About the Libraries


The St. Olaf College libraries serve the college community by providing access to a universe of information, knowledge and art. The libraries support the college’s mission by providing systematic instruction in the retrieval and evaluation of information as well as active support of the college’s curriculum.

Available Materials

The collection, housed in two libraries (Rølvaag Memorial Library and Halvorson Music Library), includes approximately 420,000 books, 22,000 media items, 5000 periodical titles, and 18,000 scores. An increasing number of journals are received electronically. The Libraries are also a partial depository for federal government documents.

While our collection development policy focuses on materials that support the college curriculum, we have unusual strengths and emphases which reflect unique elements in the tradition of the college. The collections in religion, Scandinavian literature and history, mathematics, and music are especially strong. St. Olaf is one of the few places where extensive materials can be found on the culture of Norwegian-Americans, particularly their church life. Our patrons also benefit from the rich holdings of the Hong Kierkegaard Library, the Norwegian-American Historical Association, and the Shaw-Olson Center for College History.

In 2003, St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges embarked on a project to merge our library catalogs, funded in part by a generous Mellon Foundation grant. This work was completed in 2004, when we launched Bridge, the catalog of collections at both schools. The success of this project exceeded our expectations and led us to apply for a second Mellon grant to explore ways of improving and expanding our work together. With the money received from Mellon, we completed several projects: an intensive review of the strengths/weaknesses across both our collections, a joint serials review, consolidation of our government documents and inactive serials collections, and enhancements to our Innovative Interfaces library system software. In 2016, we migrated to a new software and renamed the catalog Catalyst

Physical materials in the Catalyst catalog are made available to faculty, staff and students on both campuses via a twice-daily courier service. The rate of cross-library borrowing between St. Olaf and Carleton now averages over 16,000 items per year. In practice, the Carleton and St. Olaf collections are “two collections functioning as one.” Both libraries strive to make decisions about acquisitions and services to complement what is available at the other. Students and faculty at both institutions are enthusiastic about the resulting expansion of materials readily available to them.

Digital Collections

The libraries are central to a campus-wide digitization effort focused on creating more online content for our many unique collections. We recently completed digitization of the first thirty years of the Manitou Messenger, St. Olaf’s student newspaper. The libraries are working with departments across campus, including Dance, Mathematics, German, and Music, to digitize and create metadata for selected portions of their collections, and to add them, as appropriate, to the campus online collections.

In addition to locally created content, the libraries subscribe to online books, journals, and other resources. For information, please consult our Research Finding Tools and Periodicals Title List.

Loan Services

The St. Olaf Libraries circulate over 115,000 physical materials annually to users on campus, Carleton College, and local community members. Each library also provides Course Reserves services, circulating over 22,000 physical reserve items per year in addition to an ever-increasing number of e-reserves, which provide access to articles, book chapters, and streaming audio.

Last year, our Interlibrary Loan office borrowed over 7,000 items for St. Olaf students, faculty, and staff and filled over 2,400 loan requests. Interlibrary Loan also oversees our recently-implemented Purchase On Demand (POD) service, which added 180 items to our permanent collection in 2008. The POD service allows us to enhance our collection by purchasing, rather than borrowing, those student-requested materials that are judged to be appropriately scholarly and current.


The St. Olaf College Libraries have a history of providing course-integrated library instruction that dates from the 1970s, when St. Olaf was awarded a prestigious NEH/CLR grant to begin such a program. Instruction in information literacy is an integral aspect of the libraries' identity and mission in support of excellence in undergraduate education. The number of assignment-based research sessions conducted by liaison librarians has steadily increased from 135 two decades ago to 222 in the last academic year, serving 5189 attendees in the overall student population of 3000. Library instruction plays a vital role in the first-year curriculum: almost all incoming students are required to take a First Year Writing (FYW) course that contains a research component that students explore with liaison librarians. First-year students also are exposed to research methods in “Bible in Culture and Community” classes (Religion 121) as well as Biology, Music, and other first-year courses.

The libraries strive to be both partners and leaders in issues that include a campus-wide emphasis on learning outcomes, an increased investment in electronic resources and innovative technologies, and the opportunity and necessity to collaborate with faculty in order to embed research as an essential component in students’ coursework. In partnership with several departments (Psychology, Music, English, Asian Studies) we offer a sequential, course-integrated approach to information literacy. In support of the college’s ongoing commitment to learning assessment, librarians — together with the Office of Institutional Research and Evaluation, classroom faculty, and librarians at seven other liberal arts institutions — designed a web-based survey instrument (the Research Practices Survey, RPS) to measure the research experiences, attitudes, and proficiencies of incoming college students. St. Olaf has played a key leadership role in the construction of this survey, the development of the data analysis protocols, its adoption by other institutions, and its future availability through the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS). RPS results show how students’ research practices and proficiencies change during college, and allow comparisons between St. Olaf students and students in other liberal arts institutions. Evidence from the Research Practices Survey is intended to inform and improve instruction in academic research in both the classroom and the library.

The libraries are actively engaged with other constituents on campus in an effort to provide our undergraduates with the best possible skills to navigate our information-rich world. For example, librarians work with and advise students designing individualized majors in the Center for Integrative Studies, and librarians collaborate with the Center for Innovation in the Liberal Arts (a forum for conversations and collaboration among faculty about learning, teaching and scholarship), the Academic Support Center, and Information and Instructional Technologies.

Faculty and librarians from St. Olaf have written and presented extensively about information literacy in local, national and international settings. In additional they have consulted for other institutions and have mentored librarians from Thailand and Japan in this area. For a complete bibliography, see: http://www.stolaf.edu/library/instruction/infolit/infolitpubs.html.

Rølvaag History

Rølvaag Library is named for Ole E. Rølvaag (1876-1931), novelist, educator, St. Olaf graduate, and father of Karl Rølvaag, Governor of Minnesota. A Norwegian immigrant, Rølvaag is best know for two novels, I de dage (1924) and Riket gundlæges (1925). These two works, the story of Norwegian immigrant and pioneer Per Hansa, were translated into English as Giants in the Earth in 1927.

Although completed in 1942, Rølvaag Memorial Library remained without a name until 1944. Advocates for Rølvaag encountered concern among those who objected to the "sordid" realism of his novels and his criticism of the cultural sensibilities of some Lutheran clergy. (Shaw, Dear Old Hill, p. 142)

The Felland wing (1966) provided additional stack space and quarters for the Norwegian American Historical Society (NAHA). The Ditmanson wing (1991) added more stack and study space. Renovation of the original building accompanied the construction of Ditmanson.

Today, NAHA, the Kierkegaard Library, IIT, English Department, and the St. Olaf College Archives share a building with Rølvaag Memorial Library.