Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., and Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., look over an architectural model map and plan for expansion of campus, 1960.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

The Library: Planning

The First Libraries

The University of Notre Dame was founded in 1842, but it would be another thirty-one years before it officially had its own library. The University library was conceived by Rev. Augustus Lemonnier, C.S.C., the fourth president of the University, in 1872, and a circulating library was opened in the Main Building in 1873. In the next 6 years, the library collection grew to 10,000 volumes.

In 1879 a great fire destroyed the original Main Building and the library. Students were able to salvage about 500 books. There was a huge outpouring of support from friends and alumni of Notre Dame, and the collection quickly grew from donations. Within a year, it was up to 3,200 volumes. Within three years (1882), it surpassed 16,000, and was then moved to the newly finished Main Building. In 1886, it was up to 26,000, then 40,000 in 1890, and 55,000 by 1900.

In 1917, the University built the Lemonnier Library, which is now Bond Hall. It was built to house 618,000 books, which at the time seemed large enough, given the current collection was just under 100,000. However, in the next 40 years, the collection began to outgrow the building. Long before Father Hesburgh took the helm at Notre Dame in 1952, there was a clear need for a new library.


In 1958, Father Hesburgh revealed to the public that a new library would be slated for campus development. In 1959, plans began to take shape, and details of the new library were formally announced. The plan included open stacks, the capacity for two million books, and seating for about three thousand, or half the student body at the time. There was much excitement on campus, which was no surprise considering the state of the current Lemonnier Library, as described in an editorial in the Notre Dame Scholastic.

It takes but a few minutes in the present library to see the sorry state of the 'heart' of our University. The books are shelved far away in that nebulous place known as the stacks. Most students ordering books from the card catalogue have often wondered if that index was a list of books the University had or wanted to buy.

Planning and Construction

The planning committee chose a spot on the east side of campus, north of the football stadium. The site was a large stretch of land, which then contained the Navy drill hall, Cartier Field, and Vetville housing for young World War II veteran students and their families. Father Hesburgh and Father Joyce, the executive vice president, agreed that the library should be one of the three main focal points on campus, to emphasize the importance placed on scholarship. The Church of the Sacred Heart (the present day Basilica) would remain the highest point at Notre Dame, and the new library roof would be roughly level with the statue of Our Lady on the dome of the Main Building.

The University chose Ellerbe and Co., of St. Paul, Minnesota, as the architectural firm, which had designed several other buildings on campus: O'Shaughnessy Hall of Liberal and Fine Arts, the Art Gallery and the Sculpture Studio, and Keenan and Stanford Halls. Ellerbe and Co. drew up plans for a 14-story library with a two-acre footprint, which would not only be the largest structure on campus, but among the largest university libraries in the world.

Memorial Library (Hesburgh Library) Construction "Topping Out" Ceremony, April 3, 1962. Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh signs an I-beam while Pat Corrie, construction superintendent (left), and an unidentified man look on.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

As fundraising efforts continued, the land was cleared and ground prepared in the summer of 1961. In August, the University held a formal ceremony during which Father Hesburgh blessed the site of the new library. The following April was the "topping out" ceremony, at which the last and highest beam was raised and set atop the steel framework of the library. Father Hesburgh signed the steel girder with the Latin inscription, "Nos cum prole pia, benedicat Virgo Maria." The Medieval Franciscan prayer translates to "May the virgin Mary bless us with her loving child." Father Hesburgh later said of the building that "it was a great act of faith," as it was by far their largest undertaking to date, and construction had begun prior to reaching their fundraising goal.

In August, a month before the opening, in a well orchestrated system supervised by several librarians, around a half million books were packaged by student volunteers into Carling Black Label Beer cases, set onto a temporary conveyor belt system out of Lemonnier Library, loaded into moving vans, and driven over to the new building. They were then shelved in a similarly organized, yet much more complicated process, given the larger size of the building and different floor plan. The new Memorial Library was nearly complete.

Men move books from Lemonnier Library to the new Memorial Library in Black Label Beer boxes, August 1963.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy

Excerpt from Fr. Hesburgh's Oral History Interviews
Fr. Hesburgh talks about I.A. O'Shaughnessy's generosity


I have a million stories about O'Shaughnessy. I could write a book on him. He was one of a kind, you know. Once gone, you'll never replace him. He didn't care about money.

Another time, as I started to say, when he was at the Morris Inn, he said, "What are you up to now?" I said, "I'm trying to get a library built." I remember we left the Morris Inn and I was driving down Notre Dame Avenue towards the Dome. He said, "Where are you going to put it?" I said, "Over there," and I pointed to where the library is. He said, "What's it going to cost?" I said, "About twelve and a half million, I hope." He said, "How much money do you have towards it?" I said, "I don't have anything right now, but we've got to have it. We're going to build it. And I'm hopeful to get three or four million ... We hope to get three or four million from the Ford Foundation and eight million from this next drive and that ought to take care of it. But at the moment I'm bare-back." He said, "Well, you ought to have something you can start with. I'll give you a million dollars. Whenever it's the most propitious time to announce it so you can get other people to come along, let me know and I'll send you the money." I said, "I.A., haven't you done enough? You've done so many things for us here, and I don't want you to think you're in a shell game." He said, "Oh, I know I'm in a shell game with you guys, but it doesn't bother me. I'll use my own shells." He was that kind of a fellow. He told me once, and this perhaps summarizes him better than anybody else, he said, "You know, it's only money. If an angel appeared to me tonight and said 'Your twenty-fifth granddaughter is (the littlest one) sick, and she won't get better unless you give up your house in Florida, your house in St. Paul, your airplane, your yacht, she won't get better.'" He said, "I wouldn't hesitate five seconds. I'd give them all up. I was the youngest of thirteen children, and I started with nothing. I was pretty lucky and worked hard." And he said, "It's only money, and it's only good if you give it away for good purposes."

A Great Act of Faith

Excerpt from Fr. Hesburgh's Oral History Interviews
Fr. Hesburgh talks about paying for the new library


That library we began, you know, with no money at all. We built a twelve-and-a-half-million-dollar building, and the day we dedicated it, it was paid for. Part of alumni money from the campaign and part the Ford money.

Were people in the Order nervous about that?

About what?

About the twelve-and-a-half-million-dollar project beginning without money in the bank.

Yeah, everybody was nervous. I was nervous, but I had a feeling at that point that we were going to do it. And I had a feeling I could be sure of the four million dollars, and I had a feeling Ned Joyce would get us through some way or other and Jim Frick also. It was a great act of faith. But if you ask me, it's the most central building we've ever built at Notre Dame outside of the church. And I had nothing to do with that-that was 1870. I think Notre Dame is a different kind of school today because of that library. I told the Ford Foundation that we kept figures. There were-don't hold me to these figures because I've already admitted to some inaccuracy. But they're ball-park figures. I think there was something like 25 thousand students a month that went to the old library, which is now the architecture building. The first month the new library was opened up, there was 330 thousand students passed in and out of the portals during that month and it kept growing. They tell me even today sometimes it's hard to get a seat there at night, and there are three thousand places to sit down for undergrads.




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