The Northern Almanac Ep. 14 - 'The Swen Parson Library'

May 5, 2020


Welcome to The Northern Almanac, a WNIJ living history project coinciding with NIU's 125th anniversary. 


The creation of Northern’s libraries played a key role in its development as a major university. The founding of the Graduate School in 1952 came with the caveat of expanded library holdings. The existing Haish Library, on the second floor of Altgeld Hall, was replaced by the Swen Parson Library, located between Adams and Davis Halls. The library was named for Swen Parson, one of Northern’s earliest faculty members. Parson had immigrated to America from Sweden at 14-years-old. He had to enter school with much younger students because he was not yet fluent in English. He went on to earn a degree at Illinois State Normal and was hired as an original member of President Cook’s Northern’s faculty, where he was much loved and respected. He also taught math in DeKalb public schools.


The Swen Parson Library

Swen Parson library featured a soaring vaulted entrance, lead-glass windows and a Gothic architectural style that evoked the great academic libraries of Europe. It offered space for 150,000 volumes, nearly twice as many as the old library. On December 8, 1952, faculty, staff and students formed a human conveyer to move 83,000 books with an estimated weight of 85 tons into their new home. President Leslie A. Holmes led the brigade. 


Swen Parson Library quickly became the center of student life. It housed an art gallery, music room, radio broadcast booth and state-of-the-art lecture hall. Swen Parson Hall now houses the NIU College of Law and other offices, but for 25 years it served as the intellectual heart of Northern Illinois University.