The Library in 1978


I have worked in Rod Library in one capacity or another for almost 40 years. As my retirement looms, I thought it might be fun to look back at the library as it was when I started. I spent most of my years here in the Access Services Department (then called Circulation, now Library Services), first as a student employee, then as a temp, and finally as a permanent Professional & Scientific staff member. In July 2016 I moved full time to Special Collections and University Archives. All photographs of the library and its past employees were taken from material housed in Special Collections.

My first day of work was August 14, 1978. I was hired to shelve books at what was then simply called the UNI Library. That didn’t change until 1986, when it was renamed to honor former library director Donald Olaf Rod. It then became the Donald O. Rod Library, but was eventually shortened to Rod Library.

There were only three floors in 1978. The fourth floor wasn’t added until 1995.  Note: in the library, then as now, the basement counted as the 1st floor, the main floor 2nd, etc. So while it had three floors, it was only two stories tall.

Photo 1: The library with three floors, looking northwest. This photo is from 1965, but the outward appearance didn’t change between 1965 and 1978.

Citation: "Rod Library," 1960's, in the University of Northern Iowa Photograph Collections #29, Box: BUI - Library Exterior Box 2 folder: Library Exterior 1960's, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

  • Departments were separate entities: Circulation, Reference, Catalog, Acquisitions, and Special Services. Reserves were part of Circulation.
  • There was a solid wall between the Circulation Desk and the first row of support columns west of that desk. Perpendicular to the solid wall, a glass partition further separated Circulation from Reference.  There were also glass doors between Circulation and Reference. Several ranges of Reference books occupied most of what is now seating area on second floor. Another set of ranges containing Index and Abstract books were located north of the circular Reference Desk, where the Learning Commons is now.        


Photo 2: The Circulation lobby in 1978, looking south. The card catalog was just on the other side of the wall on the right. The object in the foreground is a small metal sculpture of horses.

Citation: "Intense Discussion," 1970's, in the University of Northern Iowa Photograph Collections #29, Box: BUI - Library Interior folder: BUI - Interior - 1970's, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

Photo 3: The Reference area, looking east. This photo is actually from 1990, but the layout was the same as it was in 1978. For a point of reference, note the double elevators on the right, just past the drinking fountain.

Citation: "Studying in the Library," 1990's, in the University of Northern Iowa Photograph Collections #29, Box: BUI - Library Interior folder: BUI - Interior - 1990's, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

Photo 4: The Index and Abstract area, looking north. It was located to the left (north) of the area shown in photo 4. That orange carpet? Yeah, it was everywhere. Everywhere.

Citation: "Studying in the Library," 1970s, in the University of Northern Iowa Photograph Collections #29, Box: BUI - Library Interior folder: BUI - Interior - 1970s, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

  • The Government Documents area was located on the 3rd floor where the Special Collections and University Archives unit is now.
  • Special Collections was on the 2nd floor where Resource Management is now, room 240. Resource Management didn’t exist, per se.
  • Art & Music, now the Fine and Performing Arts Center, was on 3rd floor, roughly where the MultiPurpose Room (324) is now.
  • Reserve material was downstairs behind a counter, now gone, where the museum is now.
  • Photocopy was offered as a service to the public, and was located behind the Circulation Desk. It later moved downstairs with Reserves, then back upstairs to Circulation. With the installation of public copiers and printers, library-assisted photocopy was eliminated as a public service.
  • Interlibrary Loan was in the Reference Office (near the two-story artwork called Dichotomy). It later moved to room 218, now a meeting room, then to the Circulation Desk, and finally to its current location in Room 241.





















Photo 5: The Reference area, looking west. Note the metal sculpture Dichotomy. It was here then, and it’s here now. The index and abstract area, shown in photo 5, was behind the desk where the librarian is sitting. The Reference area shown in photo 4 is straight ahead of the desk, on the other side of the bookshelves.

Citation: "Reference Desk," Undated, in the University of Northern Iowa Photograph Collections #29, Box: BUI - Library Interior cont.Box 1 folder: Library Interior - Undated, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

  • Youth was on the 1st floor, north of where the stuffed moose is now.
  • Current periodicals were on 2nd floor, north of where the Book Bistro is now.


