Library Transitions: When Helm was an Old Athletic Building

Helm Physical Education Center

Postcard of Helm Library as the Former Athletic Building

According to the Institutional Self-Study Report from 1982-84 of Western Kentucky University, the Margie Helm Library was in full service for students by 1965. Back then, Western Kentucky University was actually coined Western Kentucky State Teachers College. What’s interesting is that originally it was not a library but a physical education, recreation and varsity building. It served that purpose until 1963. I personally witnessed the gymnasium floor being uncovered last Spring of 2011 as the grounds were laid for what is now the Confucius Institute.

Swimming Pool Helm

Postcard of Former Swimming Pool Adjacent to Helm


School Emblem of the Former Basketball Court Next to the Confucius Institute

When Western was first established as a school, the library belonged to the Southern Normal School and housed 1,000 titles. It was located on College Street close where the twin towers stood. By 1919, the library had expanded to include two rooms in Recitation Hall where Cherry Hall now stands. The collections had grown to include 72 periodicals, titles, and 5,000 books.

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Construction of Athletic Building

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The Field to the Right is where the FAC Building Now Stands


By 1922, Western Kentucky State Normal School was beginning the process of becoming a “Teachers College” with the addition of the bachelors program where there was a high demand for more volumes and more space. Short on space and money, they transferred the collections into the Cedar House from 1923 until 1927 and they started construction of a new library. According to Lowell Harrison’s Western Kentucky University, the heating system in the Cedar House was so inadequate that students could not read there in the winters.


Former Gym

In 1926, Architect Captain Brinton B. Davis drafted the plans for a new library to be located between Van Meter Hall and Recitation hall. According to Harrison, President Cherry said, “We have been forced to buy a few dollars worth of books occasionally when the emergency need was great, and when we could get a few dollars to pay them.” Then they appropriated two-thousand dollars for new books for the upcoming library. By 1927, the main library was completed. In 1931, a graduate program was approved and a separate reserve reading room was built.

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Dance in former Gym

Although the depression took its toll on the school budget, the administrators still had humor despite the tough times as showed in this Social Science Club’s annual banquet in April 1933:

“New Deal” Menu
Foam Cocktail
Tennessee Valley Project
Reforestation Beans
Confident Potatoes
Sound Bank Rolls
Inflation Salad-Script Dressing
Mortgage Relief Special
Three point two coffee

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Former Gym now Renovated

Java City 1

Helm Library before Renovation where Java City is Now Located

President Kelly Thompson was the first to make an athletic building Western’s top priority, and the Regents agreed by approving $2,500,000 for the project. It actually ended up costing over $3,000,000. To win support, they agreed that Western’s old athletic building would be renovated for the expanded library collections. The “new library” was named in honor of long time director, Miss Margie Helm.

To read more about Western Kentucky University Libraries, check out:

Harrison, L. H. (1987). Western kentucky university. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.

Zacharias, D.W., Adams, Dr. R. D., & Hardin, Dr. H. (1982-84). Helm Library. (1982-84). Western kentucky university institutional self-study. N. Manchester, Indiana: Heckman Bindery, INC.

(1939). Teachers college heights: western kentucky state teachers college, summer and autumn issue, 17(4), 1-39.

You can also read about the history on a chronological board on Cravens 4th floor by the elevators that lead to the stacks.


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