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Xavier University of Louisiana began its life in 1925 in buildings vacated by the move of Southern University to Baton Rouge in 1912. By 1931 the
campus was moved to its present location upon the completion of the Indiana limestone English Gothic Administration Building located on what
was then Palmetto Street (now Drexel Drive). The first library to serve this campus was located on the second floor of that building.
In October 1937, a separate library, also of Gothic design, was opened next door. This new library was originally a closed-stack facility, with
students serving as library pages. At the time this library was opened, only the second floor was actually used for library collections and study
space. The ground floor provided faculty offices and space for a large museum. The third floor, an unfinished attic, was used for art classes in the
early days. It served a student population of approximately 500 undergraduate, graduate, and pharmacy students.
After World War II, returning veterans swelled the ranks of the student population, and demands on the Library’s collections and services became
more intense. In the 1970s, Library Director Leslie R. Morris opened the stacks and expanded services to include a media center, an African-
American book room, and a computerized circulation system. By now, the third floor had been finished and housed the Media Center, a television
studio operated by the Communications Department, and the offices of some program staff.
Between the middle 1980s and the early 1990s, the student population at Xavier grew from approximately 1,700 to nearly 3,400 students. This
unprecedented growth strained the space, staffing, and collections of the existing Library. Strides in educational technology placed an additional
pressure to make the Library more technologically advanced in its approach to service.
A New Library
The small size of the original library was being felt as early as the late 1980s. Talks had been underway since the middle 1980s concerning a
proposed expansion of the original 1937 building. Architectural considerations eventually dictated the design and construction of a completely new
building that would incorporate modern lighting, environmental control, and accommodations for newer educational technologies.
Blitch and Associates and Billes-Manning Architects were engaged to produce a plan, and in the summer of 1991 ground was broken for a new
structure. It was completed in time for the 1993-1994 school year, offering seating for nearly 800 simultaneous users. Features of particular
note were a state-of-the-art Instructional Media Center and a modern archival facility, complete with its own temperature and humidity control and
waterless fire extinguishing system.
The earliest attempt to modernize the Library technologically came in 1979, when Director Leslie R. Morris formed a partnership with Loyola
University Library that resulted in the installation of a CLSI integrated library system. The system included an automated circulation system
and the basis for creating an online catalog.
Almost a decade later, after discussions with Loyola, a decision was made to separate from the partnership and purchase a newer, more flexible
library system. In 1988, a contract with signed with Virginia Tech Library Systems (VTLS) to fully automate Xavier's library services. This
project required several years of intense effort by various members of the Library staff and Computer Center. By 1993, circulation was completely
automated, and XAC (Xavier Automated Catalog), an electronic catalog, had completely replaced the conventional card catalog.
During the 1990s, additional improvements made possible the creation of catalog records for serials and government documents. Members of the
University Archives and Special Collections staff began to input descriptive records for unpublished collections of manuscripts, diaries, letters,
photographs, and three-dimensional items.
In 1999 the original VTLS software was superseded by VIRTUA, the latest version. With that came XACWeb, which includes an improved record
format and capability of performing a complex search with Boolean operators.
In the early 1980s, electronic searches of various literature were performed by librarians as intermediaries. Using a “dumb terminal” and dedicated
telephone line, it was possible to access remotely-located databanks using a time-share system based on a price-per-minute access.
We began experimenting with floppy disk and CD-ROM databases in the early 1990s. These were rather crude, single person stations that
required a manual update of the files every so many months. While they were often faster than manual searches of printed indexes, equipment
breakdowns were frequent, which left much to be desired.
Recognizing the increasing influence of the World Wide Web on academic research, an office of Library Systems was created in 1998 with a
mandate to make the Internet available to Library users. It was a lengthy process that took several years, requiring countless man hours to
construct a fiber-optic backbone in the Library and other academic buildings, along with hubs, routers, and servers. It was an effort that consumed
the attention of a restructured Information Technology Center and university administrators, as well as Library staff.
Although a rudimentary web page leading to a small selection of web-based online services was available as early as 1999, it wasn’t until
2001 that the Library achieved a true web presence. Now reachable through a separate URL, the Library’s web page offers a gateway to XACWeb,
access to full-text online databases, and a growing collection of e-books and e-journals.
An instructional media center has been part of the Library since the late 1970s, and it has altered its role as educational technology has
changed and improved. In 1979 the collections were composed mainly of 16 and 35 millimeter films, filmstrips, and both 33 1/3 and 78 RPM disk
recordings. Early forms of video, including U-Matic and Beta format were beginning to be added to the arsenal.
By the early 1990s, many of the earlier forms of video had been replaced by VHS player/monitors, large-screen color television monitors, and
compact disc recordings.
As we entered the twenty-first century, the demands of distance education have meant more changes still. In 2000, the Library revised the role
of the Instructional Media Center to prepare for the advent of newer educational technologies and the demands of distance education.
The collection is currently composed of approximately 135,000 volumes and more than 1,500 active serial titles. The microform collection numbers
over 725,000 units, and there are more than 2,500 Federal documents received as part of the Federal Depository Program. The Instructional Media
Center holds nearly 6,000 recordings on compact disc, tape, or vinyl disk, and nearly 1,600 VHS tapes.
At the center of our publicly accessible collections is University Archives and Special Collections, which specializes in the history of the University,
African-American history and culture, creative writing of the modern South, local history, and United States Catholicism. Here, students may see a
collection of letters written by Richard Wright, original manuscripts by Langston Hughes, Chester Himes, and Robert Hayden, and rare
photographs of Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey.
On the shelves are early books and incunabula, rare and autographed books by William Faulkner, Shirley Ann Grau, John A. Williams,Terry McMillan
and Walter Mosley. Other treasures include one of the few known copies of Les Cenelles, the first anthology of poetry by people of African
descent in the United States, an early reprint of Phyllis Wheatley’s poems, a poem in the hand of Frederick Douglass, and a collection of draft
manuscripts by Louisiana-born fiction writer Andre Dubus.
More recently, Library staff and members of Xavier’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching wrote a successful proposal to Mellon that, combined with
money from Model Institutes of Excellence, enabled us to purchase twenty-six computer workstations and three CD-ROM towers. This
equipment became the nucleus of the Library’s local area network and the foundation on which our current technology was built.