Photo 6: The current periodicals area, looking west. The partitions on the left are gone now. The Book Bistro is located just south (left) of where they used to be.

Citation: "Rod Library Interior," 1977, in the University of Northern Iowa Photograph Collections #29, Box: BUI - Library Interior  folder: Library Interior - 1970s, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

  • Bound periodicals were on 1st floor, as now, but there was no compact shelving. Periodicals were filed alphabetically by title, rather than by Library of Congress call number.
  • The card catalog, long gone, was directly across from the Circulation Desk, behind a wooden wall. There were no computers to look up titles then.

Photo 7: The card catalog area, looking southwest.

Citation: "Rod Library Interior," 1970s, in the University of Northern Iowa Photograph Collections #29, Box: BUI - Library Interior folder: Library Interior - 1970s, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

A card catalog entry—although we use a different call number system than this example.

  • The Shelf List Room, gone, was in the eastern part of what was then known as the Catalog Department, about where the recording room is now.
  • The Central Serials Room, gone, was in room 241, where Interlibrary Loan is now.
  • The Browsing Room, gone, was in room 287, where a meeting space is now. New books and books of general interest were shelved there.
  • The Library Instruction Room, 286, now the MakerSpace, was a classroom for library instruction. It was locked at all times when not in use by librarians.
  • The Career Collection was in room 218, where yet another meeting space is now.
  • The Museum was on Hudson Road, off the southwest corner of campus. That building has been converted into a laundromat.
  • The Graduate Study Room, gone, was in Room 373. Grad students could reserve a carrel with lockable storage compartments for a semester at a time.  The carrels were later moved to room 155 on 1st floor, and then discontinued in the early 2010s.
  • The Book Bistro didn’t exist—in fact, no food or drink of any kind was allowed in the library, not even bottled water.
  • There were no DVDs, CDs, BlueRays, or VHS or Beta videotapes. Cassette tapes and phonograph records were the sound technology of the day. For visual entertainment, we still had to go to the theaters or watch TV.
  • The library had no electronic exit alarm system. To prevent patrons from leaving the library with books that weren’t checked out, we had a Checkpoint desk, which was a kiosk where the east entrance/exit gates are now. A checkpoint assistant sat behind the desk and pawed through every book bag of every student to ensure any library books showed an open due date. The exit alarm system was installed in 1983. I was on the crew that put the magnetic “tattle tape” strips in the books, which are what set off the alarm if patrons forget to check out a book.

Photo 8: The Circulation Desk area, looking south. Note the checkpoint kiosk on the left, where a library employee is making sure a patron’s book is checked out.

Citation: "Circulation Desk," Undated, in the University of Northern Iowa Photograph Collections #29, Box: BUI - Library Interior Cont. box 1 folder: Library Interior - Undated, University Archives, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa.

