A Life in the Stacks

Today, the Georgia State University Library is a eight-story research center with more than 1.5 million volumes. Pretty impressive considering it began as a set of 60 donated books from former Georgia State President George W. Sparks back in 1931.

Sparks, who served as director and then president from 1928-57, worked tirelessly to bolster the fledgling collection. Around 1935, the library’s offering was up to around 2,500 volumes and included the commerce library from Wayne Kell, the school’s first dean, and a collection of city reports from former Atlanta Mayor James S. Key.

W. Wilson NoyesBy 1947, the library held more than 25,000 volumes and was in desperate need of organization. The school had three professional librarians and then appointed W. Wilson Noyes Jr. director of the library.

According to the Signal, Noyes typified the “spirit of those who have helped build the institution to its present great period of usefulness.”

Noyes earned his library science degree from Emory University and later served as a librarian for the U.S. Naval Academy during World War II.

Noyes first task as director was reorganizing the library, which had just moved from the Baptist Tabernacle Sunday School on Luckie Street (now the site of the Tabernacle, a popular music venue) to Kell Hall. Students moved the library, book by book, to its new location, according to records.

Noyes oversaw the library move twice more, from Kell Hall to Sparks Hall around 1955 and into the Pullen Library after its construction in 1966. He retired in 1981.

Noyes made the Georgia State library a family affair. He met his future wife, Virginia Drake, at the library. She attended the Atlanta Junior College (the school at the time was comprised of the Atlanta Junior College for day students and the Georgia Evening College for night students). She, too, went on to earn her library science degree from Emory.

When their son, Frank (B.B.A. ‘82), was old enough, he also went to work in the library.

“In high school, I worked part time after school shelving books,” Frank Noyes remembers. “I would ride the bus downtown and look forward to returning home on the bus with my father after he got off from work.”

Noyes worked shoulder-to-shoulder with university President Noah Langdale and other top administrators, such as William Suttles, who served the university in numerous capacities including president from 1988-89.

In Noyes’ 1997 obituary in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Suttles remembered Noyes’ influence on generations of Georgia State students.

“He enjoyed seeing students reading and studying in the library because he knew the students were coming into collision with new ideas,” Suttles said.

Noyes wrote a regular column for The Signal titled, “Signals from the Library,” and suggested books relating to current events, offered advice for academic research and job inquiries, and updated students about library news.

“He was the consummate educator, and an example is summer evenings spent on our front porch as a family during which my father would quiz my sister and me on history,” Frank Noyes said.

Noyes enjoyed history, and his Signal columns often reflected that. In one, he writes about the tenuous relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and suggests students pick up a copy of “Mission to Moscow,” by former U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Joseph E. Davies.

To close each of his columns, Noyes always encouraged the students to come visit the library, and always emphasized that “any member of the library will be glad to help you at anytime.”