As the Grant library became too small, BYU administrators decided to build a new building to house the new library. Finished in 1961, it was named the J. Reuben Clark Library, though soon renamed the Harold B. Lee Library to avoid confusion with the newly created law school. It receives over 10,000 patrons daily and houses millions of units of materials.

Old Library

Throughout the early years of BYU, there was no well-established library. Often, rooms would be cluttered with books and loose papers that created a problematic fire hazard. The Maeser Building, once created, housed some books and volumes until the creation of the Heber J. Grant Library in 1925. This building was the school library for nearly five decades.

New Library

As BYU expanded as a school, the university added more books to its collections. The planned expansion of the existing library in the Grant building never came to pass, and the small quarters soon became cramped. BYU began a policy of screening book donations in an attempt to lower the amount of books they received and would be responsible to care for. However, by 1953, it was apparent that the Grant building was too small to house the growing amount of books that the library needed. President Wilkinson commissioned a committee to survey the space needed, and soon, plans were drawn up for a massive new library to be located in the center of campus. Construction began on the new library in July 1959 and took two years to finish.

Completed in 1961, workers moved over 300,000 volumes into the new library and made room for the thousands of expected volumes to be added. The building was dedicated on October 10, 1962. It was named for J. Reuben Clark, a prominent LDS leader and attorney. The library functioned well for the next decade. In 1965, the library surpassed 500,000 volumes, and by 1971, the library contained over 1 million volumes, with even more planned to arrive soon. In 1973, the library was renamed to honor Harold B. Lee, the former president of the LDS church. This was to help avoid confusion with the newly established Law school, with started that same year. BYU administrators decided that Clark was better namesake for the law school, due to his enormous contributions to law in the area, teachings in the LDS church, and work in the State Department for US President Calvin Coolidge.

Who was J. Reuben Clark?

Born in 1871, Joshua Reuben Clark grew up in Grantsville, Utah. His father was a teacher who taught him to be a lifelong student. He excelled in school, and soon graduated from the University of Utah. He attended law school at Columbia, and the year after his graduation, he was appointed as the Assistant Solicitor of the Department of State. He served in the government for a few years, and later as a lawyer, representing high profile clients like the Japanese Government. He served again in the State Department, helping to manage affairs during World War 1 and later as Ambassador to Mexico during and after the Mexican Revolution. He wrote a critical repudiation of the Monroe Doctrine, arguing that the US could not arbitrarily use military force to control Latin American countries. Later, he served in the First Presidency of the LDS church, despite having never served in previous Church leadership. He was later ordained an apostle, and worked to reform and improve the welfare system, as the Great Depression ravaged the country. He died in 1961 in Salt Lake City, serving both his church and his country tirelessly.

Who was Harold B. Lee?

Harold B lee was born in 1899 in Idaho, and grew up to become a teacher. From a very young age, he became a leader in the LDS church right after the start of the Great Depression. He helped to improve the welfare system and benefit the members struggling in the Depression. In 1941, he was called to be an apostle in the LDS church, serving there for the next decades of his life. He was key to improving the teaching system in the church. He was the president of the LDS church for about a year and a half, before his death at the end of 1973.

Renovations

As the number of contained volumes increased exponentially, renovations were soon needed to house the incoming volumes. In 1974, new construction began on the library to double the available space in add 2,000 more seats for students to study. This added 215,000 square feet to the library and brought total seating to 4,500. By 1976, this renovation was completed, and was rededicated on March 15, 1977. This would only be the first instance of library expansion. In 1996, the library was expanded again, this time lasting 4 years. 235,000 square feet were added this time, largely focusing on expanding the underground section of the library. This included new technology classrooms, focused on providing access to computers, a large auditorium and a center for digitization. Workers took advantage of the closure of certain parts of the library to renovate and update many parts of the library that were older or needed to reflect more modern needs.

Construction on the library continued off and on for the next two decades, with workers adding and removing small sections of the library. The South entrance to the library had been closed for nearly two decades, leaving the only entrance into the library being the large glass entrance on the North side. In 2015, a new south entrance was completed and opened up again. Later, in 2017, interior construction was finished on the main floor of a family-friendly study section. This area was geared towards students with young children who wanted a place to study while watching their kids. It has a small playground and things for children to play with and large chairs and study rooms surrounding the toys.

L. Tom Perry Special Collections

Under library director S. Lyman Tyler, (1954-1966), the number of collections and material increased significantly. One contribution was the organization of the Department of Special Collections and Manuscripts. Originally it was housed in the Maeser building, but it was moved to the first level of the then-named Clark library in 1961. Eventually, in 1999, the department was renamed the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Library, a request from library donors Aline and L. Sam Skaggs, to commemorate LDS apostle L. Tom Perry.

The L. Tom Perry Special Collection contains documents that span from the 15th century to the present day. It has several areas of concentration, focusing on subjects like art, communications, film, video, and the history of printing. It also contains various documents and from 19th and 20th century United States history and literature. Additionally, Special Collections has large collections of Mormon and Western documents and history. They have a wealth of journals from the Mormon migration and early missionary journals. They have a wealth of Mormon Women’s history, carrying journals of early Relief Society presidents. Special Collections also contain individual collections like Leroy Hafen Western Americana collection, J. Reuben Clark, Aldine collection, M. Wilford Poulsen, and Dale Morgan. Through continual donations and acquisitions, the L. Tom Perry Special Collections contains a wealth of materials for students, faculty and researchers.

Current Housings/Stats

Today, the Lee Library houses over 5 million materials, such as books, videos, microfilms, and other documents. The Lee Library is the home to the Primrose International Viola Archive, the largest viola repository in the world, containing thousands of viola-related material. The library receives over 10,000 patrons daily, and over 3 million yearly. It has been highly ranked as one of the best university libraries in the nation in the past. In the last few years, while the number of patrons has increased steadily, the number of books checked out has decreased slowly over the last few years. This is possibly due to the increase in use and access to the internet and computers in the Lee Library. As students are more able to access and record information on personal computers, the Library also began to offer books online. This allowed students to access the resources they need from locations outside the library. It boasts about 98 miles of shelving and can seat 4,600 people for studying and meetings.

The Harold B Lee Library is a phenomenal resource for the students and faculty of BYU. It serves as a reminder of the importance of study and learning of the best books to the people in the surrounding community.

Images

Lee Library
Lee Library Source: Brigham Young University photographs of the Harold B. Lee Library; UA 827; Brigham Young University photographs of campus buildings; L. Tom Perry Special Collections; University Archives; 1130 Harold B. Lee Library; Brigham Young University; Provo, Utah 84606; http://sc.lib.byu.edu/.
Model of Lee Library with President Oaks in the center
Model of Lee Library with President Oaks in the center Source: Brigham Young University photographs of the Harold B. Lee Library; UA 827; Brigham Young University photographs of campus buildings; L. Tom Perry Special Collections; University Archives; 1130 Harold B. Lee Library; Brigham Young University; Provo, Utah 84606; http://sc.lib.byu.edu/.
Groundbreaking of Lee Library Addition in 1974
Groundbreaking of Lee Library Addition in 1974 Source: Brigham Young University photographs of the Harold B. Lee Library; UA 827; Brigham Young University photographs of campus buildings; L. Tom Perry Special Collections; University Archives; 1130 Harold B. Lee Library; Brigham Young University; Provo, Utah 84606; http://sc.lib.byu.edu/

Location

Metadata

Josh Franzen and Rachel Hendrickson, Brigham Young University
, “Harold B. Lee Library (HBLL),” Intermountain Histories, accessed June 23, 2024, https://www.intermountainhistories.org/items/show/314.