  • In 1978 the west entrance/exit was not only not there, but it was specifically not wanted.
  • No other departments on campus shared library space, except Library Science, which concerned, well, library stuff.
  • There was no Libtech, Learning Commons, Makerspace, Scholarspace, Digital Media Hub, Multimedia Suite, or recording room.
  • There were, however, smoking lounges—yup, smoking lounges—on 1st floor, where the vending machines are now, and on 3rd floor, where room 378 is now.
  • The library didn’t get any kind of computers until 1986. The card catalog wasn’t automated until 1988-1989. Circulation didn’t follow suit until November 1990. Before that, the only computers to be seen were on reruns of Star Trek.
  • So how did we check out books? On cards. UNI IDs were embossed with the patron’s name, student number and—yikes!—social security numbers. The ID was put into a slot in a small checkout machine. An employee placed the book card on top of the ID in the machine, pressed a button, and a little arm would roll out and ink the patron’s name onto the book card. (The machine made the coolest whirring sound.) The cards were then filed, in call number order, in a huge wooden “vat,” located where the Merit desk is now behind the Library Services counter. At any given time there were around 10,000 books checked out.) Due dates were stamped on slips pasted inside the front cover of books.
  • Stacks books checked out for two weeks, with one two-week renewal. There were no limits on the number of books faculty could check out. Some had 400 or 500 at a time.
  • Graduate students didn’t automatically get extended loans. They had to ask for them.
  • Browsing books were checked out for two weeks, with no renewals.
  • Youth books with Y call numbers checked out for three days, with no renewals. Youth books with YE call numbers checked out for one day, with no renewals. They were not intended for children, but rather for elementary education students to study the literature of their future profession.
  • Bound periodicals, as now, were checked out for one day, with no renewals.
  • Fines were 10¢/day for stacks books, 25¢/day for Youth Books, and 50¢/day for bound periodicals. Failure to respond to a recall notice on time tripled the fines.
  • New books were kept for a week in the lobby across from the Circulation Desk before being shelved in the Browsing Room and, eventually, the stacks.
  • Youth books were checked out only at the Reserve Desk on 1st floor. Government Documents were checked out from the Government Document office on 3rd floor, but could be checked out at the Circulation Desk as well.
  • When books were lost, then as now we charged for a replacement fee. However, rather than using an average price for each book as we do now, we had to look up the price of every book in a publication called Books in Print. We resorted to average prices only when we couldn’t find an actual one.
  • Faculty members could request us to photocopy the table of contents of journals they were interested in and send them via snail mail. This was done whenever new issues of their journals were published, whether weekly or monthly.
  • Every service desk was staffed every hour the library was open, which was until midnight seven days a week.
  • There were no barcodes in books until 1989. I was on the crew that put those in, too.
  • After nearly 40 years, it’s not surprising that none of the employees in the Circulation Department in 1978 remain. I was the last one from 1978—and I was a student employee then, not on the permanent staff. There are precious few people from any area of the library who were here in 1978.
  • The Circulation Department became the Access Services Department, which became the Access Services Unit, which has since merged with what was the Reference Desk to form the Library Services Desk.
  • And I, of course, have moved to Special Collections and University Archives, where I am frequently mistaken for one of the old artifacts.



Jimmy Carter was President of the United States.


Robert Ray was the governor of Iowa.


Jon Crews was the mayor of Cedar Falls.


John Kamerick was the president of UNI.


Elizabeth II was Queen of England—oh, wait, she still is.


“Grease” was the highest grossing movie of the year, but “The Deer Hunter” won Best Picture.


“Dallas” was the most popular TV show


A terrorist bomb attack in Beirut killed 175 people on August 13, 1978


“Three Times a Lady,” by the Commodores (featuring Lionel Richie, pictured below), was the #1 song the week of August 14, 1978, when I started here


Velcro was first marketed


The Mormon Church allowed black men to become priests for the first time (Photo: Joseph Freeman, Jr., the first African American to receive priesthood)


The comic strip “Garfield” appeared


Serial killers Ted Bundy (left) and John Wayne Gacy were arrested. They were later executed, Bundy in 1989 and Gacy in 1994.



918 followers of Reverend Jim Jones committed suicide at the People’s Temple in Guyana






I did not wear clothes like these. Ever.


I wore clothes like these. And, in fact, this is me wearing them. In 1978.

The device in my hands was known as a typewriter.




Nobody I knew wore clothes like these, either.



Director of Library Services – Donald Rod


Assistant Director – H. Wendell Alford with his wife Adileen


Assistant Director - Donald Gray

Head of Catalog – Fred Ma (no photo)

Head of Acquisitions – Thomas Shaw (no photo)

Head of Reader Service (Reference) – Lawrence Kiefer (no photo)

Head of Circulation – Douglas Hieber (no photo)

Government Documents Librarian – Charles Seavey (no photo)

University Archivist – Gerald Peterson (no photo)

Youth Librarian – Arlene Ruthenberg (no photo)

Art & Music Librarian – Verna Ritchie (no photo)

Essay written by Library Associate Dave Hoing, February 2018. Photos of Library updated by Lydia L. Pakala. 


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