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WC’s Watson Library undergoing historic renovation

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Watson Library Director Michael Wells speaks about renovation plans resulting in multi-use spaces on the facility's main floor. (Submitted photos)
Randy Sarvis, Wilmington College

Watson Library on Wilmington College’s campus was completed in late 1941, about the time the United States militarily entered World War II. The iconic 82-year-old facility that served students well for generations is undergoing a major renovation.

Academic libraries are much different today than even 15 years ago, Director Michael Wells says, “Books aren’t the main thing drawing people to libraries anymore. Books are still important, but they’re not the driving force.”

Indeed, he said the modern library is pretty much 50/50 percent online and physical, so the time was appropriate to start a transformation of Watson Library so it can best serve the campus community and its other patrons well into the future.

This summer, the entire south side of the library’s first floor was gutted to provide for a sizable technology classroom designed to accommodate both academic gatherings and campus/community events. That side of the building most recently housed the circulation desk, periodicals area and Wells’ office.

The renovated space, which faces Boyd Cultural Arts Center across an expanse of greenspace, also will feature a bank of restrooms, a lounge with a vending area and a new main entrance and sidewalk.

“This is going to redefine the space,” Wells said, noting the construction work is scheduled for mid-November completion.

Contractors have knocked down walls and removed 80-year-old plaster, flooring and ceilings. The library will close for a few days soon to accommodate the installation of new electrical systems.

The renovation provided for a new configuration of the library’s main floor in which the circulation desk now is situated prominently on the left side as one enters the building from Collett Mall. The area where banks of computers were placed will be a soon-to-be-revealed Center for Teaching Excellence, while a computer classroom will now be featured on the west side with future plans calling for a group study area in the northeast corner.

This endeavor represents the largest library renovation in more than half a century when an addition to the west side of the original building was completed in 1965. At that time, what had originally been called simply “Wilmington College Library” was re-dedicated as Watson Library in honor of the College’s 11th president, S. Arthur Watson, who served from 1940 to ’47. One of Watson’s greatest accomplishments during that war years era was guiding the institution to earning regional accreditation.

Oh, how Dr. Watson would marvel at the many ways his namesake library is benefiting students today. Yes, the physical structure still houses numerous books and other resources for reference and loan, but students literally have the assets of Ohio’s 100-plus academic libraries at their fingertips.

The library website ( features 304 databases and the College is a member of OhioLINK, which includes online versions of 121 college and university libraries. In 2022, students at member libraries downloaded more than 18 million E-books and 15 million electronic journal articles. That contrasts with only 160,000 borrowed physically printed items like books — half that of 2018.

WC also is a member, in addition to other entities, of the OPAL (Ohio Private Academic Libraries) consortium and enjoys a partnership with the Wilmington Public Library.

Wilmington College's Watson Library.