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Branson Library named for NMSU president who volunteered to be acting president, then got the job

Date: 07/02/2020

Branson Library at New Mexico State University is named for John W. Branson, who served as “acting president” three times before he was chosen to be NMSU’s president. He held the presidency six years before retiring.

Color photo of a building
The Branson Library was completed in 1952. It replaced Young Hall as the university's library and has continued to serve the university after Zuhl Library was built in 1992. (NMSU Photo by Josh Bachman)
Black and white photo of man wearing a suit and tie
John W. Branson served New Mexico State University from 1927-1955 in several positions. Branson served three times as "acting president" between 1938 and 1949 before he was named NMSU president, a position he held for six years before he retired in 1955. He died in 1957.
two buildings in black and white
Branson Library in NMSU's 1954 yearbook (left), Branson Library in 1968 yearbook (right). (NMSU photo)

NMSU’s library was first located in Young Hall but as the university grew, a new library was at the top of the list for the Board of Regents. Discussions began in 1950 while Branson was president and he faced many obstacles to get the facility completed. It was largely completed in 1952, dedicated to Branson in 1957 and continues to serve the campus nearly 70 years later.

Branson Library contains books related to agriculture, business and economics, engineering and sciences. It also houses the University Archives and Special Collections, Rio Grande Historical Collection and U.S. Government Documents.

About John W. Branson

Branson was born in Kentucky in 1887. After receiving his master’s degree from Purdue University and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1927, Branson came to New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts to serve as head of the department of mathematics and astronomy. Branson reintroduced astronomy courses at the college, which had not been offered since 1924.

While serving in different positions, Branson did double-duty as acting president three times before serving one term as president. He was a department head in 1938 when asked to step in as acting president for five months the first time. In 1940, Branson was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences when asked to serve as acting president for the second time from 1941-1946 while then president Hugh Milton served in World War II.

During World War II the college faced decreased enrollment numbers, at one point, the possibility of becoming a vocational school was seriously considered by the state legislature. Despite the hardships, Branson refused to sacrifice quality education and his leadership during this time is credited with the college becoming a full-fledged university. Milton returned to NMSU in 1946 but then went on to become the superintendent of New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. In 1949, Branson was again named acting president. Later that year, NMSU Regents named him president. He remained NMSU’s president until his retirement in 1955. Branson died in 1957.

Construction and design

Construction began in 1951 and the four-story facility faced many construction and financial delays. Branson Library’s design represented modern architectural trends and the changing direction of the university’s architecture. The Branson Library is primarily made of concrete, textile block and metal.

After many changes to the original design and materials used in construction, the building was completed by December 1952. Continuing conflicts about the design and use of the fourth floor caused further delays. Researchers requests to design the space for the specific needs of their programs involved more architects, additional contractors and more funding requests. By January 1957, construction on Branson's fourth floor interiors was complete.

The library that John W. Branson fought for during the final leg of his career at NMSU was then named for him.

Renovations and additions

Branson Library has undergone several renovations and improvements in its 68-year history. One of the most significant projects was in 1966 with an addition to the west end of the building. When the west end of Branson Library was expanded, decorative brick, or textile screens, which resembled the Zia symbol, also were added. The architect was Loren Mastin.

Branson Hall was renovated again in 1974, adding to the west end of the building once more. The architects were Charles E. Nolan, Jr. and Associates. Between 1987 and 1989 the library underwent another renovation. The circulation area was updated to accommodate the use of computers for checking in and out books and other media. The grand staircase was removed from the lobby in 1988 and new security gates were installed.

The Zuhl Library was completed in 1992 in an effort to meet the growing demand created from NMSU’s expanding student enrollment. But Branson Library was still needed. In 1993, a three-phase renovation began. These renovations, which consisted of space for NMSU’s growing collections, student study spaces, new lighting, carpet and furniture, were completed in 1995.



NMSU History Archives