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History of the McKinney Engineering Library

A Brief History of the Engineering Library

History of the McKinney Engineering Library

The Early Years: 1880's - 1920

T.U. Taylor and Alec: the father and
patron saint of UT Engineering

In the beginning of the University, there was neither a separate school of Engineering nor a separate Engineering library. The first library at the University of Texas opened during the Christmas break of 1883 and was housed in the Old Main Building, the only building on campus at the time. T.U. Taylor, who later became the first dean of Engineering, was the first - and for years the only - teacher of engineering classes. Legend has it that he almost destroyed the university library after leaving a faucet running in the blueprint sink of his drawing lab: "The next morning water stood four inches deep on the second floor. Holes had to be punched in the ceiling of the first floor to drain the library, where many books had swelled to several times their size...The story of [Taylor's] first class in hydraulics became a great source of merriment in the early folklore of the University."(1)


The Texas legislature had been reluctant to establish an Engineering Department at the University of Texas, because they felt it would duplicate the Engineering program at Texas A&M. Nevertheless, with the prodding of Taylor and other supporters, the University of Texas' department of Engineering was established in January of 1895.(2) The Engineering Department got its own building in 1904; this building still stands on campus and is today known as the Dorothy Gebauer building. A small library was housed within the new engineering building.

A 1912 postcard of Gebauer,
the first Engineering building on campus.(4)

The Department of Engineering became a College in 1920, and Taylor was made dean. Even with continuous growth, the library remained relatively small. It consisted of a few bookcases and an area for the librarian to work. By 1920, there were only 1,000 books in the collection. Books were recommended by Engineering faculty and were bought by the main University librarian using College of Engineering funds. The main University of Texas librarian would then send the books to the Engineering library with public catalogue card sets. Engineering librarians worked half-time as secretaries to the dean. The duties of the half-time librarian included checking books, filing cards, and adding subject headings to catalogue sets sent from the main library. An adjacent room, once used to house equipment, was later furnished with a table and chairs and used as the library's reading room. (3)

Full Branch Expansion and Taylor Hall: 1930's - 1960's

By 1932, the library had grown to house 4,000 volumes.(5) In 1934, the College of Engineering moved to a new building, the Engineering Building, that was later named Taylor Hall, after T.U. Taylor. The library moved to the new building and eventually expanded. In 1935, a full-time librarian was hired. All Engineering books and periodicals were sent from the main library to the Engineering library.

In the 1930's, the College of Engineering 
moved to Taylor Hall and hired
an Engineering Librarian

The library entered into an agreement with the honorary Engineering fraternity, Tau Beta Pi , in which the library matched annually donated funds from the fraternity for purchase of books to be placed on a new open shelf in the library. The College of Engineering implemented a requirement that all graduating seniors donate a copy of their theses to the library, and the librarian began to collect older theses. In 1937, the library established a small collection which circulated within the different departments of Engineering. The titles for the collection were chosen from recent best-seller lists, and were not restricted to engineering topics.(6)



The Engineering library in Taylor hall,
before air conditioning was installed.(9)


The library continued to expand throughout the 1940's. More rooms in Taylor Hall were given to the library: an upstairs room housed older material, with a steel staircase connecting the ground level of the library that contained newer material. In 1940, the Department of Chemical Engineering moved to the College of Engineering from Chemistry. The Chemical Engineering department had its own building, located next door to Taylor, but faculty and students wanted a more accessible library collection than the one in Taylor. A special Chemical Engineering lab collection was then established in the Chemical Engineering building. The lab collection had no circulating material and was under the supervision of the chemistry librarian.(7)

In 1943, the Engineering librarian endeavored to start a collection of trade catalogs for design students, and requested catalogs from over 600 companies. In the 1950's, the library grew into more rooms in Taylor Hall, got new fluorescent lights, and underwent a major shifting project for better functionality. In the 1960's, the library acquired a new upper room: a new book lift was installed, new stairs were constructed, and the upper floors were made into a periodical library. In 1961, Taylor Hall was fully air-conditioned; this was especially important for the library, because it meant the noisy ceiling, floor, and wall fans could be eliminated. The library now had 37,800 volumes and 1,219 periodical subscriptions.(8)

