Hiram L. Davis – NMSU’s First African American Dean

As the NMSU campus celebrates Black History Month, the Open Stacks hopes to highlight the achievements of Black students, faculty, and staff, as well as those throughout New Mexico and the Borderlands.

Dr. Hiram Logan Davis’ tenure as the dean of the NMSU Library lasted less than three years, from January 1987 through September 1989, however, the legacy of his leadership can still be prominently seen on campus.  Zuhl Library, opened on July 27, 1992, went from the university’s wish-list to a reality as Davis championed the cause of a desperately needed new facility.  Davis proved effective in directing a successful library bond campaign as New Mexico voters approved $11.1 million in financing in the fall of 1988.  Sadly, he moved on to Michigan State University less than a year later and thus never got to see the library he advocated for constructed.

Hiram Davis and Wallace Bonk

University of Michigan doctoral student Hiram Davis in conversation with Wallace J. Bonk (Courtesy Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, HS17421)

A native of St. Joseph, Missouri, Davis earned an economics degree at Missouri Valley College in 1966, followed by a graduate degree in library science from the Kansas State Teachers College (today’s Emporia State University) three years later.  With his library degree in hand, Davis worked in the libraries of numerous higher education institutions in Kansas, Ohio, Michigan, Oklahoma, and California, progressively moving into management and leadership positions at each stop.  The University of the Pacific (UoP) in  Stockton, California, hired Davis in 1979 to be the dean of libraries.  While at UoP, he completed his Ph.D. in 1984, a twelve-year effort through the University of Michigan that saw him develop and direct a library science program for minorities.  Two years later, with a change in leadership at NMSU’s Branson Library, Davis transitioned to the Southwest to help stabilize an institution reeling from issues in funding, space, collection management, and vision.

The search committee who offered Davis the head library position, one newly elevated from director to dean, was impressed by his wealth of experience as a creative manager and skilled planner.  Additionally, they viewed his recently completed dissertation as proof of his grasp of trends in academic librarianship.  Davis’ study stated, “Academic libraries are experiencing more complex problems with regard to their management, organization, programs and services, financing, planning and staffing. . . The academic environment provides university libraries with, perhaps, their greatest challenges.”[i]  The NMSU Library was indeed suffering under these complex problems and turned to Davis for solutions.

Hiram Davis meeting with ASNMSU leaders, c.1988

Dr. Hiram Davis meeting with ASNMSU leaders, c.1988 (UA 90-63_17)

From his first day on January 1, 1987 to his last in September 1989, Davis worked to educate university leadership and state officials on the dire need for a new library facility and additional funding for staff and collections.  Branson Hall, first opened in 1953, had seen numerous piecemeal additions and renovations during its forty-year existence.  The cramped and poorly organized facility was cited in an Association of Research Libraries’ Self Study as being so deficient that it jeopardized NMSU’s instructional, research, and service missions – a major liability against the university’s very accreditation.[ii]  Davis pulled no punches, calling Branson an “embarrassment.”[iii]  Projecting initially a $20 million cost for a new building, Davis developed a three-phased approach to the challenge.[iv]  The first phase brought in a consultant to discuss library and university needs. The second focused on developing a plan to address the pressing space and collection needs, either through renovation of Branson or the construction of a new structure.  Phase three would be the actual building process.  Over his first two years, Davis championed a new structure, although he saw his building budget cut to $15 million, and further to $11.1 million, with the funding decision left to the will of voters through a statewide bond rather than through state mineral tax revenues as initially thought.  Adding on to Branson had “no validity” in Davis’ mind, as only a new structure would address the needs of the campus.[v]  Yet with a reduced construction budget, he finally conceded that the library holdings would have to be spread over the two campus libraries, with Branson remaining in operation to house the scientific and technical resources, while the rest of the publications would be moved to the new four-story library.

Round Up headline, 1987-09-04

Dr. Hiram Davis, “The library has not kept pace with our developing university,” Round Up, 1987-09-04

Davis developed numerous alliances with campus communities and groups.  The Associated Students of NMSU created a Student Library Action Committee to educate students on the need to improve library resources.  The resulting Library Lover’s Week in September 1988 sought to engage and educate the campus on the bond issue and ways to support the library.[vi] As the November vote approached, a week-long phonathon held before the election involved students from over a dozen campus organizations.  They reached more than 17,000 NMSU alumni via telephone calls to encourage passage of the bond.[vii]  The callers briefly stated what the bond money would do for library resources:

  • Increase study space from 600 to 2,800 seats
  • Increase shelf space to accommodate 500,000 more published works
  • Increase access to literary collections
  • Provide a state-of-the-art facility for students and faculty

 

As the votes were tallied on November 8th, the nearly two-year effort reached a successful outcome as NMSU would finally see a new facility constructed. Ground for the library, formerly the site of a parking lot between Milton Hall and Regent’s Row, was broken on December 15, 1990.

