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A Brief History of Polk Library

In November, 1962 the school’s new library opened as a two-story, one-wing building on Elmwood Avenue. At a cost of just over $1.5 million, It was the most expensive building built on campus to date. Moving out of its forty-four year home on the 2nd and 3rd floors of Dempsey Hall, the library was named in honor of the school’s longest serving leader, Forrest R. Polk. The building was part of a statewide commitment to by the Board of Regents to build new libraries across the State College system.

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Polk Library in 1962

At the dedication of the building, State College director Eugene McPhee proclaimed Polk Library was “the heart of the institution, the real hub of intellectual activities...” With its dramatically improved research and collection storage space and new services the new space allowed for, the Polk Library was recognized as Wisconsin Library of the Year in 1964 by the Wisconsin Library Association.

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Polk Library in 1968

Planning for the award winning building actually began during president Polk’s tenure in the late 1950s and was prescient enough to imagine the land south of the building to be used for eventual library expansion. Due to the large scale and swift expansion of the mission of the University as well as the numbers of incoming students in the 1960s, additions to the library were quickly needed. Adding a third floor and a much larger south wing and connecting walk ways, the expansion project was completed in 1969 at the cost of $2.4 million.

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Forrest R. Polk

Forrest R. Polk

There are few people in the history of UW Oshkosh who influenced the school as much as Forrest R. Polk. Polk came to the Oshkosh Normal School in 1915 as a young instructor in industrial arts. In 1931 he was named President of the college a post he held until 1959. During his long tenure at the school, Polk saw the institution mature from a non-degree granting Normal School to a state college with a healthy liberal arts program as well as education department.

The pictures and text featured on this page were contributed by Joshua Ranger, University Archivist, UW Oshkosh Archives & Area Research Center


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