Building a new library for the rapidly growing college was delayed first by World War I and then again in 1919 by the purchase of the Bancroft apartment building on 121st Street and the Janus Court building on Morningside Drive. Janus Court was renamed in honor of Columbia University president, Seth Low. When plans were resumed in 1922, it was decided to build not only a library but an extension to Grace Dodge Hall for a dining room and restaurant. The library on the south and the Dodge extension on the north would finally enclose the block. The building was named Russell Hall in honor of James E. Russell, Dean of Teachers College from 1898 to 1927.
Elizabeth Baldwin, the last Bryson Librarian, described the building in a 1925 article in the Teachers College Record
Russell Hall is an imposing structure, Gothic in architecture, of red brick trimmed with stone. It has a frontage of 200 feet on 120th Street; it is seventy-five feet in depth; and it is a magnificent addition to the Teachers College plant which now completely fills the block on Broadway between 120th and 121st Streets. It is six stories in height and is joined to the main Teachers College building by a great tower which dominates the entire group of buildings. A skeleton steel frame, floors and roof of reinforced concrete and partitions of hollow tile, make the building a fireproof structure of the most modern type.
The Library occupied the second through fifth floors. The first and ground floors were used for college administration. The tower contained eleven floors of metal book stacks with a capacity of 350,000 volumes. The second and third floor reading rooms were for undergraduates. The fourth and fifth floors were reserved for graduate students and included conference rooms where students met with faculty.
Each floor had its own loan desk and about seventeen thousand books and pamphlets designated by the instructors as required reading were reserved in back of the loan desks. During one Summer Session alone, one thousand magazines and thirty-five hundred books were checked out and returned to a single loan desk in one day. The collections were especially strong in the areas of reference works, history of education, education administration, household arts, physical education, nursing and juvenile literature. The first Chinese students donated a collection of Chinese books, pamphlets and magazines relating to education in China. A collection of modern textbooks received from publishers remained in the old Bryson Library due to a lack of space. The library also sent out traveling libraries to support students taking Teachers College courses in cities outside New York.