History on Campus: Parks Library


Photo: Miranda Cantrell/Iowa State Daily

A seating area located near the front doors of Parks Library. The chairs in this area were a source of contention back in 2012, when the decision was made to replace the chairs after the Government of the Student Body voted against doing so. The funding came from the ISU Foundation’s annual Call-A-Thon.

Miranda Cantrell

At one point or another in their college career, every student at Iowa State will find themselves setting foot in Parks Library (if only for their Library 160 class). Located due north of the Free Speech Zone, the library is easily one of the most important and useful locations on campus.

The first library building was built in 1925. Prior to that, the university’s written collections had been housed at various times in Old Main, Morrill Hall and Beardshear Hall. The first addition to the library was completed in 1961 on the west side of the original building. A second addition was completed in 1969, this time adding a multi-tier stack and an extension to the first addition.

It is the third addition to the library, however, that is most important. The third addition was completed in 1983, and brought the library to four times its original size. This vast expansion of the library was spearheaded by then-Iowa State President W. Robert Parks and his wife, Ellen. In 1984, the library was officially dedicated and named after the Parks family. The newly christened Parks Library quickly gained recognition as one of the most impressive college library facilities in the country.

Parks Library has numerous collections and resources available for students to utilize. As of 2012, the library has nearly three million books in its collection, as well as thousands of academic journals, photographs, slides, microform units, video and audio materials.

The main circulation desk is located near the entrance of Parks, where students may check out books they find within the open stacks. The media center, located in the lower level of the building, is where students can check out various media resources and use the in-house audio/visual equipment to view non-circulating media materials. Scanning and printing services are also available here.

Some of the most interesting library materials can be found in the Special Collections department, located on the top floor of Parks. This department houses the biggest, smallest, oldest and most rare books in the library’s collection. None of the materials kept here can be checked out, but students can request to look at a specific item. Special Collections also maintains the University Archives, which “collects, describes, preserves and exhibits university records that contain historical, administrative, legal, or fiscal value.” 

Along with its various academic materials and resources, the library features numerous art displays, several of which were created by famous artists. Iowa native Grant Wood (of American Gothic fame) created several murals depicting the influence of agriculture on American life. These murals adorn the first floor of the library.

The works of famed sculptor Christian Petersen also grace the interior of the library building. Petersen came to Iowa State in 1934 and taught until 1955 in a converted studio space in the Quadrangle (now Lagomarcino Hall.) Petersen’s sculpture entitled “Boy and Girl” sits in the landing of the first floor stairwell of the original library building, while “Old Woman in Prayer” stands in the southeast corner of the glass curtain wall of the 1983 addition.

Lastly, Parks Library is the home of the Bookends Cafe, located on the first floor just beyond the Reading Room. This ISU Dining-run cafe serves Roasterie coffee, espresso beverages, smoothies and other blended and specialty drinks, as well as various food items.