Paley Library opened for business in October 1966 and officially closed to the public on May 9, 2019. It was designed by Temple University’s campus master planners Nolen & Swinburne. The library is one of Philadelphia’s finest examples of Brutalist architecture. Once operations move to the new Charles Library on Polett Walk the building will be renovated and repurposed for the School of Public Health. | Photo: Michael Bixler
Paley Library at Temple University closed its doors to the public on Thursday after 53 years of scholarly service. Staff gathered on the main floor to give their goodbyes to the charming Brutalist time capsule as they prepare to move into their new contemporary home, Charles Library, on Polett Walk. If all goes according to plan, operations will be up and running by the fall semester. Paley, built in 1966 and designed by Temple’s campus master planners Nolen & Swinburne, will eventually be handed over to the School of Public Health. The mid-century interior will undoubtably be renovated and the end of an era will be complete.
The new library, designed by Norwegian firm Snøhetta, is a state-of-the-art example of how libraries will function going forward. Combing the book stacks for research papers will be replaced by a massive vault and robotic retrieval system. Silence in common areas will give way to the buzz of social engagement. Technology will take center stage in the delivery of information where books, and people, long held the title of gatekeeper. The future of libraries is here and the beat goes on.
The following photographs were found, appropriately, in Temple’s Urban Archives, which has been headquartered at the library since 1967. The photos span the year Paley opened until the early 2000s. They record the lifespan of a university library as it accommodates the needs of students and staff over the course of five decades. The collection also charts, quite vividly, the evolution of technology and how we have come to use libraries today. Paley, too, was a state-of-the-art facility when it opened in the 1960s, and it adjusted to advances in information distribution at every juncture. Card catalogs become a database connected through networked computers. A fancy postage stamp machine from 1996 is eventually rendered unnecessary by email. Students line up to use new copier machines, while others take time out from studying to listen to vinyl on record players. And yet, after 53 years, the groovy Atomic Age furniture, wood paneling, and books, yes, books, somehow managed to remain.
Paley Library is dead. Long live Paley Library. All photographs courtesy of Temple University Libraries, Special Collections Research Center.
1963: Paley Library construction.
1965: “Almost two years from the date of the groundbreaking, the library nears its final form as a definite, modernistic outline of the building becomes visible.”
1966: “The Samuel Paley Library is constructed of massive pre-cast concrete panels around the upper levels and an expanse of glass wrapping completely around the first floor.”
Circa 1960s: “The original Grace Baptist Church can be seen in the background beyond Paley Library at Berks and Marvine Streets. Berks Street was Berks Mall on the Temple University campus and is now called Polett Walk.”
1966: “Mr. Owens and his staff of 90 full-time library employees supervise the packing, transporting, unloading and shelving being done by the professional movers. Although Sullivan and Samuel Paley Libraries are only a half-block walking distance from each other, the moving vans must travel nearly 10 blocks to reach the Paley service entrance and unloading dock due to the one-way streets throughout the area.”
1966: “A large information desk is located opposite the library’s main entrance. Behind and to the right and left of the information desk are the public catalogues, reference section, serial records, interlibrary loan, acquisitions and bibliography divisions of the library.”
1966: “The desk and chair of Dr. Russell H. Conwell, the Founder of Temple University, are on permanent display in the Conwellana-Templana Room on the mezzanine.”
1966: “The Samuel Paley Library and Campanile at night.”
1972: Audio Room of Paley Library.
Circa 1970s: “Paley Library with a view of the south entrance and courtyard, with motorcycles parked by the fence to the courtyard.”
1977: “Student protesters gather out front of Paley Library at Temple University.”
1982: “Students at photocopiers on the ground floor.”
1982: “Bibliographic Assistant Joe Zucca at the TWX machine in Interlibrary Loan, 1st floor.”
1982: “Peter Devlin, bibliographic assistant, using an RLIN computer terminal in the Technical Services Division.”
1982: “Wayne Maxson of the Reference staff demonstrating the computer terminal.”
1982: “Government Documents/Business Reference Desk on 3rd floor, Barbara Wright on phone, Gregory Carr at left.”
1982: “Film Librarian, Sam Samuelian, in his unit on the ground floor.”
1982: “The main card catalog, on the 1st floor, looking north.”
