Sawyer Library

Despite the early controversy concerning its design and location, work based on Ben Weese’s design for Sawyer Library commenced in June 1973. Completed two years and $4.8 million later, the library, named for John Edward Sawyer the Williams president who had pushed for its construction, was officially dedicated during the 1975 Convocation ceremonies. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Reserve Room was dedicated several months later on King’s birthday.

Thanks to its 97,250-square feet of space, which included room for 489,500 volumes, 22 typing carrels, 13 listening stations, 12 microform viewers, and room for hundreds of students to work, the new library forever altered study habits on campus. The number of students using the library at any particular hour was double that of the library’s previous location in Stetson; circulation of library materials rose for the first time in three years; and the number of items on reserve jumped from 53,000 to 72,000. Students had the option of studying at tables, lounge seats, the two-tiered “monkey carrels,” or to reserve a desk for the year to work on a thesis or long-term project.

Inevitably, this increased popularity also brought some difficulties for the library. Reserve fines were increased because many students preferred to pay the fine rather than return the material. Numerous books and periodicals were borrowed without permission, intentionally misshelved, or stolen outright. Inappropriate noise levels were also a concern, as the library was becoming one of the campus’s chief social centers. One frustrated student urged, “The problem of noise in the library is insoluble unless all concerned make a conscious effort to take extended conversation down to the lounge or back to the House. Learn the manual alphabet. Take up mime. Practice winking. But try to keep in mind where you are.”

Over time, the loss of books and periodicals became a greater problem. By Librarian Lawrence Wikander’s 1978-9 Annual Report , an estimated 10,000 books valued at over $150,000, were missing. Besides monetary loss, this statistic included books which had gone out of print and were now irreplaceable. Wikander was concerned that installing an electronic theft detection system might lead to book mutilation and the tossing of books out the windows. In 1982, the College hired a new librarian, Phyllis Cutler, who advocated the new security measures that were finally installed in 1984.

The growth of technology has aided the library and its patrons in many ways. The automation of the card catalog, circulation records, acquisitions, and other cataloging began in 1982. It has made library resources easier to use, easier to track, and harder to abscond with. It has also led to the expanded use of the inter-library loan system and use of electronic resources such as on-line journals, indexes, and Web-based sources.

Sawyer Library continues to grow and accommodate new media. In 1988, the student lounge was eliminated to make room for more stacks and growth of the government documents collection. Other renovations followed in 1992 and 1999, including the construction of a wired classroom and a new reference desk. Sawyer Library remains an important resource for all Williams students.

By Jaime Margalotti (Williams Class of 2000)


“$4.8 Million, 5 Story, Brick Library Opens.” Williams Record . 16 Sept. 1975.

“King Room Dedicated in Sawyer.” Williams Record . 16 Jan. 1976.

“Library Increases Fines.” Williams Record . 20 Apr. 1976.

Buckner, Chip. “Sawyer Sees Increased Popularity.” Williams Record . 24 Sept. 1976.

Frazer, Douglas. “Insoluble Irritation.” Letter. Williams Record . 5 Nov. 1976.

Diehl, Janet. “Library is Social Hub of Campus.” Williams Record . 27 Feb. 1979.

“Selfishness Major Library Problem.” Williams Record . 27 Feb. 1979.

Steakley, David. “Library Thefts Becoming Costly.” Williams Record . 11 March 1980.

Desmond, David. “Machines Usurp Books.” Williams Record . 23 Nov. 1982.

Howlett, Christian. “Library Looks at Installing Electronic Security System.” Williams Record . 1 May 1984.

Sonoda, Midori. “Library, Gym Install Stricter Security.” Williams Record . 18 Feb. 1986.

Weisberg, Rob. “Library Innovations Prep Sawyer for 21st Century. Williams Record . 27 Oct. 1987.

Drought, Ellen. “Library to Undergo Renovations: College Plans to Add Shelf Space.” Williams Record . 13 Oct. 1988.