The Harvard College Library, Cambridge, Massachusetts

1895 Harvard University Bursar’s Office Freshman Security Receipt issued to R. E. Andrews

Harvard University Bursar’s Office Freshman Security Receipt for library privileges dated September 23, 1895 issued to R. E. Andrews (front)
Harvard University Bursar’s Office Freshman Security Receipt for library privileges dated September 23, 1895 issued to R. E. Andrews (back)

Founded in 1636, Harvard College (now Harvard University) and Harvard College Library is the oldest University and private and academic library in the United States.

Established through personal donations from the University’s namesake, John Harvard, a Puritan minister who bequeathed over 400 religious texts to the College on his death, the Library was initially located at the Old College building.

The Old College. From the Harvard University Archives,
Records of Early Harvard Buildings. No known copyright restrictions.

In 1676, The Library moved to Harvard Hall, where it remained for nearly 100 years until the building and library collection was destroyed by fire in 1764.

The original Harvard Hall destroyed by fire on January 24, 1764. Location of the Harvard College Library from 1676 to 1764. Artist unknown. No known copyright restrictions.
News article detailing the fire of 1764. The Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), February 23, 1764. No known copyright restrictions.

Rebuilt in 1766, the Library reopened with a new inventory of over 15,000 volumes, an inventory primarily donated by Thomas Hollis of England and books that were re-collected from students after the fire. Harvard Library’s online catalog system, HOLLIS (Harvard On-Line Library Information System), is thus named in his honor. Through a generous endowment provided by Hollis upon his death in 1774, the Library was able to continue purchasing books for the library, thus maintaining its position as the most extensive library in the United States. 

Harvard Hall, rebuilt in 1766. Location of the Harvard College Library from 1766 to 1841.
Pre-1925 public domain postcard.

Due to this continued growth, the Library moved once again in 1841 to Gore Hall. By 1912, Gore Hall was no longer suitable to hold the ever-growing collection, so the Library was disbursed into smaller specialty libraries.  

Gore Hall. Location of the Harvard College Library from 1841 to 1912.
Pre-1925 public domain postcard.

Libraries of the Harvard Library System

 • Andover-Harvard Theological Library (1911)

 • Arnold Arboretum Horticultural Library (1903)

 • George F. Baker Library (1927)

 • Biblioteca Berenson (Florence, Italy) (1961)

 • Botany Libraries

 • Godfrey Lowell Cabot Science Library (1973)

 • Francis A. Countway Library (1958)

 • Dumbarton Oaks Research Library (Washington, DC) (1940)

 • Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (1861)

 • Fine Arts Library (1895)

 • H.C. Fung Library (2005)

 • Monroe C. Gutman Library (1972)

 • Harvard Film Archive (1979)

 • Harvard Kennedy School Library and Knowledge Services (formerly the Harvard Graduate School of Public Administration) (1936)

 • Harvard Law School Library (1817)

 • Harvard University Archives (1851)

 • Harvard-Yenching Library (1928)

 • Arthur A. Houghton Library (1942)

 • Thomas W. Lamont Library (1949)

 • Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library (1976)

 • Frances Loeb Design Library (1969)

 • Robbins Library of Philosophy (1905)

 • Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Radcliffe (1943)

 • Alfred Marston Tozzer Library (1866)

 • Harry Elkins Widener Library (1915)

 • John G. Wolbach Library (1934)

At 15 million volumes, The Harvard College Library continues to hold one of the largest collections in the United States, surpassed only by the Library of Congress. 

Robert Eaton Andrews

Robert Eaton Andrews was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on May 4, 1878.  He earned his B.A. from Harvard University in 1899, and his M.D. from Harvard University Medical School in 1903. He was a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, until his death in 1963.  

Charles F. Mason

Charles F. Mason (1860-1947), graduated from Harvard in 1882 and subsequently served as the Bursar of the University for 34 years from 1887-1921. 

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