The vision for the Von KleinSmid Center Library is to create a collection-based, service-oriented research and learning center for greater public understanding and appreciation of the world in which we live. The library strives to be a comprehensive learning laboratory consisting of collections, instructional programs, and research initiatives that are linked to serving the growing needs of a diverse community of researchers within the University of Southern California, the Los Angeles metropolitan area, the Southern California region, and beyond.
The origins of the Von KleinSmid Center Library can be traced back to the founding of the World Affairs Collection, first housed in Doheny Memorial Library in 1932. The World Affairs Collection consisted of materials acquired by the fifth President of the University, Dr. Rufus B. Von KleinSmid. He recognized the need for a collection of such works and began acquiring documents from the League of Nations. Over time, the USC Libraries continued to develop great strengths in the area of published works from the United Nations, SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), the European Union, and other international organizations in support of the School of International Relations, a program founded in 1924 and the third oldest school in the world devoted to the study of international affairs, also created under the leadership of Dr. Von KleinSmid.
In 1966, the Von KleinSmid Center for International and Public Affairs was built and dedicated to the former president of the University. The new Center recognized the legacy of Dr. Von KleinSmid by providing space on campus where the teaching and research he was so intensely interested in could be realized. Designed by American modernist architect Edward Durrell Stone and costing more than $3,260,000, space for a library was developed throughout the lower level of the building to create a service-orientated research and learning center in support of the original visionset forth by Dr. Dr. Von KleinSmid. When it was completed, University Librarian Dr. Lewis F. Steig stated in 1966 that, “U.S.C.’s World Affairs Library is one of the outstanding collections of its kind in the country.” He emphasized that, “Only the Littauer Center at Harvard and Maxwell School of Citizenship at Syracuse University are comparable.”
According to a press release announcing the new Center, the VKC Library was to include the 90,000-volume World Affairs Collection and more than 35,000 additional volumes of materials in the areas of public administration and political science. These two programs, along with the Research Institute on Communist Strategy and Propaganda, were also incorporated into the Von KleinSmid Center for International and Public Affairs. The movement of these materials from Doheny Library required a complicated system to quickly move the books from Doheny and two other locations where materials had been stored. Beginning on the morning of March 18, 1966, box after box of books, each carefully coded, moved through a window in Doheny onto a 388-foot “conveyer line.” Described as having “more ups and downs than a roller-coaster,” the collection had to be moved three stories vertically and 439 feet horizontally to its new location. Nearly fifty persons participated in moving the materials, including fifteen librarians, ten student assistants, and twenty-five personnel from the University’s Operation and Maintenance Department. The VKC Library also opened with study carrels that could accommodate 248 users.
During the next twenty years the VKC Library collections continued to grow rapidly in response to the increasing curricular and research demands of the School of Public Administration, the newly formed School of Urban Planning and Development, and the Department of Political Science. The initial collection of approximately 120,000 volumes grew to more than 220,000 volumes, with subscriptions maintained for more than 900 journals, magazines, and newspapers and twenty-five cabinets of microfilm. By the mid-1990s, the facility was surpassing capacity and, as a result, books had to be arranged on tables because they could no longer be reshelved properly. Any new shelving installed to help relieve the growth of the book collection took away study place from the students so new a solution had to be sought.
On December 15, 1999 the Doheny Memorial Library was closed for a seismic retrofit project that would increase substantially the Library’s resistance to damage during seismic events. This meant that Doheny Library would be under repair for more than a year, from the end of Fall semester 1999 until early Spring semester 2001. During this period, the library had to be evacuated of both materials and people, including relocation of over 1.5 million volumes of books to an off-campus storage facility [the Grand Avenue Depository Library] and the temporary relocation of dozens of library faculty and staff. As a result, the VKC Library had to accommodate the staff and collections of the Micrographics Department, the current journal collection, and the library faculty from the combined Government Documents and Doheny Library Reference Department. This necessitated the removal of more than 80,000 books and other materials to permanent storage at the Grand Avenue Depository Library so that offices could be built to accommodate displaced faculty and staff from these departments in Doheny Library. After the retrofit was completed the government documents and their facuilty and staff remained in the VKC Library. In 2002, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee was created in cooperation with the U.S.C. Academic Senate and charged with advising the Dean of the USC Libraries on a strategy for advancing library and information services over the next five to ten years. One of the recommendations that came from faculty participating on the Committee was “to reconfigure VKC Library as an interdisciplinary center for international and urban initiatives,” paralleling the University’s overall strategic goals. This provided the impetus for several projects intended to enhance the Library, including repairing a very leaky roof, repairing the drain in the central atrium, and the installation of the Multimedia and Satellite Broadcast Learning Lab, made possible by a generous gift from the School of International Relations.
For the next six years the VKC Library continued to build on the recommendations of the Strategic Planning Steering Committee to improve services and provide enhanced access to print and digital resources. Improvements to the collections were guided by a Collection Profile Plan [pdf] that layed a foundation for anticipating future growth in key areas of the collection and that described the strategic integration of digital resources into the Library's overall mission. Among the recommendations implemented were: 1) facilitating better access to key resources by relocating most reference books into the circulating collection; 2) acquiring several new databases, such as, the complete full-text of the Foreign Broadcast Information Service Daily Reports, the Worldwide Political Science Abstracts, Water Resources Abstracts, and the ProQuest Congressional Hearings Digital Collection; 3) building a core collection of resources in support of the emerging Public Diplomacy program, and, 4) utilizing the exhibit space in the entrance lobby for displays that promote the library’s collections and faculty research. In addition, the VKC Library acquired the books and bound and current journals of the geography collection formally housed in Doheny Library. Reflecting a commitment to enhance outreach and public service, the positions of Social Sciences Data Librarian and Public Affairs Librarian were created and filled. The Library also created its own Facebook page.
Despite these initiatives, faculty and staff were informed on November 23, 2009 that VKC Library personnel and collections would be relocated to storage and to other units throughout the library system so that instrumental practice rooms could be built for students from the Thornton School of Music. They needed a new space because the Music Practice and Instructional Center [PIC] building was to be torn down to accommodate the Athletic Department’s newly planned John McKay Center. However, no more than three weeks later, on December 7, 2009, both our users and library personnel were happy to learn that the University had rescinded its decision to close the VKC Library. Since the Library has “re-opened,” several new initiatives have taken place or are planned for the near future. For example, the long-term goals of installing high-speed wireless connectivity throughout the entire facility and creating a reading lounge near the current journal and newspaper collections were realized. In January 2011, a significant portion of the United States government documents collection was relocated into new compact shelving in the VKC Library. Future plans include upgrading the exhibit space in the entrance lobby, revising the comprehensive Collection Profile Plan, and the possibility of building small group-study rooms in the VKC Library.
The VKC Library’s future as it enters the second decade of the 21st century continues to one of great expectations and of an on-going commitment to quality service and inter-disciplinary learning. The history of the Von KleinSmid Center Library for International and Public Affairs can be traced back to Dr. Von KleinSmid’s initial gift in 1932. Throughout this long and distinguished history, the mission of the VKC Library has remained unchanged—to be a collection-based, service-oriented research and learning center for greater public understanding and appreciation of the world in which we live.