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125th anniversary – Bell Street and books

18 October 2013

Neil Craven was appointed as Dundee Technical College’s first ever librarian back in 1964. Here he shares his memories and some old photos he took of Bell Street in 1970.

“The street scene I saw on arriving for the first time at Dundee Technical College 50 years ago bears little resemblance to the one seen by visitors to Abertay University in 2013.

“For example, looking eastwards along Bell Street from the junction of Constitution Road, where the main university building now stands, was a row of two and three storey properties made up of public houses, tenements and shops. Behind lay a jumble of wynds serving buildings with a variety of uses, including the uncompromisingly-named Free Breakfast Mission.

Bell Street in 1970 - the east-facing view 

“Squeezed into this street, with its local building styles, was the elegant façade of the early 20th century college looking externally, and inside the entrance hall, much as it does today with the impressive staircase and accompanying stained glass windows.

“To the left of the entrance the Clerk & Treasurer, the chief administrative officer, had his office and small complement of staff. The Principal’s accommodation was on the first floor overlooking Bell Street, and next to the boardroom. There were no social areas where staff or students could gather. Staff took their coffee breaks in the boardroom, while students had a dining area provided in a prefabricated structure behind the main building.

“At the time there were ten academic departments with a total staff of about 60 lecturers, plus heads of department, all housed on the Bell Street site. Each department had a small support staff of technicians and a secretary. Full-time education was provided leading to Associateships of the College in various branches of Engineering, a Diploma in Commerce, a BSc Honours Degree of London University and some professional qualifications. There were part-time classes too in some subjects. The names of the departments tended to be unambiguous, for example, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics and so on. Academic governance was via the Board of Studies.

“As far as I was concerned there was one notable omission from the facilities provided by the college. There was no library.

Bell Street in 1970 - the view from Euclid Crescent

“For those readers who are only aware of the current fine university library in West Bell Street, opened in 1998, it might be of interest to outline something about its origin and development since its foundation almost 50 years ago.

“I had been appointed to the entirely new post of College Librarian with the express purpose of establishing a library service, and took up my post at the beginning of May 1964.

“Initially, I was allocated a former lecture room in which to start the task. There were, of course, books in the various departments, but their administration and accessibility varied considerably, and tact was needed in trying to persuade departments to part with ‘their’ books to an untried central facility. Most staff were co-operative, and it became possible to start operating a rudimentary service by the beginning of the 1964-65 session.

Constitution Road in 1970 - from West Bell Street

“At the time of my arrival plans were afoot for an extension to the college, and it was envisaged that a library would be included in this new building. Eventually this happened, but the construction had to be phased, and it was not until 1975 that the library was fully housed in acceptable surroundings. Meantime there had been piecemeal additions to its accommodation by extending into adjacent rooms in the original building.

“The expanding size of the stock to almost 100,000 volumes, and the considerable increase in usage over the years meant that within a decade of the new library being completed there was an urgent need for a further expansion. Finding space which adjoined the existing premises was difficult, but was solved in 1986 by acquiring a large area on the floor below.

“At the same time an opportunity was taken to re-organize administrative practices because of the way resources were being used, due to the increasing reliance on computers. With the assistance of the college’s Computer Unit the library had been experimenting with the impact of information technology since 1976, and had become a pioneer among local libraries in adopting the use of computers to improve services.

Constitution Road in 1970 - construction of the new university building

“None of these perceived achievements in developing a library service would have been possible without the co-operation of many people. In the early days there was great encouragement from the Principal, Dr John Whittaker, and for the remaining 20 years of my time at the college by Dr Harry Cuming, Principal from 1969 onwards, who gave his unstinting support.

“Above all was the loyalty and co-operation given by the 70 members of the library staff who worked with me during a period of 25 years until my retiral in 1989, five years before Abertay University was created.”

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