In the earliest years of Luther College, the “library” was a collection of books, journals and newspapers assigned space in the second floor tower room of Main building. It was moved in 1884 to larger space on the first floor in the northeast corner. When Main (“first” Main) burned in 1889, the library was moved to the Chicken Coop, a small building next to Main, for safekeeping. When the “second” Main was completed in 1890, the library was housed in the south wing on the first floor.
Koren Library, opened as the first space dedicated specifically as a library in 1921, provided shelf space for more than 100,000 volumes. However, since it was designed to serve a maximum of 300 students and the enrollment of Luther continued to increase, overcrowding became a significant problem. Although a fourth tier of shelving was added in 1946, the library collection continued to outgrow the space.
Proposal: The idea for a new library was first proposed by the Board of Regents in a resolution passed June 1, 1963, making the new library the next construction project for Luther College. After the Board of Regents agreed to build a new library, a faculty committee, chaired by Head Librarian, Oivind Hovde, was appointed to begin planning. Donald Gray, of the Olson, Gray, Thompson, and Lynnes Decorah architectural firm, was designated as the architect and by 1965 a complete drawing of the building had been completed. Hovde and Gray worked extensively on the subsequent plans and requirements for the structure. For research purposes both men attended sessions of the American Library Association on the subject of new construction opportunities while also traveling to college libraries located throughout the Midwest. They requested input from Luther College students in the planning of the library interior, conducting extensive interviews with students that eventually influenced the library design.
Funding: In the spring of 1966 an article in College Chips appeared signed by thirteen students asking for donations from their fellow students. Students of Luther College began donating funds to meet a proposed goal of $100,000. By August of 1967, the student body had pledged almost $111,600 and added another $25,000 in the following fall semester becoming the largest financial support by students for any building project in Luther College’s history. The library also received an outright grant of $533,673 from the federal government as well as a federal loan of $1,120,000 from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Grants were also accepted from the Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance Company and The Kresge Foundation. Ultimately the building, with furnishings and equipment, cost $2.2 million dollars.
Planning: The site on the old Nustad Field, which once was the site of football, track and baseball events, was selected since it provided a location within student and faculty traffic lanes with ample room for expansion. The site also was accessible from anticipated parking areas. Gray and Hovde planned a library of 103,500 square feet on three floors, including a basement, that would be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. The shelving, it was decided, would be located in the center of the room with study areas along the walls to prevent students from having to disturb others in their quest for books. The building was designed to allow for expansion with the back (east) wall constructed without windows. The Building Program stated: Since future needs will require different space allotments, the building must be as internally flexible as possible, and it must be expandable to at least twice its size. Internal walls were kept to a minimum with walls only around restrooms, the elevator, Reference offices, one classroom/storage area and the Head Librarian’s and secretary’s offices.
Construction: The building was constructed with a reinforced concrete frame with sand molded, red-brown brick and exposed concrete for the exterior walls. Interior walls were composed of the same brick, plaster and dark oak wood. The heating was Heat-of-Light with auxiliary electric units while the air conditioning was electric with all-season humidity control. All lighting was non-directional fluorescent with canopy spot lights on each floor. The building was equipped with twelve group study rooms for students, twelve faculty research rooms, and additional spaces for audio-visual materials, rare books, and classrooms. The library was planned to accommodate up to 2,500 students with room for 900 study spaces and 300,000 volumes. The building was climate controlled with filtered air to minimize the incidence of pollution and dust. Carpeting covered most of the floors and no thresholds were included in doorways. The entrance was planned without steps.
Furnishings: Designer furniture in Preus Library, by Jens Risom, includes the study tables, card catalog, exhibit cases, and study carrels. All millwork and cabinets were constructed from white oak. Lounge furniture, now partially replaced, was purchased from library designers. The study chairs were designed by Gunlocke. Wood shelving in the Rare Book Room and wood office furniture were designed by the Library Furniture Design Group.
Dedication: Preus library, dedicated on May 11, 1969, is named after the Preus family, which has been closely associated with the college since its founding. The family includes two past Luther College presidents, father (C. K. Preus) and son (O. J. H. Preus). At the dedication ceremony eight Distinguished Service Awards were awarded to alumni. Four of those honored were from the Preus family: Herman A., seminary professor; Wilhelm C., attorney; Paul G., college president; and Nelson F., churchman. Also recognized were four alumni librarians: Kenneth Fagerhaugh (Carnegie-Mellon University), Donald O. Rod (University of Northern Iowa), Gerhard Naeseth (University of Wisconsin), and Head Librarian Oivind Hovde. Memorial bronze plaques throughout the building recognize Preus family members, head librarians and executive directors while also honoring donors.
Awards: Preus Library was featured on the program of the Library Buildings Institute at their meeting in June 1969. This meeting was part of the 88th Annual American Library Association Conference held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Facility Changes: Recent significant facility changes include recarpeting the building in phases starting in 2001, building two new offices behind the Reference Department office complex, redesigning and installing a new Reference Desk in 2004, reevaluating and updating the insurance policy for the library building and collections, and purchasing new lounge furniture for the Main Floor in summer 2008, the first library furniture purchased in 40 years for the public areas. Walls have been constructed to form a new classroom and the Student Academic Support Center, both located on the lower floor.
Update: Today Preus Library also houses the administrative offices for the Luther College Archives and Fine Arts Collection. Other college services located in Preus Library are the Technology Helpdesk, Student Academic Support Center, and the Writing Center. Non-public areas are utilized for library and college storage. A public meeting room on the main floor, Hovde, is available as a classroom (renovated in 2005) for courses taught by building occupants, showing films and for having meetings and receptions for both on and off-campus events. Another classroom (refurbished in 2005), which also functions as a distance learning space, is located on the lower floor. The Curriculum Library, also on the lower floor, is assigned as a classroom space primarily for Education Department classes. The gallery areas are part of the Luther College Galleries program which features changing art exhibits throughout the year. Preus Library has been technologically updated to include a computer lab containing PCs and Macs. The card catalog of the past has been replaced by an extra study area and public-use computers for users to conduct research. A new learning commons area on the main floor is expected to be installed in the near future.
Ref: Luther College Archives; College Chips, March 25, 1966; May 9, 1969; September 26, 1969; Preus Library: The Physical Structure. Tri-fold pamphlet, 1969; Preus Library. Dedication booklet, 1969; Preus Library. Brochure, 2001.