At this point, ten years into the new campus’s existence, the College’s expanding library holdings had been in nearly constant motion, migrating almost yearly through basements and lab rooms and women’s dormitories and then back into basements, such that the collection had become widely dispersed around the campus. While the librarians and students and faculty made do as best they could, this made for a less-than-ideal situation. According to one undated evaluation by the Head Librarian:
Lack of anything like adequate study space is a serious, continuing problem. There seems no solution to the problem short of a new building which would provide such space…. The noise level is too high in all areas of the library, and there likewise does not seem to be any solution to that problem short of a well-designed building in which administrative work spaces are separate from shelf stacks and study areas. Telephones will ring, typewriters must be used, and verbal queries from patrons must be answered.
In the meantime, the College and its librarians carried on. In 1980 James Benefiel, who had already worked for the College for several years as a cataloguing librarian, took on the position of Library Director, a position he would hold until 1990. It was during the next decade that the momentum for a new library truly began to build. Richard Weigle had retired from the presidency in 1980, after thirty-one intensely productive years at the College, and under his successor, Edwin Delattre, the prospect of a dedicated library building again appeared on the horizon. The archives shows a conversation in 1984 between Mr. Delattre and Mr. Benefiel explicitly devoted to discussing various visions of a new library. In 1985 a rough cost estimate, based on the original library plans, was worked up, and with further input by the campus library committee and the head librarian, the vision of more than twenty years began to coalesce into the outline of an actual project. A summary of the state of the library at the time is telling:
The collection is now housed in three separate locations on campus: in the Peterson Student Center, the Fine Arts Building, and Weigle Hall. Storage for back issues of periodical titles and for new and gift books is in two rooms in the basement of Peterson Center. Altogether these spaces occupy 8,318 square feet…. With the exception of 6 carrels, 2 tables, and 2 lounge chairs, there are no accommodations for readers in the three library locations. The lack of adequate study space is a serious, continuing problem and it is the expressed desire of the college community that a new facility generously provide for this need…. Finally, the fact that the four staff members are spread out over three locations has caused some inefficiencies and managerial difficulties. Circulation activities occur in three locations rather than one, cataloguing and card production are handled in two locations…. Overall, supervision of a library and a library staff that is spread out over three locations is more time-consuming than it would be for one location.
By 1986, when Michael Riccards assumed the Presidency of the Santa Fe campus, the conversation had grown to include the Faculty, the Campus Planning Committee, the Board of Visitors and Governors, and a Strategic Planning Committee. At this point, a grant application was already in the works with the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, created in 1948 by oilman John Mabee and his wife Lottie with the goal of providing philanthropic support to educational, medical, and charitable organizations. According to a Foundation spokesman at the time, “the philosophy of the foundation is that since the Mabees acquired much of their wealth through oil operations in the Southwest, money should be put back into institutions in the Southwest.”
By this time, nearly twenty years after graduating its first class, the fledgling campus had arrived at full adulthood, and it was now able to apply for these grant funds from a position of strength. To quote from a letter to the Foundation drafted for the original grant application:
As you can appreciate, the academic program of St. John’s College relies heavily on the printed word. It has been a continuing frustration to have the College’s 50,000 volumes housed in three separate buildings on our campus.… When the Santa Fe campus was conceived in the early 60s and plans were completed for the buildings, a three-story library was envisioned…. The plans that were prepared in 1963 called for a library with 18,200 square feet—ample capacity for the present and long-term needs. The architectural style of those original plans was in keeping with the other campus buildings—called the Southwest Territorial style. The Library was not built in the early days of the College because of a lack of funds and a need to use all contribution income for current operations…. St. John’s now has the financial stability to allow us to concentrate on finding the resources to build a quality library which can serve the needs of its students now and in the future.
In April of 1988, the College announced that the Mabee Foundation would provide $1 million to St. John’s for a new library, contingent upon the college raising the remaining $1.8 million itself. With this grant offer, which gave the College one year to meet its challenge requirement, the race was now on. The College’s Advancement staff immediately set to work on fundraising, and as has always been the case for this College when there is a capital need, alumni and Board members and faculty and friends of the College all rallied on behalf of the new library. In the course of this broad effort, the College also netted a second significant challenge grant of $250,000 from the Kresge Foundation, yet another powerful vote of confidence in the project and a significant boost to the fundraising effort.
Meanwhile, the Campus Planning Committee carefully reviewed the original 1964 library plans and ultimately concluded that these were now insufficient for the needs of the College. This led to the creation of a steering committee comprised of staff, faculty, Board members, and students whose charge was to develop a detailed program document for the new library. Instrumental in guiding this work was library consultant Lisa Carey, SFGI86, who would work tirelessly on this new campus library project until its completion. In an article Lisa wrote for the St. John’s Reporter in December of 1990, she described these first stages of planning:
While the document addresses various goals for the building—such as the need to provide shelf space for 90,000 books, the need to manage all aspects of operating a high quality library geared to the College’s program of study, as well as the need to stay within a modest budget—it was understood that our principal goal was to provide study space to students. So significant was this goal that the committee made a commitment to provide seating for 50% of the undergraduate and graduate population, or 220 students. This is remarkable as a more typical seating goal for a library facility would be to provide seating for 10 to 15% of the student population.
In addition to the library steering committee, a student library committee was given the task of finding out what kind of seating was desirable to students—carrels, study tables, upholstered furniture or some combination. The committee consisted of six students—Owen Lee, ’90, Kelly Koepke, ’90, Lee Whiting, ’89, Ron Kaplan, ’90, Sarah Maxwell, ’91, and Luke Warren, ’92—all of whom worked tirelessly in their effort to make students’ wishes influential on the design of the building. They prepared a questionnaire which was distributed to the entire student body, and then interviewed students personally. In addition to breaking down student preferences for seating, the committee was also able to learn of students’ most important wish—a quiet, safe, warm 24-hour study space….and it was decided that the building would provide two 24-hour study rooms.
By this time, more than twenty-five years had passed since Richard Weigle’s fateful first meeting with John and Faith Meem, back in February of 1961. John Meem had gone on to serve four terms on the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors, remaining a stalwart supporter of the College and the Santa Fe campus up until the time of his passing on August 4, 1983. Following John’s death, Faith herself was elected to the St. John’s Board in January 1984, and after her first term expired in 1986, she was elected for another three years.
A year later her son-in-law, John Wirth, a professor of Latin American studies at Stanford who had married the Meems’ daughter Nancy, was himself elected to the Board, and both he and Faith became actively involved in the new library project. When Faith passed away on March 23rd, 1989, at the age of 87, she had just attended a Board meeting on the Santa Fe campus the previous Saturday, and she had also been the person to make the final gift completing the funding of the new library, which she would just miss seeing finally come to fruition on the land she and John had donated for the campus nearly thirty years before.