From the archives: Turning the page
Now part of the School of Communications, the Iris Holt McEwen Building once served as the home of Elon’s library.
By Sarah Collins ’18
Enter the first floor of the Iris Holt McEwen Building today and you’ll find student journalists working in the newly christened Paul Parsons Student Newsroom. You’ll see state-of-the-art studios and a large wall dedicated to student and alumni awards. Up until 18 years ago, however, this space was the first floor of the Iris Holt McEwen Library.
By the 1960s, Elon College was quickly outgrowing its humble library in Carlton. Construction of a new library began in 1966, following a groundbreaking ceremony that took place on Parents’ Day that fall. After more than a year and a half of construction, the library was completed in the summer of 1968. With the new building finished, the challenge remained of moving the university’s entire collection of books from the existing library in Carlton.
In keeping with Elon’s spirit of community, the college asked students, faculty, staff and local residents to help with the daunting task. On June 15, 1968, Elon College canceled classes and invited everyone to a picnic steak dinner—for the price of carrying 10 loads of books to the new library. In a single hot summer day, the campus community carried 67,000 books from the old Carlton Library to the new library. The story goes that the last load of books arrived at 5:05 p.m.—five minutes after the set goal time.
The new library opened the very next day. The building’s three floors offered enough space for 600 students to study, a much-needed upgrade from the old library’s reading room that could accommodate only 100 students. The library also had the capacity to hold 120,000 books, strategically planned for the college to continue growing its collection. Patrons of the library could enjoy the building’s air conditioning, a luxury that had not been available in Carlton. Featuring the latest modern technology, the library also housed 24 listening tables for vinyl records and cassette tapes, as well as microfilm and microfiche readers. In addition, the library had an art exhibit space and a “Church History” room.
In its early years, the new building was called “The Elon College Library.” On May 20, 1972, the building was officially dedicated and named the Iris Holt McEwen Library in recognition of McEwen’s service to Elon. An Alamance County educator, McEwen served on Elon’s board of trustees for 36 years. McEwen Library stood next to McEwen Dining Hall, which had been named in honor of her late husband, James H. McEwen, in 1956. Technology had a profound impact on the library. In 1993 its card catalog was replaced by an online catalog called I.R.I.S., which stood for “Information Retrieval in Seconds” in honor of the library’s namesake. In 1995, 42 new computers were installed around McEwen Library, giving library patrons access to several CD-ROM databases and the internet. Elon also joined the North Carolina Piedmont Area Library System, allowing the community to search for books in the collections of several private colleges in the Triad region.
In the summer of 1995, McEwen Library underwent a renovation. According to an article published in the Burlington Times-News, seldom-used books were moved off-site to accommodate new books. The technical services department, responsible for purchasing and cataloging new library materials, was also moved off-site to Arts West. In addition, shorter shelves replaced the seven-foot-tall bookshelves on the first floor, allowing visitors a clear view of the library. But this renovation was only a temporary fix. The school had once again outgrown its library, and planning began for a new space. The result was the Carol Grotnes Belk Library, which opened in 2000. After the library moved out of McEwen, the building was renovated to become the home of the new School of Communications.