ECJ Hall and Continued Growth: 1970's - 2000's

In 1974, the library moved into a new Engineering building, named Ernest Cockrell, Jr. Hall, known as ECJ. Ernest Cockrell Jr. was a university engineering graduate and a significant, long-term benefactor. ECJ Hall housed the Civil Engineering Department and the administrative offices of the College of Engineering, in addition to the library.(10) In the same year ECJ was erected, the Friends of Alec organization was established. Alec, a bar statue that became the patron saint of the UT Engineering program, was housed, beginning in the eighties and until the ECJ library location closed, within the Engineering library in a meeting room that bore his name.

The ECJ, the new Engineering 
building in the seventies

In 1980, the Engineering library was named for Richard W. McKinney, a drilling and construction company founder from Nacogdoches.(11) At the dedication ceremony, Engineering professor Dr. John Focht sang the song "Hi Ho Balls" while accompanied by a band of student trombonists. "Hi Ho Balls" is a song penned in 1902 by Engineering students (to the tune of "Frau Diavilo") in celebration of Alec, their newfound patron saint. The song became a hit around the College of Engineering, after sixty students repeatedly bellowed it in a march to a football game: they walked "two abreast...notifying the world of the skill of one Alexander Frederic Claire and asserting that he was known at every country fair". The song was sung at every Engineering banquet, football game, and class meeting from 1903 - 1907.(12) Reportedly, at the official library ceremony in 1980, Dr. Focht sang a family-friendly version of the song.

In 1980 the library also acquired a teleprinter, allowing the librarians to do searches on multiple databases without having to use Special Services at the Perry–Castañeda Library (the main library), as had to be done previously. With the addition of the teleprinter, Engineering librarians completed over a quarter of all searches in the General Libraries.(13) Technological progress continued in 1983 with the shift to the Integrated Circulation System (ICS). ICS grouped all of the books in each University of Texas library into one electronically-available catalog. This made searching much easier: before ICS, searching the full university library collection would entail either going to the main library to search their union catalog, or going to each branch to search their individual collections.


1983 was a watershed year for the library, for, in addition to the introduction of ICS, the library was designated as the 40th Patent Depository Library (PDL). As a PDL, the library received all patents on microfilm, obtained access to a computerized US Patent database, and began collecting an extensive back file of earlier patents. In addition to patent information, the library also subscribed to all federal and military standards specifications. The Engineering Library Committee, headed by Neal Armstrong, lobbied for additional space for the library, and succeeded in getting what had been a hallway added for additional study space.

The Balcones Library Service Center (now the J.J. Pickle Research Campus), a satellite of the Engineering Library, opened in 1986 in order to serve researchers at the off-campus Balcones Research Center.  The Balcones Library closed in 2003, with the service center's space in the Commons building leaving library control. 

By 1988, the Engineering library was ranked as the ninth largest academic engineering collection in the United States, boosted in part by its large collection of conference proceedings from major engineering societies.

Damaged books from
the 1998 flood

Movement toward electronic services accelerated in the late eighties. In 1989, the library gained access to CASSIS, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database. The index for CASSIS was on CD-ROMs and was received quarterly. The CASSIS database occupied its own computer, and users had to load multiple CD indexes in order to search the system. The Engineering Library also removed the card catalog, becoming the first completely electronic library on campus. During this same year, however, 250 microfilm reels of patent information were stolen from the library, as part of a rash of patent microfilm thievery that had hit many other academic libraries. The crime remains unsolved to this day.

By 1990 the library was well-known, statewide, as an invaluable source for engineering and patent information. Texas public libraries, the Small Business Administration, the Texas Trademark Clerk's Office, the Texas Department of Commerce, and even the US Patent Office would send their patrons and reference questions to the University of Texas at Austin Engineering library.

