The William Van O'Connor Library

Library History


The William Van O'Connor Library houses a collection of literature and literary criticism for the use of English department teachers, graduate students and undergraduates at the University of California, Davis.  The library got its spiritual start through the efforts of Celeste Turner Wright, when the future founder of the UC Davis English Department arrived in Davis in 1928, but its most substantial contribution came from Professor William Van O'Connor for whom the collection was named.

After moving to Voorhies in 1959, the Department of English was officially established in 1962, the year that William Van O'Connor became the department chair.  The next year the department was on the move again, this time to the top floors of Sproul Hall, where Brom Weber and Marian Koritz reigned over the English Department Reference Collection and Reading Room in their respective roles of faculty member and staff librarian.  Much of the funding for this reference collection probably came from Title XI National Defense Education Act funds, but there were periodic contributions from other sources as well.  For example, in 1965, Chancellor Emil M. Mrak earmarked $3000 of the university's budget for the library.  In 1966, the library received $1475 from an NDEA grant for a "Model Educational Curriculum Center" intended to house a reference collection for teachers of English in grades 7-12.  In May 1967, the Department Reference Collection was formally incorporated into the William Van O'Connor Memorial Collection, and O'Connor's family presented the library with the portrait of O'Connor that is still displayed in the library today.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the then full-time librarian, Betty Kimura, catalogued the library using her own unique system, but since then the cataloguing has been conformed to the Library of Congress system.  By 1985, the library had reached 10,000 volumes including the periodicals, for which the library held 138 subscriptions.  But the days of full-time librarians, unique cataloguing, and numerous journals were limited.  By 1986 the library began dropping periodical subscriptions.  In 1991 further drastic cuts in the library's subscriptions were made.

Since this time, the library has been staffed by quarter-time graduate student librarians.  With limited time and limited funds, such librarians have nevertheless been able to work in collaboration with the faculty library committee to expand and improve the library's resources.  Among their major accomplishments is the establishment of the library computer catalogue, a lengthy and arduous project.  The O'Connor Library has also incorporated other collections, such as the Rhetoric Collection, which came to the English Department when the Department of Rhetoric and Communication was reorganized into the Department of Communication.  Beginning in the fall of 1999, the entire library was moved from poorly lit and crowded quarters on the second floor of Voorhies, where it had been located since the move from Sproul Hall, to the spacious and well-lit room on the first floor where the library now resides.  The English Department celebrated this move in the spring of 2000 with a ceremony and reception attended by department members and family relations of William Van O'Connor.

The library was originally designed to have standard bibliographic works and definitive editions of major authors and full, on-going sets of periodicals specific to the studies of faculty and graduate students.  The library collection is still full of important works fulfilling this early purpose, but the library staff are currently focused on expanding fields such as critical theory, while dropping subscriptions to periodicals that are now available online.   While the number of print periodicals to which the library currently subscribes is small and decreasing, the O'Connor Library is still a valuable resource: through links on its website, it makes available to its patrons the University Library's online subscriptions to many journals and databases, and the older print issues of journals housed in the O'Connor Library are particularly useful because most online subscriptions permit access to issues dating only from the mid-1990s onward.  In a world of changing academic needs and developing technology, the library continues to adapt in order to serve its patrons.

Collections & Catalogues          History        Using the Library       O'Connor Library       English Department       UC Davis