The first mention of a library at what is now Grinnell College is found in the first catalogue of Iowa College at Davenport, for 1849-1850. It states that "a small library of some 150 volumes" had been secured for the members of the institution. The Rev. Erastus Ripley, professor of ancient languages, and the first member of the teaching force, was also librarian until 1851. This practice, of having a member of the faculty assume the office of librarian, was followed until 1889, when the Rev. Joshua Chamberlain, who was also a trustee, became the first full-time librarian, following the occupancy of Goodnow Hall in 1885.

A new library was established in Carnegie Hall in 1905. The college catalogue for 1903-1904 contains the following information about the new building:

"Goodnow Hall, which has been used as the library building for the past 19 years ... has served its purpose admirably in the past, but has now been outgrown. Through the beneficence of Mr. Andrew Carnegie, who has contributed $50,000 for the purpose, a substantial, modern library building will be erected, during the summer of 1904. The new building will provide large periodical and general reference reading rooms, a stack room to accommodate 100,000 volumes, rooms for cataloguers and librarian, for art and other special collections; for seminar, conversation and conference purposes, adequate cloak and store rooms; and also, four large rooms to be used temporarily for recitations."

[Text adapted from: Margaret G. Fullerton, "The Library," in John Scholte Nollen, Grinnell College (Iowa City: The State Historical Society of Iowa, 1953), p. 184-189.]

Burling Library, designed by Walter A. Netsch, Jr., of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, was built in 1959. Named for Mrs. Lucy Burnham Burling of Eldora, Iowa, the new building replaced Carnegie Hall as the college's main library. The renovation and expansion of Burling Library to 60,739 square feet took place in 1982-1983 under the direction of Ben Weese, of Weese Segers Hickey Weese, Ltd. of Chicago, whose design doubled the study and shelf space available in the original building. Dennis Langley was the project manager for Weese Seegers Hickey Weese, and Donald O. Rod served as the librarian-consultant. Burling Library was nationally recognized for its creative and comfortable study areas.

The Kistle Science Library was constructed in 2007 encompassing 10,553 square feet. It serves the entire campus and contains books, journals, and other materials pertaining to the departments of Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Mathematics and Statistics, Physics, Psychology, and their associated majors and concentrations. The Library is located on the second floor, north side of the Noyce Science Center (1116 8th Avenue) and is named after Helen Pierce Kistle, who graduated from the College in 1938. Helen Pierce Kistle expressed a life-long passion for education and, in particular, literacy. She was active in her local library, serving as a board member and volunteer.

Recent Awards

Excellence in Academic Libraries Award

In 2011, the Grinnell College Libraries received the Excellence in Academic Libraries Award from the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. “Receiving an Excellence in Academic Libraries Award is a national tribute to a library and its staff for the outstanding services, programs and leadership they provide to their students, administrators, faculty and community,” said ACRL Executive Director Mary Ellen K. Davis. We were cited in particular for the strength of our mentoring and information literacy programs. “The Burling Library customized the ACRL information literacy standards to create a focused, coherent and successful information literacy instruction program,” said Erika Linke, chair of the 2011 Excellence in Academic Libraries Selection Committee and associate dean of university libraries at Carnegie Mellon University. Linke noted, “The selection committee was impressed with the student mentors program – one example of many connecting the library with students and faculty. The activities of the library demonstrate a continuous effort to improve, adapt, reshape and respond to new expectations.”

This award was testimony to the hard work, creativity, and dedication of all the library staff over many years, and to the ongoing support of the campus community. We work hard to be sure that we, our programs, and our services remain deeply integrated with campus learning, teaching, and research. As libraries continue to evolve, our commitment to the College’s liberal-arts mission and program helps to ensure our effectiveness. The Libraries' winning application essay describes many of the excellent programs and services that happen in the Libraries, including:

  • Library Labs that provide individualized assistance to students working on research projects.
  • The Libraries' Doing Research site, which helps guide students through the research process.
  • Experiential learning opportunities such as student-curated exhibits.

Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success

In 2013, the Grinnell College Libraries were selected to participate in the new program "Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success," to examine the impact of the library on student success and help academic libraries contribute to assessment activities on their campuses. The program is sponsored by the Association of College and Research Libraries/American Library Association and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Grinnell is one of 75 institutional teams selected from a pool of 98 applicants.

As part of its application process, each participating institution identified a team consisting of a librarian and at least two additional team members. The librarian team leaders will participate in a 14-month professional development program that includes team-based activities carried out on their campuses. Librarians who participate in the AiA program, supported by a blended learning environment and a peer-to-peer network, will lead their campus teams in the development and implementation of an action learning project.

Grinnell's team includes Phil Jones, Humanities Librarian/Coordinator of Research Services; Carlie VanWilligen, Associate Director of Analytic Support and Institutional Research; and Henry Rietz, Associate Professor of Religious Studies. The Grinnell team will work with a selected group of Grinnell's academic departments to explore the impact of information literacy instruction within student majors on students' academic success. It will investigate how measures we might create (information literacy quizzes and surveys) and ones that already exist (such as ILL and circulation statistics, or a dataset of student writing samples) correlate with available student data such as GPA and retention rates. This two-pronged approach will allow us to learn about the effectiveness of library instruction and services and to connect library metrics with topics of campus-wide interest such as improving student learning and persistence.

ACRL is a division of the American Library Association, representing more than 12,000 academic and research librarians and interested individuals.

ILEAD USA: Library Technology and Leadership Skills Institute

In 2013, a team made up of Drake Community Library and Grinnell College Library staff was selected to take part in ILEAD USA (Innovative Librarians Explore, Apply and Discover). This prestigious year-long program is designed to help library staff understand and respond to user needs through the use of technologies that encourage interactive collaboration by a wide range of people. The end goal is a program or project that could serve as a model for others with similar goals. The team, dubbed "The G-Team," is made up of Monique Shore and Sharon Johnson of Drake Community Library and Catherine Rod, Julia Bauder and Chris Jones of Grinnell College Libraries.

The G-Team is one of five teams chosen from ILEAD applicants statewide. Each team had to develop a project that would use technology and include a chance for participation from outside individuals. The G-Team application focused on development of a project to enhance access to digital resources related to the history of Grinnell and Poweshiek County. The project will also provide tools that will enable members of the public to contribute to the digital archives. Some of the potential outcomes are: creation of a website or portal that will serve as a unified access point to digitized historical content about Grinnell and Poweshiek County; technology to digitize and organize new materials; a portable public scanning station that will allow documents and photographs from area residents to be scanned for possible inclusion; use of "crowd-sourcing" software to add information to photographs and documents in the project; and possible solicitation and recording of oral histories from area residents.

Learn more about the project.