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A History of Sterne Library

When UAB was formed in 1969, a small extension division library existed. From that beginning, the Mervyn H.Sterne Library emerged and has developed into a major academic library.

From 1969 until 1973, the Library was housed in several locations. The Sterne Library opened for service in January 1973 at its present location, 917 South Thirteenth Street.

Expanded in 1987, the Library now houses a collection of over one million items. The collections support teaching and research in the arts and humanities, business, education, engineering, natural science and mathematics, and social and behavioral sciences. In addition to monographs and subscriptions to more than 2,500 periodicals, the collection consists of microforms, sound and video recordings, and electronic resources.

The facility has seating for about 1,100 users. In addition to serving the University community, the library provides support to users from schools and businesses within the city and the state through various partnership agreements.

Sterne Library Timeline


  • At the newly designated University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB), the non-medical areas were served by a small extension library containing about 10,000 volumes. It was housed in two classrooms in Tidwell Hall, the Extension Center Building.

  • Dr. Virginia Van der Veer Hamilton, whose primary position was as a teacher of history, was assigned responsibility for the Library collection.


  • In September, Mr. Perry Cannon, a professional librarian at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, began supervising the Library operations in Birmingham.


  • The University of Alabama in Birmingham became a separate and autonomous institution within the University of Alabama System, and the Library began providing full and independent services to the UAB campus.

  • The classification system was changed from Dewey Decimal to Library of Congress.


  • In August, Dr. Paul H. Spence reported for work as Library director.

  • Dr. Paul H. Spence initiated the Liaison Program as a communication channel between the Library and academic departments.

  • The Library was moved to the upper floor of the Mortimer Jordan Armory Building. The 7,000-square-foot area was immediately filled.

  • Following the rapid growth of the Library, the Acquisitions and Cataloging Departments were moved into the Ullman Building.


  • In December, Library Building # 1 (now the Education Building), designed by the architectural firm of McCowan and Knight, was completed. The south portion of the upper level of that building contained approximately 20,000 square feet for Library activities. However, the Library had already outgrown this area before it was even occupied.


  • Within a period of five years, 1968 - 1972, the Library purchased retroactive publications from bookstores, as well as from personal collections of historians and professors. The collection grew from around 10,000 volumes to over 200,000 items.

  • In December, the new Library Building (the old portion of the current building), designed by John M. Fuller and constructed by Gresham, Williams and Johnson, was completed. The Library units in the Ullman Building and in Building # 1 (now the Education Building) were moved into this new building. It was designed to house 230 thousand volumes.

  • The Henley Room began in 1972 as an idea of John Henley III, President of Birmingham Publishing Company. Mr. Henley indicated a desire to do something for the Library beyond what state funds could provide. Hence, the Henley Room was born. Local interior designer Angie Grooms Proctor was selected to decorate and furnish the room.


  • The University of Alabama Board of Trustees approved a resolution naming the University College Library after Birmingham businessman and philanthropist Mervyn H. Sterne.


  • The Sterne Library Reference Department began offering computerized searches to its patrons. The service was available to students, faculty and all other Library patrons for the actual cost which the Library was charged by the database vendors.


  • The Library implemented an online acquisitions system.

  • The collection was growing rapidly and an addition to the current library building was included in the list of new construction needs.


  • The Library implemented an online circulation system.

  • An addition the Sterne Library Building continued to advance in priority, but funds were not available.


  • In October, the Library purchased a super-mini computer, the Prime 9950, to reduce the operating costs for automated circulation and acquisitions systems.


  • Dr. Spence stepped down from his administrative duties, becoming the Collection Development Librarian.

  • Dr. Jerry W. Stephens became second director of the Mervyn H. Sterne Library.

  • The Library's print collection continued to grow rapidly and systematically. The Library purchased the collection of the Ladycliff College Library, a Catholic liberal arts college which had closed. Also, several large and small gifts of important materials were received.


  • In May, the Reference Department installed a new microcomputer to enhance database searching. This decision was made in an effort to continue to reduce searching costs to the user population. The new service was available and qualified reference librarians assisted with bibliographic searches.

  • An addition to the Sterne Library Building continued to advance in priority but funds were still not available. After a successful fundraising drive campaign in 1986, however, money was identified.

  • Mrs. Dorah H. Sterne continued to support the Library by offering annual monetary contributions. Many other individuals and organizations also gave gifts or donations to the Library.


  • A new addition to the current building, designed by Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum of St. Louis and constructed by Doster Construction Company, was completed and occupied. The new addition added 105,000 square feet of space to the original building. The old portion of the building was renovated and the entire building was faced with red brick to match the adjoining buildings.

  • The Library began offering lockable study carrels to University faculty and graduate students.


  • In January, the online catalog replaced the card catalog.


  • Dr. Samuel Booth Barker donated the sculpture "Head of an Unknown King" by Javier Cabada.


  • A metal and stone sculpture "In Loving Union," by Birmingham artist Rick McCrary, was installed by the courtyard entrance. The sculpture combined the aesthetically different tactile surfaces of two highly polished metals resting on an equally polished black granite base and symbolized the harmony of different entities merging together and forming an even greater strength.


  • The NOTIS Library Management System, developed by NOTIS Systems, Inc., replaced the current library management system. As a result, SCOTTY, the Library's online information system, was born. This new system provided access to the resources owned by Sterne Library as well as to some resources outside the Library.


  • The sculpture "Dr. Samuel B. Barker" by Cordray Parker was donated to the Library.


  • The Library unveiled its first web site.


  • The Reference Department began offering the "Ask-A-Librarian" e-mail reference service to patrons.



  • Mr. Jonathan Harwell, Reference Librarian for Education, created a first Library blog "Mesoj." (Check out Sterne Library's current blogs at


  • The Reference Department began offering "Ask-A-Librarian" chat reference service to patrons.


  • The Library continued receiving an annual monetary gift from Mrs. Dorah H. Sterne for the award of enhancement grants to departments or individual faculty members to improve Library collections in their areas of research interest.

  • A renovation of Education Technology Services (ETS), a department of Mervyn H. Sterne Library, was completed.


  • The new Starbucks began serving coffee in the Library on April 20.

  • The first phase of the renovation project began on June 29.

  • Sterne Library joined Facebook in July.


  • The renovation of the first floor was completed in September.

  • The Library began keeping later hours in October.