Constructed of tooled Indiana limestone, glass, steel, concrete, and granite, the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery is at the center of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus both literally and figuratively. Since the library first opened in 1968, it has served as a focal point of the campus and UMBC students’ academic lives.
In 1982, the building was named in honor of Dr. Albin O. Kuhn, the first chancellor of UMBC. Chancellor Kuhn helped to found and plan the University of Maryland campus in Baltimore County and took part in the early administration of the new campus. In 1965, Chancellor Kuhn hired his first full-time employee—the university’s first librarian, John Haskell, Jr. Haskell was only 24 at the time, coming to work straight out of graduate school and a few months of active duty in the Army Reserves. He spent many of the early months leading up to UMBC’s opening ordering books, hiring new employees, and creating a catalog ordering system. The campus master plan from that same year also noted the importance of the library:
“The building will be viewed on axis from the main approach drive, appearing unquestionably as the major building on campus.”
In its early years, UMBC housed the library collections in different locations throughout the campus. Chancellor Kuhn’s house served as the catalog center for the library’s 20,000 volume collection while other collection materials were held within Academic Building I. As the university’s holdings continued to grow, the UMBC administration began plans for the construction of a specifically designated library building, which would later become known as the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery.
Campus architects designed the library to grow with the university, making plans to build it in three phases. Phase 1, in 1968, brought all of UMBC’s library collections, which had previously been scattered across the campus, together into one central location. The new library Brutalist unfinished concrete exterior contrasted with an interior of brightly colored walls and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the pond. Baltimore Chapter of the American Institute of Architects recognized the design with their highest honors in 1975.
Phase II opened in 1975 adding the library’s Special Collections department and a select collection of state and federal government documents to the library’s collection and continued the university’s efforts to expand its holdings. Phase III, the Library Tower, opened in 1995, increasing the library’s capacity further to 1,000,000 volumes.
As the library has sought to grow and maintain its holdings, the building has also grown as a student-centered space. This role expanded with the completion of the Retriever Learning Center (RLC) in 2011. Student organizations, like the Student Government Association and the Graduate Student Association, advocated for a central group study space as early as the 1980s. The university administration responded by creating the RLC, a space open to UMBC students for collaborative learning and group study. As described by UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski in 2011, the RLC is “another example of UMBC’s innovation in teaching and learning.”