University of Texas
Physics Library History


Physics Library History

UT’s first library was on the top floor of the Old Main Building. It was lit mostly by skylights in the ceiling and heated by a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the 24 ft by 27 ft room. At the end of the first year it had 1200 books. In 1897 more than 10,000 books were donated by Swedish immigrant Swen Jaensson (1815–1899). Jaensson took the name Swante Palm (at right) following immigration in 1844. (He is often incorrectly referred to as Sir Swante Palm.) Palm was a lifetime book collector whose collection included Scandinavian works, books about Texas, classics, literature, and scientific books. He knew English, French, Latin, German, and various Scandinavian languages and dialects, and copious marginalia indicate that he read much of what he collected.

Electric lights were installed in 1905, but students’ requests to remain open at night was rejected. In 1900, a rule proclaimed, “ ladies and gentlemen are not allowed to study together.” Coat and ties were expected of men students. A particularly hot summer led to a successful challenge to that policy.

In 1911, a new library building designed by Cass Gilbert was completed. The building (now Battle Hall) had a reading room on the second floor that had a Renaissance-style ceiling with decorated wooden beams. The doors leading into the room and the arch above the old circulation desk had hand-carved scroll decorations. The library was too small in all respects and agitation soon surfaced for the regents to plan for a library that could accommodate the needs of the burgeoning university. In 1937, the Texas Tower, designed by Paul Cret was completed and became the main library and home of the university administration.
(This summary is based on an article by Jayne Schulte and Jody Cadenhead which appeared in the Feb 4, 1983 edition of The Daily Texan.)

1906 University Librarian:
Bottom Row: Nellie M. Hall, Cataloguer, Phineas L. Windsor, Librarian, Wille Davis, Second Assistant Librarian
Top Row: E. B. Griffin, Nig
ht Law Librarian, Mary E Dunham, First Assistant Librarian, H. E. Bell, Day Law Librarian.


Physics Librarians Timeline

1910-New Library Building (now Battle Hall)
Preliminary drawing of front east elevation by Cass Gilbert.

1914-15: Purity C. Brock, Librarian, School of Physics and Secretary to the Committee on Admission from Other Colleges. Room 9.

1915-16: Amanda Howell McDonald (b. Sept 19, 1898, in Hills Prairie, TX–d. Mar 8, 1986). In the 1916 Cactus, she has a faculty listing as Physics Librarian. In 1919 and 1920, she is secretary to the editor of University Publications and assistant secretary to dean of College of Arts and Sciences, respectively. Her salary is $275/yr. There is also a Librarian-Stenographer in Physics, Cassie Millhouse (b. 1895–), salary $55. Amanda married George Millar Reynolds (1900–1987) in 1923 in Caddo Parish, LA. During the 1920s, Amanda is Secretary to the President and Assistant Registrar at Centenary College in Shreveport, LA. George is a zoology professor. Two infant children (daughter 1924, son 1927) listed on their tombstone. In 1931, they traveled to France. In 1940, they are in Chicago, where he is the Director of Fellowships of the Julius Rosenwald Foundation. More about Amanda and George.

September 1923–1924?: Worth Brewer, secretary for the Physics Department. Perhaps he was a student. “…the librarian for this department is usually a student and therefore does not hold the position long…” The physics departmental library was in Room 9, Old Main Building.

1925–26: Barrett Thomas Fitzhugh, secretary for the Physics Dept. Perhaps he was a student. The physics departmental library was moved to Room 23, Old Main Building, shown at right.

1926–27: Dan Grant Mowrey. Perhaps he was a student.

1928: Katherine Banks, Several students from the 1940 report that “Miss Banks” was the librarian for the department along with other duties. She died in 1954 while working for the department.


1932: Corner of Physics Library in Main Building #9 is shown below.


1933: Library

April 1934: Katherine Banks. In Spring 1933, the Physics Library, seen above in Spring 1934 photo, was moved to its new location, Room 401 of the new Physics Building [now Painter, at right]. The library occupied the west side of the building with French doors onto balconies. Good natural light, 12 ceiling fans and summer breezes for ventilation, cork floors, 8 study tables, 1140 volumes, 53 “sets of periodicals.” Women at desk is Katherine Banks. Miss Banks also served as administrative secretary.


June 1951–1953: Virgil W. Lichtenberg. 80 periodicals currently received. By 1952, 88 current subscriptions. Dr. Claude W. Horton did most of the selection of books and periodicals. By 1953— 100 subscriptions.

September 1953–June 1954: Sam G. Whitten. (later a professor in library school) 115 subscriptions.

1954–1955 : Mary E. Pound. 125 subscriptions.

1955–1956 : John Morton [part-time library assistant].

June 1956–August 1958 : Layton B. Murphy. Part-time biology and physics librarian, lecturer in the Graduate School of Library Science. 170 subscriptions.

1958–1959: Ronald A. Seeliger. 200 subscriptions. Astronomy materials, including observatory publications were added to library. Astronomy Department moved into the building.

