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An Uncommon History of the John Vaughan Library on the 90th Anniversary of Northeastern State University

An Uncommon History of John Vaughan Library on the 90th Anniversary of Northeastern State University
by Jeanette McQuitty, Director, User Services
John Vaughan Library, NSU

Abstract: Northeastern State University of Oklahoma had its beginning in 1846 when the
Cherokee National Council authorized establishment of a National Male Seminary and a
National Female Seminary to fulfill the stipulation in the Treaty of 1835 between the
United States and the Cherokee Nation that public and higher education be provided for
the Cherokees. Both seminaries opened in May 1851, and, except for a period between the
end of the fall semester 1856 and the beginning of the fall semester 1871, were in
continuous operation until 1909. The Oklahoma State Legislature passed an act in March
1909, creating Northeastern State Normal School in Tahlequah and providing for the
purchase of the Cherokee Female Seminary from the Tribal Government. In 1999-2000,
Northeastern State University celebrated its 90th birthday, and this uncommon history of
John Vaughan Library was written to call attention to some of the lighter moments in its
history. This is a whimsical look at the librarians, presidents, and students who have left
their legacy, and particularly at President John Vaughan, for whom the library was
named. The author uses tales, superstitions, letters, college bulletins, and The
Northeastern newspaper to illustrate that the more things change, the more they remain
the same.

          There is a French idiom, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more things
change, the more they remain the same. The history of John Vaughan Library bears out this

          From time to time the ghost of John Vaughan, ninth president of Northeastern State
University (1936-1951), emerges out of hiding to haunt us out of our daily routine. I suspect that
President Vaughan is just curious to know what’s going on in the building that received his name
as a memorial to his vision of a new library in 1949. Satisfied that we’re not dishonoring his
name, he disappears back into his photograph and looks smugly down upon us from his perch in
the hall of presidents in the library’s south wing.

          Through the years, rumors of John Vaughan’s ghost have surfaced, and my best source
was a temporary night building custodian with a wonderful imagination and the ability to tell a
good ghost story. It was in the 1980's that he told me of mysterious happenings such as books 
falling off the shelf on their own (Was President Vaughan censoring our selections?), exit
turnstiles turning on their own, and finally, the shadowy figure of Vaughan bobbing up and down
the south hallway and disappearing into the west wall. Our custodian knew it was John Vaughan
because he claimed that a book that fell off the shelf opened to a photograph of President

          The library hasn’t always been John Vaughan’s, and it hasn’t always been housed where
it is today. The Annual Catalogue of the Northeastern State Normal School for the year 1909/10
described the reading room as “pleasant and commodious . . . [which is] open to all students
every day except Sunday.”(1)

          A photo from the Winter, Spring, Summer 1914 Bulletin of the Northeastern State
Normal School in the library’s archives captures the students in a room apparently in Seminary
Hall, the original Cherokee Female Seminary, reading by the dim light coming from a single
chandelier and four tall windows with shades half drawn.(2)  (Photo)
          Sitting in high-backed chairs and feet resting comfortably on a support beneath the table,
the students don’t seem to mind the paucity of the library collection. The 1909/10 catalogue
proudly proclaimed, “There is now being installed in the institution a carefully selected and well
equipped library. The books are all new and have been chosen with special reference to the
needs of the students in the several departments of the school. The library is conducted on the
most modern and approved lines and is in charge of a competent librarian who undertakes and
instructs students in library science.”(3)  That first librarian was Eliza Rule, 1909/10, according to the catalogue.

          Even as we try to lure student workers today with enticements such as free copies, the
1914 library offered something more enticing: college credits. The November 1914, Bulletin 
announced, “A limited number of students may work one hour each day during the year in the
library, and receive one unit credit, as an elective, toward graduation.”(4)    Perhaps this innovative
idea came from Emmet Starr, noted historian, who was the librarian in 1914/15 and 1915/16.

