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UNO's Libraries: A History

by Charles Reed

(Joslyn Hall, 1912 - 1938)
(Gene Eppley Library, 1954 - 1976)
(C.C. and Mabel Criss Library, 1976 - present)

According to the Criss Library website the beginnings of UNO's library services began under circumstances that weren't exactly optimal. It took four years after the University of Omaha was founded in 1908 to begin collecting materials to form a library; but it was housed in Joslyn Hall at 24th and Pratt when UNO was without a campus to call its own.

DJ Sokol Vision

In 1938, the Municipal University of Omaha moved to its current location and built a base of operations in what is now the Arts and Sciences Building on the far-east end of campus. At that time, the library was housed on the second floor but it didn't take long for students to grow tired of the cramped spacing.

In 1954, construction was started on the Gene Eppley Library (now the Gene Eppley Administration Building) to the north of the University of Omaha main building. It was named after Eugene C. Eppley, a local philanthropist who donated the entire $850,000 needed to build the structure.

DJ Sokol Vision

The Eppley Library would fulfill the studying and research needs of the campus until the 1970s when, after being absorbed into the University of Nebraska system in 1968, the facility was too small to properly accommodate students. According to a 1974 Gateway article, at the time ground broke on the construction of a new building, the Eppley Library could only service seven-to-eight percent of the student body. In June 1974 construction began on a new library located several blocks west to the Criss Library's current location. With the construction of a new library, the available volume for books and other documents increased by one third, seating for students doubled, and new rooms for things like typing stations and vending machines were put in. At a total cost of $5.1 million, the library was scheduled to be completed in a year-and-a-half -- January 1976.

Several setbacks ultimately changed this date. The first was the 1975 tornado that touched down in southwest Omaha and made its way northeast, eventually cutting a swath through 72nd Street from Center Street to Maple Street in Benson. While the university was not directly struck by the tornado, high winds and rain caused delays in the construction process.

DJ Sokol Vision

Secondly, according to the Gateway, in June of 1975 the steel workers, painters and roofers who were working on several UNO projects stopped work. While the crisis was eventually resolved, it set back the deadline for completion to summer 1976. A year after the delays, in June 1976, the final touches on the building were completed and the new library - simply called "University Library" - was open to the public.

Opinions of the new library ranged from the disgruntled (a Gateway editorial questioned spending money on the project in the first place) to the ecstatic. Over time, however, despite the loss of several parking lots, students came to use and enjoy the library in large numbers. Several features made the new library unique, including a large fountain on the north side of the building and a second-floor lounge with a vending machine area. However, it was the library's orange carpet that had the longest legacy, a fixture in the building from its opening in 1976 to its next major renovation in 2005.

DJ Sokol Vision

A University of Nebraska Board of Regents meeting in 2004 started the ball rolling toward making the Criss Library what it is today. The first step was naming it after Dr. C.C. and Mabel L. Criss, the husband-and-wife team behind Mutual of Omaha. The couple's memorial foundation supplied much of the money needed to renovate the building while anoher addition was helped paid for, and named after, Dr. Guinter Kahn, a University of Omaha graduate from 1958. Construction began in June 2005 on the renovation and expansion of the building. The expansion would eventually include another elevator, a new garden meeting area, additional student seating, a small coffee-shop-like café, a larger internet café-style seating area, an additional ATM machine, more computer terminals and a glass-awning on the third floor overlooking Dodge Street (the Guinter Kahn Addition). It was dedicated in October of 2006.

DJ Sokol Vision

Today, the Criss Library provides students with access to over 700,000 books; 2,300 print and 45,000 electronic subscriptions; 300 research databases; as well as music and video rentals. Throughout the year it is home to several university-wide, and sometimes state-wide, displays including the recent collection of artifacts from former UNO student, and U.S. senator, Chuck Hagel. Additionally individual carousels, group study rooms and communal collaboration spaces are available to rent throughout the school year. From its origins as a make-shift study site in the 1920s to the state-of-the-art learning center it has become today, the history of UNO's library is rich and expansive. With the most recent renovations happening less than five years ago the Criss Library will be a long time before any changes are made. However, if the past is any indication, the next step will make things that much bigger and better.



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