Tech in Retrospect

Newman and Newman: Like peas in a pod by Clara B. Cox M.A.'84
Newman Library

Carol Montgomery Newman, a professor of English at a time when Virginia Tech was a small but growing agriculture and engineering college, had a passion for books. Throughout his 38 years at Tech--indeed, throughout his life--he considered books an invaluable source for living. How appropriate that Newman Library bears his name.

From temple of termites to tower of technology

In 1914, Virginia Tech moved its library into the chapel auditorium on the site of today's Newman Library. Woefully inadequate and suffering from a plethora of infestations, the facility was dubbed the "temple of termites."

The college finally secured funds for a new facility, which opened in September 1955 and became Newman Library. When that library began bulging at the seams, students staged a peaceful "read in," then gathered 7,000 names on petitions supporting an addition. A statewide bond referendum endorsed funding for the project, and construction of a six-story, curved addition commenced in 1978.

Since then, the library has continued to grow and to evolve. Its staff has pioneered new technologies, among them an electronic card catalog--VTLS--that became the standard for libraries throughout the world; a software package--ILLiad--that facilitates borrowing materials from other libraries; and an online chat service--LiveRef--that enables real-time, personalized reference service. And the library still maintains unique special collections and traditional holdings, now numbering more than 2 million volumes--including books once owned by Carol Newman.

Godfather of extracurricular activities

When Newman, who had just completed his doctorate in English, Latin, and German at the University of Virginia, wrote his 1903 letter of acceptance for the teaching job offered to him by Tech President John M. McBryde, the professor expressed his sincere hope that "our association may be productive of both pleasure and profit to all concerned." Then he made that hope a reality. A writer, editor, and scholar, Newman worked on so many projects and served on so many committees that he was described in later years as the godfather of extracurricular activities.

Newman also had the gift for gab and became one of the most popular speakers on campus. According to the 1917 Bugle, he had a good voice, chose his words judiciously, and was straightforward and logically coherent, all of which gave his speeches "the quality of genuine eloquence." His topics ranged from astronomy to profanity, from the honor system to Shakespeare.

A competent and popular English teacher, Newman was promoted in 1907, four years after arriving on campus, to full professor. In 1915, he was named dean of the newly formed Academic Department (essentially a small college) and the following year became head of the just-consolidated departments of English and rhetoric. The two jobs overlapped for 14 years.

When Newman took his own life in 1941, presumably because of poor health, he was one of Tech's most beloved and respected professors.

The future

Newman Library may see some physical changes in the near future. A proposed renovation to the ground floor would triple the space for Special Collections and add a café. Other additions within the renovated space would include workspace for staff and visiting scholars, a state-of-the-art preservation laboratory and workrooms, and compact storage facilities.

But for sure, its collection of books will keep growing, a continuing tribute to Carol M. Newman, the man who held them so dear.

Clara B. Cox is director of publications and outreach communications.