1959–1960: John H. Ayres was library clerk-typist. Bell telephone extension was installed in library (previously the library had UT-only PAX phone service). Plea was made for air conditioning.

1960–July 1968: Earl S. Bradley. Photocopying of journal articles in the Main Library offices was introduced. Journal shelving expanded into various physics offices. Air conditioning installed in

February 1965: Space became a critical issue, and volumes were sent to storage – first to Balcones warehouse, then to the new Collections Deposit Library. 217 physics journal subscriptions and 65 astronomy subscriptions.

August 1968–July 1970: Barbara E. Nicholson. Library name changed to Physics Astronomy Library. 590 subscriptions, including gifts received in the Astronomy Department.

August 1970: Interim: Gail Dack. 673 subscriptions.

September 1970–September 1974: Jean K. Martin. Jean was appointed in September 1970, as librarian of two libraries, the Physics-Astronomy Library and the Mathematics Library. She planned the merger of the two collections into one library in the new PMA building in the summer of 1972.

Summer 1972: Department moves to new Physics Mathematics Astronomy Building, later named Robert Lee Moore Hall after celebrated University of Texas mathematician. Libraries merged.






May 1974: UT Board of Regents approved the renaming of the Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library to the John M. Kuehne Physics Mathematics Astronomy Library. Professor W. W. Robertson was instrumental in making the case for Professor Kuehne.

Johannes Matthias Kuehne was born in Hallettsville, Lavaca County, Texas, on August 11, 1872, one of twelve children of Ferdinand Frederich and Lydia Anna Eliese Melchior Kuehne, a German immigrant family. He was educated at home by his parents who were teachers and farmers. At their behest, he took the state normal examinations when he was 18. Upon passing them, he taught in rural schools for a number of years.

In 1896, when he was in his twenties, Professor Kuehne enrolled at The University of Texas at Austin. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor's degree in physics in 1899. In 1901, after earning a master's degree at UT Austin, he joined the faculty as an instructor. He earned a PhD degree in physics from the University of Chicago in 1910. (Thesis, On the Electrostatic Effect of a Changing Magnetic Field appeared in Philosophical Magazine for April 1910). He married Marie Wild on Sept 11, 1900. She was born in Wied, TX.
After receiving his doctorate, Dr. Kuehne continued his teaching career at the University, where he chaired the Department of Physics and pursued pioneering research on the relationship between magnetism and electricity. He also participated in professional associations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Physical Society. He died in Austin on February 14, 1960. He was 87. His association with UT spanned 64 years.




September 1974–August 1975: Interim: PMA was supervised by Aubrey Skinner, Chemistry Librarian.

September 1975–1978: Dr. James W. Leonard was the PMA Head Librarian. Prof. John A. Wheeler gave 2000 books to the PMA library in 1975/76.

1978-79: Interim: PMA was supervised by Martin Smith, Geology Librarian.

April 1979–October 1984: John Sandy, Head Librarian PMA.

November 1984–May 1985: Interim: Susan Ardis, Engineering Librarian, acting head of PMA.

June 1985–September 1990: Karen Croneis, Head Librarian PMA Library.

October 1990–January 1991: Interim: Cindy Kehoe, acting librarian.

February 1991–2016: Molly White, Head Librarian PMA Library. In 2004, Molly received the Special Libraries Association’s Physics-Astronomy-Mathematics Achievement Award for "professional work ... marked by distinction and dedication to librarianship" in mathematics and an outstanding record of service to the PAM Division and its members.

We quote here from an article that appeared in "Tex-Libris" written by Dennis Trombatore (UT Librarian for Geosciences). "Molly White joined the Science Library crew in 1987. I had been here for two years, but Molly was already an old timer with a deep institutional memory. She had been an undergraduate and a Library School Master’s student at UT, and worked for the Libraries as early as 1968. She worked in the Tower when it was still the Main Library, she worked in a number of other units, and during that period she also took a long break and worked for Texas Pacific Film in Austin, so she has deep ‘old Austin’ cred. When she came to the science group, she was at the Balcones Service Center (1987–88) and at Life Sciences before she became the PMA Librarian in 1991.'

"Molly took on a formidable group of traditionalists in her disciplines, and despite a rough couple of years during our first wave of serious journal cancellations, she rose above it and developed strong working relationships with all three groups, working back and forth across the lines to develop new technologies and services while maintaining the core capabilities that her scientists required. She has also wrestled with the vagaries of her space, spearheading a number of improvements that made PMA a better and more user friendly library.'

"Molly took a keen interest in our organization, and has served on numerous projects, committees and task forces through the years, as well as in the profession, where she has been very active in the Physics Mathematics Astronomy Division of the Special Libraries Association and served on a number of science publishing advisory groups. Her colleagues know her as someone willing to ask difficult questions, and work with a team to find good solutions. Molly has been a real contributor, a good colleague, and a friend. I am grateful to have had her as a member of our team, and we will all miss her."

Kuehne Library, RLMoore Building, Speedway and Dean Keaton streets.