The Nimitz Library at the Naval Academy sees about 179,000 visitors a year. That equates to 3,326 answered questions, 188 research help classes and 29,344 checked out items. There’s no question that it’s one of the most important and informative places on the Yard. The Academy has had a library since its humble start in 1845, but none of the iterations came close to offering the resources that Nimitz Library can offer the midshipmen and other affiliates on the Yard today.
Starting from Scratch: A Book Nook
In October 1845, the fledgling Academy kept a modest library of 400 books in a corner of Superintendent Franklin Buchanan’s office. Three hundred of these tomes were brought over from ships and an additional one hundred were purchased for the Academy. At the time there were 50 midshipmen and seven professors. William Chauvenet became the first director.
From 1846-47, the library expanded greatly. It moved into the same building as the recitation hall and then moved again into two large rooms that were on the second floor of the new mess hall near the “Old Quarters” that were later replaced by the “New Quarters” in 1869.
Expanding the Collection: More Books and Many Moves
During the antebellum period, the collection mushroomed to about 9,000 books. In 1859, John H.C. Coffin took over as director. He oversaw two moves during the Civil War: first in 1861, as the Academy moved to Newport, Rhode Island, and then when it returned to Annapolis and the mess hall after the war ended in 1865. At the Atlantic House, the Academy’s makeshift Newport headquarters, the midshipmen had access to about 1,000 books; the rest were packed in crates.
In 1869, the Naval Academy sought more space. It bought the proximal Old Governor’s Mansion, also called Jennings House, and its property. The library was then moved into the elegant first floor and later into its additions while the superintendent made his offices on the second floor.
By 1900, construction began on Ernest Flagg’s “new Academy,” and the Old Governor’s Mansion was razed to make way for Bancroft Hall and Dahlgren Hall. The library moved to the old chapel’s swing space (Institute Building).
In 1907 Mahan Hall was ready, and all 47,800 books from the library’s collection were placed in the room now called the Hart Room.
Richard Johnson Duval became library director in 1922 to a staff of six overseeing 60,000 volumes. From 1941-1945, the library’s burgeoning collection made it necessary to convert two decks of Maury Hall adjoining the Hart Room into library stacks.
In 1948, two regimental libraries opened in Bancroft Hall so that midshipmen could have recreational reading. That same year, the librarians started providing instruction sessions as well.
By 1952, the ever-increasing collection made it necessary to move a large number of books to Building 131, which was then called the Library Annex, with periodicals,
government documents and rare books.
In 1961 the library expanded once again, moving into Mitscher Hall, part of the recently extended Bancroft Hall. It included two Regimental Libraries’ recreational reading as well as other material.
The library kept increasing its collection, and over the 1966-1969 time period, it
became divided among five different buildings—Mahan Hall, Mitscher Hall, Isherwood Hall (where Alumni Hall now stands), Griffin Hall (adjacent to Isherwood Hall) and Maury Hall—to accommodate the volumes.
Updating Systems, Unifying Collections
In 1967, the library welcomed library director Richard A. Evans to manage the library’s largest move yet. It began in 1969 when contractors started a big $500,000 project to convert all library call numbers from the obsolete military library classification system to the standard Library of Congress classification system. By 1973, they had moved every library collection from their far-flung homes into the beautiful newly finished Nimitz Library, named for Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, during World War II and one of the most influential naval officer leaders in World War II.
The Opening of Nimitz Library: A Forever Home
Nimitz Library opened to great acclaim. Designed by John Carl Warnecke, F.I.A.A. and George M. Ewing, Engineering Consultants, the vast airy interior was complemented by Eleanor LeMaire Associates, Inc.’s spare furniture design. While the architecture pays homage to the Beaux-Arts architecture featured in many USNA buildings covering the Yard, it is decidedly modern and boasts large windows with concrete construction and repeating rectangular shapes. Seen from College Creek it resembles a large boat out at sea.
Time marches on, and in 1985-1990, the entire library system was revamped to introduce new technology. At Nimitz library, the staff embraced their first computerized catalog in 1985. Three years later, they rolled out their first CD-ROM databases for journal articles and more. Then in 1990, the library joined the Library of Congress American Memory pilot program, a large innovation that creates digital copies of Library of Congress materials for computers and optical discs. By 1991, they had added the Educational Resources Center (now the Multimedia Support Center) for audiovisual services.
Then in 1993, the William W. Jefferies Memorial Archives already housed in the library were formally brought under its administration as the Special Collections and Archives Division. Lawrence E. Clemens, who ass
umed the position in 2017, serves as the library director to this day. Most recently, the library renovated their main floor and began outfitting it with new furniture in February, 2022.
Now and the Future: Ever-Expanding Information and Knowledge
This brings us to today. Keeping up with the technology and resources is a continuous (and daunting) task. As of the latest records for 2019 before COVID forced major changes in the library’s service and resource focus, the library housed:
- Print books: 534,860
- ebooks (owned): 98,544
- ebooks (leased): 248,599 (this number changes frequently)
- Databases: 221
- Print journals/magazines: 6,281
- Electronic journals/magazines: 64,421
It is a hub of learning and connection, with spaces, services and resources for the entire Academy. The library offers comprehensive library services to midshipmen and faculty, while also providing services to USNA military and civilian staff and their family members, to personnel attached to the other activities of the Annapolis Area Naval Complex and to local retired faculty members and retired military personnel. Other residents of the Annapolis community and authorized researchers may make use of the library's resources under specific circumstances.
Nimitz Library also hosts regular events and opportuniti
es for midshipmen and faculty:
Faculty Research Talks: Spotlight the impressive RW research being conducted by faculty throughout the Yard, served up for an audience of non-experts. All midshipmen, faculty and staff welcomed and can participate in a questions answering session at completion.
USNA Band @ Nimitz: These highly anticipated lu
nchtime band concerts give faculty, staff and midshipmen concerts by the world-class USNA Band. The audience can grab lunch at the cafe in Nimitz Library or bring their own.
Book Displays: The library has an ongoing collaboration with midshipmen to design some of their intriguing displays, usually co
mmemorating important dates and cultures like Black History Month, Women's History Month or Asian Pacific American Heritage.
Lucky Bags: Take a peak at history. From 1894 on, the Nimitz has carefully preserved the USNA yearbook Lucky Bags cop
ies and even digitized them through 1974.
There are always fascinating events to attend as well, so check their calendar often. Whether you take in this incredible library from the outside, or venture in to explore the wealth of information and knowledge inside, it is a true living treasure on the Yard. It will continue to grow to meet the needs of the Academy as it’s done for the past century and more. We look forward to the evolution.