Page One headline, 1988-11-04

Dr. Hiram Davis, “Help us pass this bond issue,” Page One, 1988-11-04

In addition to the campaign for a new library, Davis oversaw other changes in the library, including the following major initiatives:

  • The creation of a Library Study Team to develop a library strategic plan, update mission statement, and publication of a major study, A study of the organization and management of the New Mexico State University Library;
  • A major reorganization of library departments, with the creation of three major departments – Collection Management, Information Services, and Technical Services;[viii]
  • Appointment of the first library development officer to oversee fundraising, endowment creation, and solicitation of large gifts and donations;[ix]
  • Creation of the Centennial Endowment, a fund created through donations by library faculty and staff to support employee education and facility beautification;[x]
  • Sponsorship of “Comics,” an exhibition of the work of 10 contemporary cartoonists, including Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, who also gave a lecture on his work;[xi]
  • Creation of an electronic computer catalog link between Branson Library and the City of Las Cruces’ Thomas Branigan Memorial Library, one of the first in the country to link academic and community libraries;[xii]
  • Implementation of electronic circulation systems;[xiii]
  • Installation of an electronic book theft detection system.[xiv]

Dr. Davis set the university on course when he advocated for the fulfillment of the library’s mission, declaring from the start “If excellence in teaching, research, and public service is a goal of NMSU, we must find ways to work together to greatly improve the library’s physical facilities, resources, and services.”[xv] As the first person to serve as dean of the library, as well as the first African American dean on campus, Davis left a legacy of excellence for those who follow.

After five years in East Lansing, Davis transitioned to Washington, D.C., when the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington appointed him as the library’s chief operating officer and second in command.  He again broke barriers as the first African American to serve in that position, stating “I am honored to have the opportunity to be a part of the world’s premier library.”[xvi]  From the Library of Congress, Davis returned to academia and ended his career after a decade leading the libraries at the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, California. Over the course of his professional life he also served on numerous regional and national library boards, including in leadership positions with the American Library Association.

After retirement in 2006, Davis returned to Las Cruces with his wife Nancy, where they live today a short distance from the NMSU campus.

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[i] Davis, Hiram Logan. “An analysis of the relationship between actual and preferred library goals based on the perceptions of academic librarians” (dissertation, University of Michigan, 1984): 4-5.

[ii] Griego, Tina. “Proposed library building given the green light,” Round Up v.87 no.70 (March 6, 1987): 1.

[iii] Cobb, Elsie M. “Carruthers addresses education representatives,” Round Up v.88 no.22 (September 28, 1987): 1.

[iv] Earnest, Mark. “First step taken toward possible new library,” Round Up v.88 no.3 (June 8, 1987): 1.

[v] Short, Carolyn. “New library bond issue discussed,” Round Up v.89 no.10 (September 15, 1988): 1.

[vi] Smith, Jeanette C. “Students Organize Library Lovers Week,” New Mexico State University Library Newsletter v.3 no.2 (September 1988): 2; and “Library Lover’s Week,” Round Up v.89 no.9 (September 12, 1988): 15.

[vii] Simpson, Jamey L. “Library phonathon alerts the alumni to vote for bond issue,” Round Up v.89 no.22 (October 27, 1988): 4.

[viii] Davis, Hiram. “Directions for the University Library – A report from the Dean of the Library,” New Mexico State University Library Newsletter v.3 no.1 (April 1988): 1-3.

[ix] “Patsy Duran Named Director of Library Development,” New Mexico State University Library Newsletter v.4 no.2 (September 1989): 2.

[x] “Library Staff Directs Giving,” Page One v.22 no.10 (April 10, 1987): 1.

[xi] Jamison, Kerry. “Adult comics to show at gallery,” Round Up v.89 no.32 (January 12, 1989): 12.

[xii] “Libraries link electronically,” Panorama v.37 no.4 (February 1988): 6.

[xiii] Pinnock, Frank. “Library Check-Out Time Minimized By Computers,” Page One v.23 no.8 (April 1, 1988): 1.

[xiv] Bollschweiler, Melissa. “Electronic book detectors to replace humans,” Round Up v.89 no.4 (August 1, 1988): 1.

[xv] Davis, Hiram. “Greetings from the Dean of the University Library,” NMSU Library Newsletter v.2 no.1 (January 1987): 2.

[xvi] “Deputy Librarian of Congress Named,” Library of Congress Information Bulletin v.53 no.12 (June 13, 1994).


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