Time and Change: William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library

By Avery DePaola on January 6, 2020 at 1:05 pm
West wing of Thompson Library

Time and Change is a weekly series highlighting the history of some of Ohio State's storied traditions.


Ohio State’s main library was originally located on the first floor of University Hall. In 1893, it was moved to Orton Hall, but many faculty members wanted a dedicated building on campus.

Known then as the Main Library, construction began in 1910. The building opened to students in 1912 and was renovated three more times.

The Main Library
The Main Library
Southwest view of Thompson Library
Southwest view of Thompson Library after renovation

Between 1947-1951, a ten-floor expansion was constructed for the main library stacks and the building was widened. In 1951, the library was renamed William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library after Ohio State’s fifth president.

Thompson Library Reading Room, 1959
Reading Room in Thompson Library, 1959

Thompson Library was renovated again in 2007 in a full restoration project to save the original structure of the building.  The 1951 extensions and a west wing addition built in 1977 were demolished, and a new extension onto the west wing was built.

Seating in the library was added, as well as a new Buckeye Reading Room for student use. Glass was integrated into the design to bring in more natural light.

A replica of the “Nike of Samothrace,” titled “Winged Victory,” was placed in the Grand Reading Room.  The original statue was a gift from the class of 1892 but was removed in the ’50s due to safety concerns and the deteriorating structural conditions of the statue.

Thompson Library was reopened to the public in 2009 and has received many awards for its architecture.

The west end of Thompson Library opens up to the long stretch of the Oval where the iconic statue of William Oxley Thompson stands. The statue was a gift from the classes of 1923, 1925, 1926 and 1928. The bronze statue took 16 months to complete, and President Thompson was very vocal with his gratitude for the project.

Interior of Thompson Library
Interior of Thompson Library

One of the more modern traditions housed inside Thompson Library is the tradition of the bronze bust of President Thompson. Legend has it, it’s good luck to touch the head of President Thompson while entering through the library. I personally think it’s just a way to spread germs during exam time, but nonetheless its a tradition.

Thompson Library is one of the most recognizable buildings on campus and is the main study spot for Ohio State students. Its unique architecture is the perfect balance between the old and the new.

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