In the 1990's the library shifted more resources and instruction to computer- and web-based materials. The library's first electronic tutorial on patents, called an "expert system", was created in 1990. Head librarian Susan Ardis published several instructional articles about expert systems.(14, 15) In 1994, the library began to receive patents on CDs instead of microfilm, and later started to receive all patents on DVD. Nancy Green created the library's first web page in 1995. One of her other earlier creations, the U.S. Trademark History Timeline, had a long presence on the Engineering web site. In 1998, when the USPTO put their patents online, the library made online patent tutorials, and Susan Ardis published another article about web based tutorial creation based on this experience.(16)

Poster from the book drop opening ceremony


In an episode reminiscent of the early years of the University library, the Engineering Library experienced a major flood in August of 1998. Workmen had been fixing a persistent leak in the roof of the building, only to leave the area unsealed on an unexpectedly rainy holiday weekend. The librarians rushed in when they heard that water was leaking out from under the doors, and worked into the night, along with library school students, trying to save the books. Many books were damaged, some eventually having to be freeze-dried, and the library was forced to close for several days. The damages and losses ultimately amounted to over $35,000.

The library bounced back after the flood and proceeded to grow and offer new services. In 2003, the first non-PCL outdoor book drop was established outside the Engineering library on Dean Keaton street. The official opening of the book drop was on April 1st and as such coincided with Alec's 101st birthday. An Alec impersonator attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony before leading students to his annual cake-filled birthday celebration in the ECJ lobby.


Cookie supply for coffee and cookie
service offered at finals. (David Starr is in back.)

In 2003, new comfortable chairs were added to the lobby of the library, along with new shelves used to house collections of new books and an "Engineering Light" section. The Engineering Light bookshelves contained general interest Engineering books such as, "The World's Worst Warships", "Loving the Machine: The Art and Science of Japanese Robots", and "Jim Marshall: The father of loud" (a biography of the man behind the famously loud Marshall amps).

In 2004, the library began lending digital cameras , a service that proved to be quite popular. The next year, a signboard highlighting Engineering Library attractions was placed in the outdoor plaza between ECJ and RLM (a neighboring building). One of the attractions publicized was the coffee and cookies offered every night of finals; this service became an Engineering Library tradition and was offered at the end of every semester for several years. In 2006, new carpeting was installed in the lobby and study areas, new flooring placed in the mezzanine, and strips of conveniently located power outlets were added so students could use laptops to study in the library (the library gained WIFI access in 2001). In 2007 a laptop connection, screen, and ceiling-mounted projector were installed in the Electronic Instruction Center to aid library instruction.

The McKinney Engineering library continued to be one of the top academic Engineering libraries in the country, serving the fields of architectural, biomedical, civil, electrical and computer, environmental, geotechnical, mechanical, petroleum, and aerospace engineering. As of 2006, the library held over over 165,000 volumes.

Temporary relocation of the Library to PCL

The McKinney Engineering Library in ECJ closed on October 25, 2013. The engineering librarians and a portion of the materials moved to the 6th floor of the Perry-Castañeda Library (PCL). Other members of the staff were reassigned across the Libraries. The Reserves collection was moved to the Physics-Math-Astronomy Library (in a next-door building), with the hope that this location would be convenient for student use. The distributed collections and staff members were to remain at the temporary locations until the completion of the Engineering Education and Research Center (EER), which was originally scheduled for 2017. 

Before the close of the library in the ECJ location, the size of on-site collection had been reduced by withdrawing duplicates (duplication was considered across University Libraries holdings) and by sending older materials to storage.  The materials in storage were not expected to be returned to campus. Eventually, before the move to EER, the collection was additionally reduced in size.  Most bound journal volumes were sent to storage.

Reopening of the Library in the EER

The McKinney Engineering Library re-opened in room 1.706 in the new Engineering Education and Research Center (EER) on January 17, 2018. It was going to be January 16, 2018, on the first day of classes for the spring semester, but it was an ice day and the university was closed.  The first day of classes and the library opening were delayed a day. 

