The current library on the Oklahoma Panhandle State University (OPSU) campus did not always exist. Indeed, a building to house the school’s library didn’t even exist when the school, then known as Panhandle Agricultural Institute (PAI), was established in November 1909. The saga of the library is a long and winding one.
According to state legislation, a “commodious central building which will be ready for occupancy at the opening of the coming season” (fall 1911) included space for all academic units and administrative offices as well as a “library room.” This first major building for PAI—Hesper Hall—was slated “to be heated throughout with hot air, and … thoroughly sanitary in all its equipment.”
Just two years later on March 25, 1913, President Sanders Whiting “Daddy” Black requested $2,200 to acquire library improvements: additional books, furniture, and library cases. He and other instructors had “seeded” the library with their personal book collections so that students had study and reference materials. In a specific request addressed to the Honorable F. Z. Curry of Oklahoma City to encourage the state legislature to approve the library funding, Black wrote: “There is not a little city school of ten teachers that does not have a better and bigger library than is owned by the state at this school.” His request succeeded, for by April 1914, the PAI library held 3,000 books.
More improvements and changes quickly followed. By 1917, the school’s yearly report to the Oklahoma Board of Agriculture listed the value of the library at $1,800. The school’s 1919-1920 budget allowed $500 for the library room’s improvement. Now called Panhandle Agricultural and Mechanical College (PAMC) in 1923, the college saw significant library improvements, for it had grown to two rooms—a reading room and a stack room with shelved books. By the end of the 1920’s, the library’s holdings were estimated to be worth $5,849.72.
The library moved from Hesper Hall to Sewell-Loofburrow Hall in 1933 where it assumed two rooms on the second floor. In 1935, the Oklahoma State Legislature allowed PAMC to purchase WPA bonds to defray the cost of renovating Hesper Hall to become the library and the museum and to build a new dormitory and to repair campus buildings. The state chipped in the rest of the money needed. The library moved again in 1939 to the second floor of the Science Building where the gymnasium and the physical education offices had been located. Now, the library boasted of Venetian blinds at the windows, “semi-direct” lighting fixtures, evaporative air conditioning, and a linoleum floor. By the early 1940’s, the library had grown to 9,795 volumes.
The Oklahoma legislature approved $232,210 to construct a library building in 1950. Architectural plans called for Vermont and Tennessee marble, walls of India ivory, birch furniture, four study carrels, a soundproof listening room, and a soundproof typing room to be included into the two-story building’s 15,925 square-foot design. Reading space for 132 people and fluorescent lighting fixtures were requested also. Senator Leon Field of Texhoma pushed for the funding. The building, named in 1951 to honor Dr. Marvin McKee, the school’s president from 1944 until 1968 and an Oklahoma State Representative from 1968 until 1979, was dedicated as part of homecoming festivities on October 18, 1952. Until 1964 when the Student Union opened, the library housed the bookstore. The last significant remodeling of the library came in 1965 when the state approved a 15,294 square-foot addition that doubled the size of the library; it opened in 1969.
Currently, the library’s web-based online catalog lists an extensive collection of over 120,000 pieces: print, audio-visual, and microfilm. Thirty thousand electronic books and forty-five online databases are available with the stroke a key. In addition, the library offers computer research terminals, word processing computers, reference and document sources, a youth collection, special collections, a curriculum textbook collection, and the OPSU archives room. The west side of the building serves as the headquarters of the Panhandle State Association of Alumni and Friends. McKee Library continues to be the heart of OPSU for students, faculty, staff, researchers, and local citizens.