1983: “Librarian George Brightbill looks through a drawer of clips cut from the Philadelphia Bulletin. Mr. Brightbill is surrounded by rows of cabinets that contain millions of clips and other reference material.”
1988: Periodicals room.
1990: “Temple adopts the Amy II Eluerson Middle School–shown in Paley Library teaching the students how to use the reference section is Temple’s Susan Carpenter and Eluerson’s Regina Powell standing behind students Rosa Corchado, 13, and Jeff Alexy, 13.”
1992: Scholar Information Center in Paley Library.
1992: “Director of Libraries James N. Myers (left) and Vice President for computer information services Dr. Arthur C. Papacostas visit the Scholars Information Center in Samuel Paley Library and watch student Meredyth Given use a network computer.”
1992: Scholar Information Center in Paley Library.
1996: Stamp machine in Paley Library.
About the Author
Michael Bixler is a writer, editor, and photographer engaged in dialogue and documentation of the built environment and how it relates to history, culture, and the urban experience. He is the editorial director and chief photographer of Hidden City Philadelphia.
Not sure I’d use “charming” alongside “Brutalist” – but thanks for the informative article and photos!
“Charm” is in the eye of the beholder. 😉 Thanks for reading.
did i need the use of paley? not at all. the red monster building (architecture engineering building on norris st) had a library for us architects during 70’s and 80’s. very unassuming building that is monolithic both outside and inside. a step inside, you have seen it all, nothing much to explore. if you need what they have, its pretty solid building to be in rather than a frugal one. i like american academy in rome library the best of all. so much to explore for spaces and books.
What a wonderful history of how quickly the information sciences evolved between 1966-2000.
As a student at Temple in the late ’60’s, I spent many an hour at Paley. Brings back some nice memories of my student days. Thank you!
The photos are fascinating from the standpoint of campus development, not to mention they bring back fond memories. The second photo is incorrectly captioned. I believe it shows the construction of the now demolished Curtis Hall. Paley Library and Buery Hall are in the upper right.
On second look, Speakman Hall. Curtis Hall was built in the 1950’s.
Yes, I distinctly remember this building when my mother was going back to school for her teaching degree. Brutalist architecture has a way of evoking the feel of a fortress or cathedral with its scale and overall mass that I always found enjoyable whenever I happened to visit the library.
I was a student at Temple beginning in 1968. Paley provided me with one of my jobs while attending, working in “the stacks” as the row upon row of shelved books were referred to by staff. Still remember eating off one of the early food vendors operating out of his truck outside Paley. That would be Milton Street, a Philadelphia legend in his own right. Made many a friend while working at Paley, all of whom have been lost to the ages. Speaking of lost to the ages, another job I had while a student at Temple was running the film projectors for a group called the classic film society (or something very like that) which operated out of one of the buildings across the way from Paley. Can’t seem to find any references to it anywhere even though I know I spent two years showing films a couple times a week and sometimes four to five films a day during festivals or retrospectives.
Thanks for the article. Really enjoyed going back fifty years for a few minutes.
Milton Street made you a sandwich? Now that’s a moment to remember. JZ Class of 2000.
Good pictures too. Not only was I a student there, but my mother worked there (Interlibrary Loan) for 15 years. 1968 to 1983. We had most of the pictured staff at my house for get-togethers– they were party animals!! Seriously.
I wonder how many times my mother (no longer with us) went to the Paley Library when she attended Temple. She graduate in either late 1960’s I believe. I am almost certain I was around 10 yrs old. I remember it was during the time that “streaking” at graduations was a thing…lol..cause folks were joking that someone was streaking at her graduation but it was just a joke. All 7 of her children attended her graduation and my step dad. She went back to school later in life. So proud of her. I tried to find her in the year books but don’t remember when she graduated. thanks for the share.
I graduated 2019 but I’m glad I was able to appreciate Paley before Charles was built. I have a lot of fond memories at Paley. Sometimes I wish Paley didn’t get demolished because there’s a charm about it that Charles doesn’t quite captivate. I’ll forever miss the basement and the third floor. Many all nighters were spent there.
*closed, not demolished. But it sure does feels demolished
I loved sitting at one of the tables along the northern entrance side of the building as an undergrad, between 1969-1972. It was so modern and spacious- one of Temple’s serious buildings. Pleased to hear school of public health is moving in, especially as we enter the post-Covid era.