Pius Library: Best in State

Pius XII Memorial Library was recognized as the 2021 Missouri Library of the Year by the Missouri Library Association.

This award came after 18 months of Pius Library functioning through the COVID-19 pandemic, something that caused many libraries across the state to alter their services and systems. The annual award is “conferred upon any type of Missouri library, library system or library network for distinguished achievement in service,” according to the Missouri Library Association website.

Martha Allen, Assistant Dean of User Services at Pius Library, said that one of the reasons Pius Library received the award was due to their pandemic response.

“We did not close our doors,” Allen said. “Pius Library was open and had the longest open hours of any library in the state of Missouri. And I’m talking public libraries, special libraries, academic libraries, school libraries—we were open longer than anyone else.”

Allen said that along with the hours that it was open, Pius Library was able to continue offering many of its services during the pandemic, which also set Pius apart from other libraries in Missouri.

“We were committed to try and keep the services at a level that was [similar to] normal operating services,” Allen said. “We really did move 800 chairs, 40 sofas, many, many tables. And we did that with the help of distribution and moving services.”

But more than the changes to the physical functions, Pius Library was also recognized for how quickly it adapted to the virtual needs of campus.

“The virtual library is absolutely vital to student success,” Allen said. “And what we quickly realized during the pandemic was that Zoom enabled us to reach students that maybe we have never reached in the past.”

There were many students and faculty members who utilized the virtual aspects of the library as rates of e-book and streaming media checkouts rose drastically, Allen said.

Caitlin Stamm, an archivist in Pius Library, says that these services have always set Pius Library apart, though.

“Before I came to SLU, SLU’s Pius Library had a great reputation for having a great collection,” Stamm said. “When I needed to find things for my patrons, I always knew that if I needed a special book or a theology book…Pius Library always had it and was always willing to help us. And so, I came to SLU with the knowledge of Pius Library—a great library.”

That is a reputation that has been built and tended to since Pius Library first opened in 1959. Before that, the SLU Library was located in what is now the Pere Marquette Gallery in DuBourg Hall, according to John Waide, a former SLU archivist who worked in Pius Library for 47 years.

“I am really just kind of overwhelmed by how many students use the library,” Waide said. “You know during midterms and final exams, you can’t find a seat in the library, and there are a lot of seats in the library, don’t get me wrong. It’s just amazing to me how much use it gets.”

Students and SLU community members do use Pius heavily, especially during the pandemic. According to library headcounts, September 2021 saw over 60,000 guests enter Pius Library. Once they enter, of course, there are plenty of things for them to do.

“I just like the environment of everyone kind of studying, side by side, and it’s like we’re all kind of going through it together,” said Lydia Golden, a senior studying Health Management and Policy.

“What has become very apparent is that the library, as a place, is so important,” Allen said. “The library is a sanctuary to many students, and different types of sanctuaries: a sanctuary for intellectual research, a sanctuary just for calm and peace, a sanctuary for recreational reading, a sanctuary just to get a bagel. You know, where you meet with your friends.”

That was something Allen says they wanted to focus on in their pandemic response, not only a continuation of normalcy.

“I can’t tell you the number of students who have said to me how important it was during the pandemic that the library at least was a slice of normalcy in this chaotic new world that we were living in,” Allen said. “They knew that they could come to the library and feel safe.”

Ultimately, that sense of safety and support is what makes Pius Library what it is, said Allen.

“I just want to say we have such an incredible team here,” Allen said. “We didn’t win the award from one person, one individual person. It was the team that came together to support the needs of the students. And that is thrilling for me to be in an environment that is truly committed to their mission.”