Historic HBCU Library Slated for Modernization as National Treasure

Founders Library opened its door at Howard University in 1939. Photo by Howard Universtiy

WASHINGTON — Howard University’s historic Founders Library is now a national treasure, as named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, an organization that so far has renovated 14 of 50 preservation projects nationally and promises to help bring the venerable building into the 21st Century with the latest technological improvements.

Representatives from the National Trust and Howard said they will work together to raise the money for the improvements and provide the expertise to transform the library, which is the home to Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, the world’s largest non-circulating collection for documentation of the history and culture of people of African descent.

Writers, researchers and historians from around the world use its facilities. Founders is the first site at a historically black college or university to be named a national treasure.

“The designation of Founders Library as a national treasure is an honor,” Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick said Monday of the partnership. “This recognition is a testament to the many treasures here at Howard University.

“Additionally, we are excited to partner with the National Trust for the restoration of the Library, as we continue to make strides in offering our students a preeminent education with the best available resources.”

National Trust has partnered on its projects with American Express, which has pledged $6 million dollars as a partner of the organization to preserve several historic sites.

 The National Trust Community Investment Corporation will provide Howard with technical assistance on the use of federal and new market tax credits to fund future rehabilitation costs, said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation will help Howard University
secure funding to complete restoration of the historic Founders Library.
Photo by Tatyana Hopkins, Howard University News Service 

National Trust experts will also advise Howard on best practices to ensure the historic fabric is maintained for generations to come, Meeks said.

“Historic libraries like Founders can be reimagined to fit the needs of the modern age, while continuing to serve as monuments of past ideals and achievement,” she said.

“We look forward to working closely with the university to ensure the creation of a more versatile and functional library – one that honors its distinctive character and rich history.”

Existing conceptual drafts from previous attempts to modernize the building are being used to guide the project, said Derrek Niec-Williams, executive director of Campus Planning, Architecture & Development. The university will work with the National Trust to organize a task force to assist in the library’s preservation and updating, Niec-Williams said.

“For a university approaching 150 years, and for a building that old, there have been numerous plans to modernize Founders,” he said.

He said efforts to renovate the building date back to the 1970s.

University officials said they will use the 150th anniversary of the university in 2017 to help raise money for renovations and improvements to Founders.

Spokesperson Anthony Owens said the university has not yet set an exact figure.

“It’s a little early to put a dollar amount to the project,” Owens said. 

Founders was designed by African-American architect Albert I. Cassell under the first black president of the university, using over $1 million from the federal Public Works Administration.   The project took two years to complete and opened in 1939.

Named in memory of the founders of the university, the four-story, brick building opened as one of the largest and most extensive research facilities on the campus of a historically black college or university.