The University Library in the Days of the Normal School, 1862–1923

  • The Move to San José
  • Librarian Ruth Royce and the Three Normal School Buildings
  • Librarian Helen Evans

The Journey of Wahlquist and Clark, 1923–1982

  • Becoming a State College
  • Expanding to Library North
  • Becoming a University
  • Clark and Wahlquist

The SJSU Library Moves Into the Digital Age, 1980–today

  • Digital Developments
  • Construction Begins on the new King Library

Historical Photos of the Library







SJSU Library

The SJSU Library Moves Into the Digital Age, 1980–Today

New King LibraryDigital Developments

The 1980s and 1990s saw the Library grow with the advent of the digital era, involving the introduction of electronic systems for circulation and technical processing. The introduction of personal computer workstations and Internet access allowed library users to search an increasing array of electronic sources, including the Library’s Online Public Access Catalog.

Construction Begins on the new King Library

Plans were made in the early 1990s to raze the campus Administration building to allow for an expansion of Clark Library, but this plan was ended as soon as the idea of a shared University / City of San José Public Library, conceived during discussions between former San José Mayor Susan Hammer and former University President Robert L. Caret, was established.

The Wahlquist buildings were demolished in 2000 to make way for construction of the new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, which proceeded after a groundbreaking ceremony held on October 20, 2000, exactly 130 years to the day after the cornerstone was laid for the original San José Normal School building at the Washington Square site. It is fitting as we embark on the twenty-first century that the same site occupied at separate times during the twentieth century by both a San José Public Library building and a University Library complex now houses in one facility a unique state-of-the-art Library containing both the main branch of San José Public Library and the San José State University Library. It is in this new Library that both “town and gown” may share together a facility dedicated to lifelong learning for all members of both the public and the University communities, alike.

SJSU Library

The Journey of Wahlquist and Clark, 1923-1982

Wahlquist LibraryBecoming a State College

In 1923, during the same year that the institution became the San José State Teachers College, Joyce Backus, who as the third Librarian embarked on a legendary 42-year career that saw tremendous growth in Library collections, services, staff, and facilities, replaced Helen Evans. This was all in tune with the institution’s transformation from a Teachers College to a State College in 1935, now including many other major courses of study besides education.

Expanding to Library North

Library expansion included the construction of a new Library building in 1942 that extended from the 1910 building westward toward Fourth Street, followed by the construction of a Library Annex in 1956, which extended northward toward the old public Carnegie Library (built in 1901) at the corner of Fourth and San Fernando Streets. The Carnegie building had ceased being a public library in 1936, and was sold to the college for use as a Student Union. As the Library required further expansion space, this building was razed to make way for the construction of yet another wing, known as Library North, in 1961.

Becoming a University

Following Joyce Backus’ retirement in 1965, the Library continued its role in keeping up with, and supporting the curricula of a college that in the 1970s became a university. Most of the Library collections had since been reclassified to the Library of Congress system, an arrangement that better suited a largely academic collection. At approximately the same time as Backus’ retirement, the Tower and adjoining wings, including the 1910 Library building, were deemed unsafe as potential earthquake hazards and were razed, with a massive public outcry preserving only the present-day Tower and Morris Dailey Auditorium from the wrecking ball.

Clark LibraryClark and Wahlquist

The 1970s also saw the need for the Library to expand to yet another building that was intended originally to hold all of the Library’s collections in one multi-story high rise facility. The economic inflation of the times, coupled with price constraints and budget cuts led to the construction of a scaled-down five-story building that opened in early 1982, and was named after former College President Robert D. Clark.

As this new facility was inadequate to house the entire Library collection (by this time over one million volumes), the collection was split between older publications to remain in the old North Library building, with newer publications (generally post-1970) to be relocated to the new Clark Library. The old Library complex was renamed after another former College President, John T. Wahlquist, with the separate wings known as Wahlquist South, Central, and North. Wahlquist South and Central were refurbished for use by various non-academic campus offices and services.

SJSU Library

The University Library in the Days of the Normal School, 1862-1923

First Normal School BuildingThe Move to San José

The San José State University Library has its beginnings in the early days of the California State Normal School, founded May 2, 1862, in San Francisco. Previously known as Minn’s Evening Normal School, founded in 1857 for the purpose of educating teachers for San Francisco schools, the new state institution began to provide several thousand dollars of funding annually for a nascent library that by early 1864 included 1000 books, mostly textbooks, with the remainder reference works and books of general reading.

After considering a number of neighboring towns, the Normal School Board of Trustees decided to relocate the School to San José in 1870, as San Francisco was thought to be too distracting of an environment for the students, and also auspiciously because library facilities were too small in the San Francisco facility.

Second Normal School BuildingLibrarian Ruth Royce and the Three Normal School Buildings

In 1872 the first California State Normal School building in San José was completed, and included a separate room for the Library on the first floor. This building was destroyed by fire February 10, 1880, but fortunately, most of the Library’s 2000 volumes were saved.

By May of 1881, a new building was completed, and once again a room was designated for the Library on the first floor. It was at this time that the first full-time Librarian, Ruth Royce, was appointed. Previously, solely student volunteers between classes monitored the Library. During Royce’s 37-year tenure as Librarian, the Library was to experience significant growth in collection size, and in stature.

In 1887, when the name of the institution was changed to the San José State Normal School, the Library contained over 3000 volumes. Unfortunately, the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906 rendered the Normal School building unfit for use, so the Library, as well as all of the classrooms was relocated to temporary facilities, known as “The Shacks.” The third Normal School building, including the present day Tower and a connecting separate wing to the northwest for the Library, was completed in 1910. By this time, the Library had increased to 12,000 volumes.

Third Normal School BuildingLibrarian Helen Evans

In 1918, Helen Evans became the second Librarian at the Normal School, after having served as an assistant to Ruth Royce. During her five-year tenure, the Library increased to 21,000 works, and Evans was responsible for introducing the Dewey Decimal classification system to the Library. Prior to this, works were arranged generally by subject, and often required the direct assistance of the Librarian or her assistants in order to locate the books on the shelves.

SJSU Library