The grand Battle Hall Reading Room has served the University in a variety of ways—when the building opened in 1911, before the installation of the book stack, its weight load was tested as a temporary book storage. Over time, it also served as art studios, a band practice room, and exhibition spaces. The entire student body studied here in the University's first purpose built library. Later, as library spaces expanded across campus, specific subjects remained, offering the reading room for students of Texas history, fine arts, education, psychology, music, architecture, and planning.
Some faculty and staff were even fortunate to consider the reading room their office, including librarian and Texas folklorist Marcelle Lively Hamer (1900-1974). From September 1932 until 1955 Marcelle Hamer was head of the Texas Collection at the University of Texas library.
The stenciling of the rafters in the reading room was designed by Elmer E. Garnsey, decorative painter and muralist. Garnsey also consulted on the exterior paint colors and terra cotta. The wooden tracery doors and screens were carved by Paul Schleich of New York City, completed in 1913 at a cost of $4,600. Refinishing occurred in 1952. The doors originally served as the main entrance to the reading room. The clock located at the top of the screen was a gift of the class of 1912.
While librarians’ offices often have been housed in this space, many other university faculty and staff have enjoyed this office as well. The following are of special note:
- James Frank Dobie, folklorist, occupied this office from 1936-1939.
- Charles Umlauf, artist, sculptor and educator. In 1941 Umlauf joined the new art department of the University of Texas as instructor in sculpture, and moved his family to Austin. He served on the faculty for forty years.
- Thomas Matthew Stell, Jr. was a painter, teacher, and member of the Dallas Nine group of regionalist artists. In 1945 Stell taught drawing and design in the art department at the University of Texas at Austin. He entered graduate school at the University of Texas in the fall of 1947 and continued his studies there sporadically through the summer of 1955.
- John Ward Lockwood was an artist and founder of the art department at the University of Texas at Austin. In 1938 Lockwood accepted a job as professor of art at the University of Texas.
- Loren Norman Mozley left New Mexico in August 1938 to help Ward Lockwood organize the new art department at the University of Texas in Austin. The two men put their jobs on the line by insisting on the necessity of nude models for life-drawing classes and worked to bridge the gap between academia and the larger arts community by hiring artists as teachers, bringing art exhibitions to the campus, and serving on juries throughout the state.
- Llerena Beaufort Friend was a historian, teacher, and librarian. She worked on the preparation of the Handbook of Texas until 1950, when she became the founding director of the Barker Texas History Center, a position she held until September 1, 1969
Fine Arts faculty who occupied the space include Howard Cook, Edgar Taylor, Eugene Trentham, Henry Rasmusen, Lyon Hays, and Julius Woeltz.
The original cataloging room was located on the south side of the receiving room, behind the current service desk (BTL201). This location was easily accessible so that all new books could be cataloged quickly as part of the university's collection.
When the library moved out of the building in 1934, the new College of Fine Arts held studio in this space. In 1950, the Barker Texas History Center used this space as its Rare Book room, where researchers could be under the watchful eye of staff members. Today, it serves as the Architecture & Planning Library public services staff offices.
Delivery Hall or Receiving Room
Initially, library users would have to request books to be paged by staff. The receiving room, was a really more of a space bounded by two service counters, the Catalog room and the book stack. Library visitors would see the first counter at the arch way as they entered the library at the top of the staircase (currently the security entrance), the second counter spanned across the reading room entrance where the books were paged. The space is located directly below and naturally lit through a leaded glass “ceiling light” or glass dome skylight.
The book stack room contains seven levels of book stacks, set at a lower ceiling height for storage efficiency at human scale. This self-supporting steel frame system was fabricated by General Fireproofing of Youngstown, Ohio. Cass Gilbert used this manufacturer in several of his award winning libraries, which includes state of the art features such as integral air shafts for forced air and a dumb waiter elevator (no longer in use). Although the library opened in August of 1911, it didn’t have book stacks until 1912 with final completion in 1919. In 1960, construction of the West Mall Office Building covered the west wall's windows, which until then offered relief of the confined space through natural light that radiated through marble flooring.
Cass Gilbert designed these stacks with the public in mind. Although accessible only to paging staff in this early closed-stack library, the public enjoyed an open arched view of natural light, marble ceilings, a wide stacks staircase, and ironwork while waiting for their books to be delivered at the service desk. This is a highly unusual treatment of what generally constitutes a dark and maze-like experience in other library buildings with stack rooms. An example of a typical book stack can be found at the University of Texas' Life Science Library book stack located in the Main Building's tower.
- 1911: Library opens without book stacks (or elevator)
- 1912: 5 of 7 levels of book stacks installed, leaving 6th level for seminar rooms
- 1912: 80,000 volumes (including the Texas Collection Library-Palm library, Bexar archive)
- 1918: Littlefield’s purchase of the Wrenn Library inaugurates the University's Rare Book Collection
- 1919: Final two levels of book stacks installed
- 1924: Garcia Collection (purchased in 1921, the basis for the Benson Latin American Collection stacks level 3), Littlefield Collection for Southern History (stacks level 4), Texas Collection in seminar room
- 1934: 473,837 volumes (30% housed off site)
- 1950-1973: Barker Texas History Center rare books including the newly acquired Vandale Texana Collection (from oilman and Texana collector)
- Currently Architecture & Planning Library’s circulating collections, Special Collections, and Alexander Architectural Archives