In addition to the collection, the new Library had a small staff, a printer, an overhead scanner, a computer workstation area, and areas for study. Two seminar rooms on the level of the building below the Library were initially assigned to the Library but were removed from library scheduling authority in 2019. The Library continued to serve as a designated Patent and Trademark Resource Center (PTRC). An important service was as a pick-up and drop-off location for print materials requested from storage, other campus library locations, and from interlibrary loan. The flag carried to the moon by astronaut and Engineering alum Alan Bean traveled along to the new location.  Likewise, the Alec replica statue and other Alec memorabilia brought the past to the newest incarnation of the UT Engineering Library.

Engineering Librarians

Engineering Librarians

Viola Belle Baker 1913 - 1918
Lorena May Baker 1918 - 1919
Mattie Elizabeth Barnes 1919 - 1920
Wanda Leone Doty 1920 - 1924
Frances Ferris Agnew 1924 - 1926; 1928 - 1929
Ann Mansell 1926 - 1927
Wanda Leone Doty Potter 1927 - 1928
Mary Christine Williams 1930 - 1932
Jessie May Shofner 1932 - 1934
Leah Moncure 1934 - 1935
Fred Goerner 1935 - 1935
Marian Seiders 1935 - 1940
Ethel Swafford 1940 - 1943
Beth Louden 1943 - 1944
Katherine McDiarmid 1944 - 1947
Ruth Matlock 1947 - 1948
Marguerite Fritz 1948 - 1949
Camille Lynch 1949 - 1955
Thelma Lynn Guion 1956 - 1959
Vernon E. Porterfield 1959 - 1959
Frank Schmaus 1959 - 1976(?)
Jane L. Howell 1976 - 1978
Nancy Ligrani Elder 1978 - 1983
Susan Ardis 1979 - 2015
Charlotte Eismer McCann 1983 - 1986
Larayne Dallas 1987 - present
Jennifer Haas 1998 - 2005
Robyn Rosenberg 2006 - 2017
  half-time Librarian and Secretary to the Dean

Balcones Librarians

Chris Johnston 1986 - 1987
Molly White 1987- 1988
Cindy Kehoe 1989 - 1991
Stephanie Smith 1992
Elizabeth Dupuis 1992-1994
Jennifer Haas 1994-1998


1Richard McCaslin and Dean Earnest F.Gloyna, Commitment to Excellence (Austin: Engineering Foundation of the College of Engineering , The University of Texas at Austin, 1986); p14 
2McCaslin and Gloyna, Commitment to Excellence, pp17-18 
3Willis R.Woolrich, Men of Ingenuity from Beneath the Orange Tower 1884-1964 (Austin: Engineering Foundation of the College of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin, 1964); p210
4Gebauer Building, ca.1912, CN Number 10585, Center for American History, UT-Austin, Prints and Photographs Collection.
5Louis C. Moloney, A History of the University Library at the University of Texas, 1883-1934(New York City: Thesis, Columbia University, 1970);p307
6Woolrich, Men of Ingenuity, pp210-211 
7Woolrich, Men of Ingenuity, p212
8Woolrich, Men of Ingenuity, p213-214
9Center for American History, UT Austin, Prints and Photographs Collections
10Margaret C. Berry, Brick by Golden Brick: A History of Campus Buildings at The University of Texas at Austin, 1883-1993(Austin: LBCo. Publishing, 1993); p135
11Berry, Brick by Golden Brick, p136
12T.U. Taylor, Fifty Years on Forty Acres,(Austin: Alec Book Company, 1938); p201-202
13Eng Lib Annual Report 1980-1981, p3 
14Susan Ardis, “The Application of Expert System Technology to Technical Reference", in Intelligent Systems: A Framework for the Future. Washington DC: SLA, 1991, pp103-105.
15Susan Ardis, "Online Patent Searching: Guided by an Expert System."  Online. March 1990, pp56-62 
16Susan Ardis, “Creating Web based tutorials.” Information Outlook. No.2, issue. 10 (Oct. 1998) : 17-20.  1998

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