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The Story of Whitaker Library

By: Stephen Sherman

Since 1906, the college library had been housed in the East Building, which was essentially a wing of the Columns Building. The reading room was built to accommodate a handful of students and housed only a few hundred books, which was perfectly adequate for its purpose at the time. Following the Second World War and the reopening of the college in 1949, however, enrollment had risen to nearly 700 students. The library had grown as well, with over 10,000 volumes catalogued by 1959. Two years earlier, a development program had been put into action calling for the construction of six new buildings at Chowan, including a new library. The need for additional space was readily apparent by 1961, when the library was packed to the brim every night and students were openly complaining about the crowded conditions.

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By the end of 1961, the development program that began in 1957 had resulted in the construction of three new buildings on campus: a men’s dorm, a women’s dorm and a new cafeteria. The campaign then turned to fundraising for a two more additions – a classroom building and a library. These subsequent undertakings caused the college to renew its drive for contributions in the hope of raising $900,000 towards this goal. While the growth of other areas of the college put the library drive on hold for several years, plans for a new building, to be combined with a fine arts facility, were approved in 1966 and construction was set to begin the next year. Groundbreaking ceremonies took place on February 23rd, 1967 and the structure began to take shape later that year. While construction was moving ahead, the Board of Trustees decided unanimously in favor of naming the new library in honor of Dr. Bruce E. Whitaker, who, as president of Chowan since 1957, had overseen much of the expansion of the college. The building was completed and ready to open its doors for the fall semester of 1968, at which time the old East Building was torn down.

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Dedication ceremonies for Whitaker Library and Daniel Hall were held on September 12, 1968. The college was hailed as a “modern miracle” by Claude F. Gaddy, the primary speaker at the event. Indeed, enrollment at Chowan had risen to over 1,300 students by that time and campus was buzzing with activity everywhere. The new library building had seating capacity for up to 400 people and was built to house 100,000 volumes in its collection. Also included in the construction were rooms to house collections of rare books and antiquities as well as for items pertaining to the Baptist faith. The academic support was then firmly in place for the growing institution. 

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