A Part of Martin Tower Lives on at NCC

Thanks to the ingenuity and foresight of some special people

Myra Saturen,

Although Martin Tower, the former world headquarters building of Bethlehem Steel, is due for demolition on May 19, some of its key possessions live on, serving faculty and students, in the Paul and Harriett Mack Library on the Bethlehem Campus of Northampton Community College (NCC). 

Opened in 1972, the 21-story tower has been vacant since 2007, six years after Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy and disposed of its assets as part of the company’s bankruptcy and liquidation.  The building’s contents were removed, some destined as museum artifacts or simply consigned to the garbage can.  The books, however, had a different future in store.  Thanks to the foresight and efforts of John Thomas, retired professor and past coordinator of NCC’s paralegal program; the late Kathleen Mills, general counsel for human resources at Bethlehem Steel, where she worked for thirty years and a labor relations attorney at Fitzpatrick, Lentz & Bubba; and Olga Conneen (retired) and Anne Bittner, NCC librarians, many of the materials found a new home at NCC.  Thomas calls Mills’s salvage project and Bethlehem Steel/ISG’s cooperation an “immeasurably benevolent gesture.” She served on the NCC Paralegal Advisory Board from 2000 until her death, in January, 2019.

“In the spring of 2004, Kathy was still working with corporate authorities to wind up the disposition of the former Bethlehem Steel assets,” Thomas recalls.  “She called me to tell me that the entire Bethlehem Steel law library was headed for a dumpster!”  Mills arranged for Thomas and Conneen to accompany her to the mostly abandoned facility to explore the vast law library, which extended across several rooms on an upper floor. 

Entering the abandoned building was a bittersweet journey to the past.  “Walking into Martin Tower was sad indeed,” remembers Bittner.  “You could easily imagine how elegant it had once been.”  Conneen shared her memories from her high school days, when white-gloved, uniformed young women escorted visitors to offices.  The group now found empty offices upstairs, converted into storage spaces for equipment waiting for disposal.  One room was stuffed with filing cabinets; another contained waist-high phone books; one more held broken office chairs.  Wires hung from the ceilings and protruded from wall sockets.  Thomas noticed that, although the lobby still seemed grand, signs of disuse and neglect abounded.  Scraps of paper littered the floors. 

But one area remained untouched: the law library.  “Multiple large rooms housed the law library resources,” Thomas says.  He was most impressed by the library’s magnitude.  Most of the books, still on the shelves, remained in good condition, although not updated in years. “Endless rows of shelves with seemingly endless sets of books” lined the walls.  “Our college librarian was almost in tears, realizing what was going to happen to this treasure trove of law books,” Thomas says.

Faced with so many volumes, Thomas and the librarians had to be selective.  They decided that the best options for NCC were the complete multi-volume set of the U.S. Code Annotated, the entire set of books for the Pennsylvania Administrative Code (state regulations), a complete Pennsylvania legal encyclopedia, and Restatements of Law. Two library staffers, Kenton Sein and Carolyn Pulson (retired), joined Bittner in packing and driving the boxes of books to NCC.  Then, the library staff attacked the gargantuan task of cataloging and shelving.  The NCC Foundation and Institutional Advancement helped fund the project. 

Today, most of this valuable printed material is housed in the Mack Library stacks, in the “KF” and “KFP” call number section.  Any NCC student, regardless of major, can use these materials, locating them through SpartaCat, the library’s online catalogue.  “If students need help using these materials, librarians are happy to assist,” Bittner says.  Students in the paralegal program visit the library for a one-hour session in which they learn to use both the legal books and two databases. 

Some of the books can be borrowed for three weeks, but the core titles, such as Purdon’s Pennsylvania Statutes Annotated and the U.S. Code Annotated are held in reserve; they can only leave the library for short times so that the faculty can show them to their students.  Their contents, however, can be photocopied or scanned at the library. 

As times changed, the library could not keep all of the Martin Tower collection.  Because the Pennsylvania Code no longer prints an index, making it nearly impossible to find any one part, the library offers, instead, the Westlaw database, which contains the same information.  Because the U.S. Code Annotated had not been updated in years, it has been replaced by an entirely new set. 

The paralegal program at NCC (founded in 1997) received the American Bar Association (ABA) approval in 2003.  With the vast addition of the Bethlehem Steel volumes, the ABA, in 2010, cited the library as the “gold standard” for an ABA program at a community college of NCC’s size. 

Thomas says that the acquisitions from Bethlehem Steel meant that NCC had an opportunity to augment its rather slim law book holdings, thereby reducing the need for students to travel to local county libraries for resources. 

“The ingenuity and foresight of Kathy Mills and the generosity of the asset holder for the former Bethlehem Steel Corporation gave NCC a huge leap forward in its holdings of hardbound legal volumes that benefitted the Paralegal and Criminal Justice programs as well as the student and faculty population at large.  In no small measure, it also enhanced the college’s ability to successfully achieve American Bar Association “approval” (a process similar to accreditation) for the NCC Paralegal Program, a significant milestone and a status still enjoyed by the program to this very day,” says Thomas.