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Celebrating 50 years of Cooper Library, how the “most needed” building on campus got its start

Clemson’s Robert Muldrow Cooper Library turns 50 this year, and according to the library’s staff, the building doesn’t look bad for its age. 

The five-story, white edifice sits at the heart of campus and accommodates around 8,000 visitors each day. The yearly expenditures of all libraries on

campus are around $13.7 million: that’s approximately $700 per student, according to Clemson’s website. Cooper’s five stories house a range of quiet study areas and collaboration zones, as well as a convenience store and coming later this year—a Starbucks.

Clemson’s library system has come far since 1959, when the Clemson Board of Trustees said “the most needed building on campus,” was, in fact, a new library. The university had undergone a growth spurt in the mid 20th century—nearly tripling its 1,200 students—and Sikes Hall, which had replaced Tillman as the campus library in 1927, was no longer suitable for the expanding institution. Almost everyday was a modern-day finals week. 

Enter Robert Muldrow Cooper Library.

After two years of construction and $3 million later, the building opened its doors to students in 1966. 

To R. M. Cooper’s Public Information Coordinator Micki Reid, Clemson’s core library has been close to a home. Reid says she has been coming to Cooper for as long as she can remember. 

“I grew up in Cooper Library because my mother worked here; I was literally spending time in Cooper Library before I was born,” said Reid. “I remember coming to work with her and being amazed at how big the library seemed to be.” 

Reid said she used Cooper for references throughout her middle school, high school and college years at Clemson. She even came back after graduation.

“I’ve been here ever since.”

Reid said Cooper has attained notable achievements over its  50-year life span. In 1984, the library moved from a traditional paper card catalog to a mainframe catalog, taking the library into the digital world.

In 1987, Cooper was one of five libraries in the country that had

searchable, locally mounted databases (the fore-runner of the online databases we have today). For the Library’s 30th anniversary in 1996, the university introduced CU Explorer, a web-based system that provided access to the library’s catalog, online databases, online encyclopedias and the World Wide Web.

In 2015, Clemson partnered with Adobe Digital Studio and became the only university in the country to allow students, faculty and staff full use

of the Adobe Creative Cloud. The studio, located on Cooper’s fifth floor, features audio and video recording studios and a Behance wall for inspiration.

After all it’s done for the university, the birthday subject has a fall semester dedicated to “treating itself.” There’s even a giant banner in its entryway, commemorating its half-a-century status. 

The Library’s Facebook page says Cooper’s new exhibit “is all about Cooper.”

“We’ll have two exhibits about Cooper Library’s history. The first one is called ‘The Most Needed Building on Campus’…and there will be a second exhibit later in the semester called: “The Heart of the University”: R. M. Cooper Library, 1966 to Today.”

Reid said there will also be book displays each month on the shelves beside the Library Services Desk, with each display this semester focusing on some aspect of 1960s culture.  

Reid says there will also be a party to celebrate the library’s dedication to Robert M. Cooper, who was a member of the Clemson Trustee Board for 44 years. The original dedication took place on October 14, 1966, but the party is scheduled for October 13 from 11am until 1:30pm. Reid says the party will feature ’60s music, cupcakes, a photo booth and games with prizes.

Cooper will host its own festivities on the patio and by the pond to commemorate reaching half a century. 

“Cooper is…in the heart of campus,” said Reid, “and it’s a place many students call home.”

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