          Since the library’s accession list was not dated when the first acquisition was recorded,
it’s hard to tell when it was acquired. Not many books in NSU’s 1909 library are still around
today, but surprisingly the first book recorded in that accession list is in the library archives: E.
F. Andrews’ Botany All the Year Round published by the American Book Company of New
York in 1903 and donated to the library. The 30th book recorded in the accession list is also
available in the archives: Froebel’s Mother Play Songs, published by Sigma Publishing
Company in Chicago in 1895 and “dedicated to the young ladies of the Chicago Kindergarden
College.” Since a price was not listed, it is assumed that it also was a gift.

          Maybe in 1909 as now, retiring professors, reluctant to toss the books they’ve collected
over a lifetime, found it easier to let go by donating them to the library. The practice of donating
books to the library has continued to the present, and in lean budget years, the gifts have
surpassed the purchased books in acquisitions.

          However, the 1914 Bulletin recognized the importance of the library “as supplementary
to the matter of instruction,” an idea which we still try to impart to the students, in somewhat less
elevated language. “A good working library,” it stated, “is essential in any school. Next in
importance to knowing a thing is the knowledge of where information concerning it may be
found . . . Approximately 500 volumes will be added each year.”(5)

          “...Twenty of the best magazines are subscribed for and about the same number of
newspapers, daily and weekly,” according to the December 4, 1916- March 2, 1917 Bulletin. In
addition, the library’s materials were speedily processed and dispatched to the stacks and reading 
room: “By the use of the Dewey Decimal System of library classification all new material,
books, bulletins, etc., is made available to the students as fast as it is received.”(6)   Now this is a
feats which even our age of technology can’t surpass.

          In 1949, “a modern building . . . designed to accommodate a collection of 150,000
volumes was occupied. On the first floor was the Cherokee Museum, the Art Display Room,
seminar and faculty reading rooms and a model children’s library. The second floor provided
space for the library offices, the Cherokee Book Room, and the main reading room.(7)  (Photo)
Books were shelved in closed stacks and had to be retrieved for the library’s users. A 1962 TSA
LA GI yearbook photo shows students in the Main Reading Room. (photo) The librarian who
presided over the building of this modern edifice was Sue B. Thornton, who was listed as "Head
of Department of Music" in the 1928-29 Northeastern State Teachers College Bulletin and
professor of music in subsequent bulletins.(8)   She served as Head Librarian from 1933-1964,
surpassing all others in longevity.

          Still standing today, the 1949 vintage Cherokee Book Room, better known as the
library’s Special Collections, is in the same location on the second floor. Adjacent to it is the
Curriculum Materials collection, and below on the first floor are the student lounge, technology
support services and the “television studio” as well as the Ballenger Reading Room’s genealogy

          The library handbook of 1957 provided the library hours which are similar to the current
hours. However, the library was much more genteel than it is today. It closed during the dinner
hours from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday.(9)   Just as we do today, the library
closed at 5:00 p.m. on Friday and opened for a limited number of hours on Saturday. It was
closed on Sunday. 

          By the 70's, college students, having been through at least a decade of activism, were
quite vocal about their expectations regarding library hours. The Student Senate passed a
resolution “requesting an extension of library hours on the weekend,” according to a letter
written by Dr. Maxwell White, Acting Head Librarian from 1970-75. His December 1970 letter,
addressed to Harry E. Hewlett, Student Senate President, in a conciliatory gesture, submitted
three proposals through Student Senate Representative Brenda King, and pledged to “accept
whichever one the Senate selects . . . on a trial basis.”(10)

          The plan apparently did not work, or more likely, the energy crisis and institutional debts
intervened. A letter from Dr. White to the college faculty dated January 23, 1974, explained that
“as a result of both the need to conserve energy and the need to reduce costs, the library . . .
hours are being reduced by 13 hours per week . . . Periods when the library has only a handful of
students and faculty using its facilities is a luxury the college can no longer afford.”(11)

