May 3, 2020
A university library was established with the founding of the university in Fairbanks in 1922, with President Charles Bunnell personally serving as the de facto university librarian until his retirement. His goal was to collect “every book about Alaska by Alaskans,” yet his efforts to build a university library went well beyond, as he solicited books and collections from hundreds of people. Notable historical additions included generous book donations from Mrs. Alfred H. Brooks, Gilbert Skinner, and many others.
The library continued to evolve through the years. It was housed in various campus locations as the collections grew, including the gymnasium in Signers’ Hall, and later the Bunnell building. Finally in 1970, when the new Rasmuson Library building was dedicated, several hundred thousand volumes were moved by hand to fill the new stacks.
The university archives was founded in 1965, by Paul McCarthy and Theodore Ryberg, starting a special collections mission that continues to the present. Subsequent developments include the establishment of the oral history program in 1981, construction of a major addition in 1985 which added space for 700,000+ volumes, the founding of the Alaska Film Archives in 1993, and a partial remodel in 2003.
Between the 1970s and 1990s, library collections grew rapidly. In particular, Alaska and Polar Regions special collections built upon significant rare book and map collections owned by Elmer Rasmuson. Subsequent generous donations by multiple members by the Rasmuson family and Rasmuson Foundation were crucial to development of the Alaska Film Archives, installation of state-of-the-art facilities for storing historical audiovisual resources, and acquisition of valuable holdings of all types. This support propelled the Rasmuson Library into becoming the renowned resource it is today for research in any subject related to Alaska and polar areas.
The library today serves the entire campus community, researchers worldwide, and Alaska residents through participation in the Alaska Library Catalog. Hundreds of thousands of visitors come through the doors annually, to use extensive print, online, and multimedia collections, as well as services provided by dedicated staff and librarians.
As society evolves, so do libraries, and the Rasmuson Library is no exception. While honoring its 50 years of providing intellectual content needed for thoughtful scholarship, the library is also planning for the decades ahead. Spaces are being reimagined and redesigned to enhance service to incoming students. Collaboration with university academic departments and the Alaskan community at-large is increasing. Archival collections are being grown to protect and preserve the history of Alaska and its people. Online collections are expanding to allow worldwide access to these treasures.