Northern Normal and Industrial School began in September of 1902 with the enrolling of Miss Elizabeth Mitchell of Hecla as the school's first student; but before the opening of the school, the building of the library had begun. It is said that during the first days of the school's existence the library was kept in a closet in the president's office with his secretary acting as the librarian. The school's library was situated near the president's office (C-11) in Central Hall (C-12), and was staffed by Nellie M. Christian, librarian, stenographer, and clerical assistant. The library consisted of a collection numbering around 1,000 books. These books were gifts from townspeople and others, including Governor Charles N. Herried and Dr. F. A. Spafford, Regent from Flandreau. Gov. Herried also used money from the state's conscious fund to buy books for the library. The first college catalog lists 26 periodicals and 2newspapers as being available for the use of the students and the faculty.
In 1904, Edith Witzel became the librarian, stenographer and clerical assistant. Edith Witzel became the Registrar in 1908. Her position as librarian was taken by Genevieve Taubman.
The library was first housed on the first floor of Central in the early years and then expanded to other rooms and floors as the library grew. By 1911, the library had been relocated in the third floor of Central.
"A good library of useful books" was how the library was described in 1909. "The librarian is in charge, and is constantly ready to assist student with their reference work. No library fees are charged."
Magnhild Gullender became the librarian in 1911 and was followed by Alice Ruth King in 1913. Elizabeth Conner replaced Alice King in 1914 and in 1923 her successor was Esther Wendell.
The college catalog of 1908-09 lists the members of the Faculty Library Committee. It included Miss Taubman, Librarian; Miss Witzel, Mrs. Wilson, Mr. Johnson, and Miss Beardsley.
By 1908, the periodical list had grown to 56 educational titles and newspapers, and "the different magazines are easily accessible for reference through the monthly cumulative index." Ninety-six periodical titles were listed in the 1912 catalog.
The college library's book collection grew from around 1,000 volumes in 1903 to 8,500 in 1920. The size of the collection grew steadily to 10,000 in 1922; 14,500 in 1925; 16,000 in 1928; 20,000 in 1931.
The teaching of courses in library science began around 1920 when a course in Library Economy was listed with the other courses in English. A second course, "Book Selection for Grade and Rural Schools," was included in the 1922 college catalog. Both were one hour credit courses.
In1922, prospective students were informed that "It is the custom here (NNIS Library) for persons using reference books, magazines, or newspapers to return them to the proper places on the shelves." They were also reminded that "Persons using the library will avoid whispering or any disturbance that may annoy those who are studying or reading there."
Celeste E. Barnes became the librarian in the fall of 1923 and continued on until she was succeeded by J. J. McAnelly in 1933. Mr. McAnelly was replaced by Beulah E. Williams. Miss Williams had begun working in the library as assistant librarian in 1926. Upon graduation from Northern Normal in 1921, Beulah Williams took graduate work at Marion College in 1923-24, at the University of Iowa in 1926, and University of Chicago in 1942. Miss Williams, who was assistant librarian from 1926 to 1939, became the head librarian in 1939 and remained in that position until her death in 1947.
The growth of the library was slow because of lack of space and money. For many years, it was housed on two separate floors of old Central and had grown so large that engineers inspecting the building said that the floors could not hold more weight. Old and obsolete books had to be relegated to the basement to make room from new books.
There had been hopes for a separate library building as early as 1925, but it was not until 1955 that the legislature authorized the building of a new library with an appropriation of $400,000. The building was occupied on July 1, 1957. In 1977, the legislature approved the renovation of the Beulah Williams library with an appropriation of $564,000. It was completed in January 1979.
Martha Lois Baily became the head librarian in 1947 and was followed by Robert A. Elftmann in 1953. James Mauseth was acting director from 1966-1980 when Dr. Edward Garten became the director. Dr. Elizabeth McNeer was named director in 1981 and was replaced by Beth Marie Quanbeck in 1985. Wade Woodward took over as library director in 1987.
Representative Ben Reifel, R - S.D., designated the Northern library to be a Federal Documents Depository in 1963. Later, the library was also designated to be a depository of publications of the State of South Dakota.*
In 1967, the library was staffed by five professional librarians and three full-time non-professional assistants, with the balance of the work done by 30 part-time student assistants.
** Northern's Beulah Williams Library became a member of OCLC in 1970. In 1972, it was decided to change the method of classifying books from the Dewey classification to the Library of Congress classification system. It was begun in January 1973 and completed in November 1976. The holdings were then inputted into the OCLC system. Williams was the first library in the state to have completed this job.
Arlene Wright was acting director for a brief period in the early 1990s. Under her successor, Dr. Philip Mulvaney in 1994, the legislature appropriated $4.5 million for an expansion and renovation of the library. The project was completed in time for the start of classes in 1996. Dr. Mulvaney remained as director until 2009. Robert Russell became acting director, and in 2010 was named director.
The Beulah Williams library has grown from its 1,000 volumes in 1902. In 2014, the library holds more than 263,930 items, subscribes to nearly 80 electronic databases, and provides on- and off-campus services to students, staff, faculty and community residents.
Anon. (Library Staff). Beulah Williams Library: A History. [1987?]. "The Library." in Northern State University, The First Century, 1900-2000. Ed. Mark C. Bartusis. Aberdeen, SD: Northern State University Press, 2001. 358-371.