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Polk Celebrates 50 Years


Born out of great need for a broader collection and study space for a larger student body, Polk Library officially opened its doors in the autumn of 1962. Oshkosh firm, Irion and Reinke, designed the modern, International Style building built for $1.5 million. The seeds of the new library, however, began much earlier.

Between 1946 and 1961, the campus of Oshkosh State College saw steady and substantial growth. A major promotional campaign was made to rebuild the student body and state teacher corps that had thinned during World War II. Meanwhile, veterans of that war, and later the conflict in Korea, took full advantage of their benefits under the GI Bill.

The expansion of the campus in both student body and mission put enormous pressure on its facilities (including the school’s library). The cramped library in the 2nd and 3rd floors of Dempsey Hall could not hold the collection needed to support the liberal arts degrees the campus was adding. Similarly, study space was at a premium with a student body in 1960 of just over 2500 and only 250 seats in the library reading room. The new building would offer 990 seats.

In November 1962, Forrest R. Polk, the longest serving leader at Oshkosh, toured the new library. Polk saw the campus through the Great Depression and a World War, so it was fitting that this new heart of the campus would bear his name. At that time, the building consisted of only the north wing we know today.

The new and exciting areas within Polk included:

  • An enlarged government documents section
  • Area Research Center
  • Larger and more diverse study spaces
  • Interior smoking lounge on the 2nd floor (today’s Group Study Room)

The original Polk Library was designed for 10 years growth. The campus predicted a 1968 enrollment of 5,000. It proved to be twice that.

By 1968 the south wing of Polk Library was completed more than doubling the size of the building. Twenty years later the building underwent another substantial remodel; however, the changes did not anticipate the needs of library patrons in an online world. And so, in the past 6-7 years, the building has enjoyed strategic remodels like Polk 101, which reflects how modern research and school work is done in a technology-based world.

Today, as the building reaches it’s half century mark, Polk looks to make more improvements. While the library does not need to expand, as it did in the past, it will continue to become a better environment to support the research, teaching and learning so crucial to the University’s mission.

Posted by:
Ranger, Joshua P on November 05, 2012
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