          By April 1974, President Robert E. Collier(12) bowed under pressure of Senate Resolution
304, riddled with misspelled words and typographical errors. The eighth Whereas stated,
ironically, that “the only possible ramification of the reduction of library service is to lower the
already much maligned academic standards of the institution.” Could those standards have
included the ability to write well? The resolution stated that the John Vaughan Library was
“depriving Northeastern State College students the opportunity to study on weekends . . . closing
at nine p.m. on week nights, thus depriving evening students the opportunity to use the library to
check out materials after their classes adjourn.” Moreover, “the student body of Northeastern
State College was not consulted no even warded [sic] (nor even warned) that the library hours
were being reduced.”(13)

          The library hours remain an issue which comes up almost every year, in the Student 
Senate or in focus group meetings with library staff or with President Larry Williams. And we
still try to discuss “the limitations which affect the feasibility of library schedules,” as Dr. White
expressed it.

          The faculty library committee was a force to be reckoned with in the fifties, and rightly
so, when they discovered that many faculty requests for duplicate copies of books had an ulterior
motive. A memo from the library committee accompanying the 1951-52 book budget asked
faculty to keep their requests for duplicates to a minimum as “the practice of expecting the
library to purchase enough copies of some books so that instructors may use them as textbooks in
a particular class tends to leave the library with excessive duplicate copies as soon as a different
book is selected for use in that class.”(14)

          Libraries generally pride themselves on freedom of information and promoting the
students’ right to read whatever materials they need. A library director in 1964/65, Paul Parham,
apparently felt differently about Masterplots and other synopses. In a 1964 memo to the library
staff Parham wrote, “The Communications and Fine Arts Divisions have agreed that Masterplots
and other similar synopses should be completely noncirculating. They may be used by students
only with a note (signed by rubber stamp only) from the faculty member. These books have
been placed in the Cherokee Room and should be used there. The privileges in use of these
books have doubtlessly been vastly abused. Naturally, we would not want to be a part of any
instruction program which would deprive the student of the best reading opportunities.”(15)

          Just as students in former years used Masterplots or Cliff’s Notes in lieu of reading the
literature, and some librarians felt that it corrupted the students’ education, we present-day
librarians sometimes feel that we’re catering to a generation of users who perceive the World
Wide Web as the sole repository of useful information. Perhaps we won’t go as far as Parham 
by requiring a “note signed by rubber stamp only,” but we do point out the pitfalls of relying on
the Web rather than using some of the library’s other vast resources.

          The new three story structure completed in 1968 and attached to the 1949 building has
obviously always been plagued with water and environmental problems and was a haven to bats
and other flying intruders. On October 19, 1967, during renovation of the old building and
construction of the new building, the card catalog, due to a natural or unnatural catastrophe, had
been “soaked in water.” Gilbert Fites, Head Librarian from 1965 to 1970, sent an appeal to the
Mid-Continent Casualty Company, to replace the card catalog, rather than repairing it. The
insurance company investigator, Mr. Graves, “was not too certain what the card catalog was for,”
according to Fites’ letter, “and his immediate suggestion was that we have our present one
refinished and plane down the drawers so that they would fit, again.” In his own words, Fites
“was not enthusiastic.”(16)

          In January 1969, shortly after the new building was occupied, Fites reported a new leak,
and in a January 16 letter to President Harrell Garrison reported an air filter problem:
President Garrison:
We have watched the air filters in the library for two weeks. One has not moved. The
other had reached the end of its roll and did not readjust itself.(17)
On February 5, the air filters were still a problem:
To: President Garrison
From: Gilbert Fites
Re: Air Filters
We are continuing to watch the air filters in the library. Neither air filter has moved since
January 16.(18)

          Ironically, the staff in Special Collections continues to check the ceiling air vents to
determine if the air is moving. If a piece of tape attached to the vent flutters, staff can tell if the
air handling unit is working.

