It was Friday the 13th, 1962, but for a group of dedicated volunteers at Roanoke College, it had nothing to do with luck—good or bad. It was all about the planning. For many months, the campus and its neighbors had watched the much longed-for new Roanoke College Library progress. And, finally, the building was finished!
Since 1878, Bittle Memorial Hall, the fourth building across the Front Quad, had served the campus as its library. (No, it never was a chapel.) Now, eighty-four years later, the task at hand was to move 30,000 books across campus to their new home. The tricky part? The books had to be IN ORDER! Operation Bookswitch was born.
Donald M. Sutton, Director of Student Activities, had worked very hard to devise a system whereby volunteers would pick up small groups of books to be carried across campus to the correct location. It was absolutely necessary that the volunteers stay in line in order.
The College officials called upon volunteers to carry out the plan. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends eagerly arrived that afternoon. At precisely 1:45P.M., Sutton sounded the bullhorn, the fraternity cannon boomed, and the lines began to move—into Bittle from the Back Quad, out the front door, across campus and into the new library, where Librarians directed everyone from President H. Sherman Oberly and Dean Perry F. Kendig to freshmen “rats” to the proper location. Coca Cola was supplied to the hot and thirsty movers. Two hours and thirteen minutes later—exactly 3:58P.M.—the bullhorn sounded and the cannon boomed. The task was finished. And, so were many of the volunteers– hot and tired, with aching arms and sore, blistered feet. The last book in the door was Banned Books: A Study in Censorship.
Over the weekend, the Librarians checked for errors. The plan had been well devised and executed; 94% of the books were in their proper place.
Monday morning, the Roanoke College Library was open for business, with its bold colors of blue and orange to its sturdy study tables and chairs, some of which are still in use today. The original Library extended as far into Fintel Library as the middle of the pillars in front of the center stairwell, and was only three floors. But, for those who had worked and studied in Bittle Memorial Hall, it was huge and fresh and new.
The photo above appears in The Roanoke Collegian. Students are shown moving books out of Bittle Memorial Hall and taking them across campus to the new library. For the full article from The Roanoke Collegian on “Operation Bookswitch” contact Piper Cumbo or Linda Miller.