          One of the most explosive issues in John Vaughan Library’s history was the security
procedure initiated in 1981. According to a March 18, 1981, editorial in The Northeastern
student newspaper, the library had a loss of 8.2 percent of its collection between July 1977 and
June 1978. To prevent further loss of library materials, the north entrance/exit was closed, and
students were asked to present purses and briefcases for inspection before exiting the building.(19)

One irate student wrote a letter to The Northeastern, protesting the practice and ending with this
dire warning: “ . . . if this system doesn’t work and you suspect students are hiding books under
their coats and sweaters, will you then ask us to remove our coats and sweaters before we leave?
Perhaps a brief frisk or a disrobing should be expected if you suspect that bulge under our
blouses is War and Peace and not an unborn baby.”(20)

          More probably that bulge was a film take-up reel. As recently as 1982, the library’s
16mm motion picture collection was heavily used, but it wasn’t the films which posed an “items
missing” problem. In an April 23, 1982 memo to university faculty, John Ault of the AV
Services department wrote a memo on the subject of take-up reels:

          “In excess of 75 16mm motion picture take-up reels of various sizes are missing. These
have been sent from this office to the classroom buildings with films which have been requested
for use by faculty members. While the motion pictures have been returned, in many cases the
empty reels have not. This occurance (sic) has now compounded to a serious problem level.”(21)  
This year those 16mm films are being phased out, reels and all.

          Needless to say, the stringent security system was also quickly phased out, and the library 
exits were entrusted to the electronic Checkpoint System. Some students have always been able
to figure out a way to cheat the system, but it usually catches them in the act.

          If President John Vaughan’s ghost could talk, it would no doubt have many more
interesting anecdotes to share during this 90th anniversary year. One last note: every year we
receive numerous telephone calls and letters addressed to John Vaughan. Maybe the callers feel
his presence here, too. He hasn’t been sighted lately, so perhaps he’s satisfied with the way
we’re running his library.

The author wishes to thank Victoria Sheffler and the staff of the University Archives for
their assistance.

1. Annual Catalogue of the Northeastern State Normal School, Tahlequah, 1909-1910,
p. 11.
2. Bulletin of the Northeastern State Normal School, Winter, Spring, Summer 1914, p. 5.
3. Annual Catalogue, 1909-1910, p. 11.
4. Bulletin of the Northeastern State Normal School, November 1914, p.13.
5. Bulletin, November 1914, p. 13.
6. Bulletin of the Northeastern State Normal School, Tahlequah, Oklahoma. Annual
Course of Study and Winter Term Announcement, December 4, 1916-March 2, 1917, p. 6.
7. Library Handbook, a guide to the use and enjoyment of the John Vaughan Library.
Northeastern State College, 1957, p. 3.
8. Bulletin, Northeastern State Teachers College, 1928-29, p. 6.
9. Library Handbook, 1957, p. 6.
 10. White, Maxwell O. Letter addressed to Harry E. Hewlett, Student Senate President, 1
Dec. 1970.
 11. White, Maxwell O. “New Library Hours Schedule.” Letter to College Faculty. 23 Jan.
 12. Collier, R. E. “Student Senate Resolution #304.” Memo to Earl Sears, President
Student Senate. 19 Apr. 1974.
 13. Corn, Bill. “A Resolution to Increase Library Hours.” Resolution #304, n. d.
 14. Memo from the library committee accompanying the 1951-52 book budget.
 15. Parham, Paul. Memo to Library Staff, 30 Sept. 1964.
 16. Fites, Gilbert. Letter to Mr. Charles C. Campbell. [Repairing a card catalog]. 19 Oct.
 17. Fites, Gilbert. Letter to President Garrison. [Air filters in the library]. 16 Jan. 1969.
 18. Fites, Gilbert. Memo to President Garrison. [Continuing to watch the air filters]. 5
Feb. 1969.
 19. “Library Security to Be Tightened.” Editorial. The Northeastern 18 March 1981, p. 2.
 20. Kochan, Coleen. “Student Irate.” Letters to the Editor. The Northeastern 25 March
1981, p. 2.
 21. Ault, John. “Take-up Reels.” Memo to University Faculty. 23 Apr. 1982.