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. 

School of Oriental Studies Library, London, England

Post-1945 Card of Admission, School of Oriental Studies Library

School of Oriental Studies Library, Post-1945 Card of Admission (front)
School of Oriental Studies Library, Post-1945 Card of Admission (back)

The School of Oriental Studies

Opened in 1916, The School of Oriental Studies, part of the University of London in London, England, was originally housed in the former London Institution buildings at Finsbury Circus.  In the mid-1930s, the School of Oriental Studies moved to Bloomsbury and subsequently, the buildings of the London Institution were abandoned and then demolished.

Finsbury Circus and The London Institute (Public Domain Pre-1923 Postcard)

Focusing on Asian, African and Middle Eastern studies, the library holds over one million volumes and electronic resources for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and was designated by HEFCE in 2011 as one of the United Kingdom’s five National Research Libraries.   Since 1973, the library has been located in the Philips Building on the Russell Square  campus of the University of London.  The Philips Building was designed by British architect Sir Denys Lasdun, who also designed some of Britain’s most famous brutalist buildings such as the National Theatre and the Institute of Education.   

Columbia University Libraries, New York

Temporary Columbia University Libraries Identification Card for Reference and Stack Privileges issued to Elenor M. Alexander on July 13, 1942 for one week expiring July 20, 1942

1940s Columbia University Libraries Card (front)
1940s Columbia University Libraries Card (back)

Columbia University Libraries

Columbia University’s Low Library (Public Domain – pre-1923 postcard)

The Library of Columbia University, also known as the Low Library, served as the main library from 1890s to the 1930s.  By the 1930s, the Low Library had over a million volumes and space because an issue, but with a .4 million dollar donation from the Standard Oil Company, the new Butler Library, with space for over 2 million volumes, was constructed and opened in 1934.  Today, the Columbia University Libraries hold more than 5 million volumes, as well as 2.5 million microform unites and 22 million manuscript items.  The Columbia University Library system collection would stretch nearly 174 miles.  It is the fifth largest academic library in the United States and the largest academic library in the State of New York.  The Low Library now serves as the university’s administrative center.

The libraries currently in the Columbia University Library System are:

• Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

• Barnard College Library

• Burke Library at the Union Theological Seminary 

• Business & Economics Library (Watson) at the Columbia Business School 

• Butler Library

• Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research

• Columbia Center for Oral History

• Columbia University Archives

• Digital Humanities Center

• Digital Science Center

• Digital Social Science Center

• East Asian Library (Starr)

• Engineering Library (Monell)

• Geology Library

• Geoscience Library at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Pallisades, NY 

• Global Studies

• Health Sciences Library at the Columbia University Medical Center in Washington Heights in Manhattan

• Jewish Theological Seminary

• Journalism Library

• Arthur W. Diamond Law Library at the Columbia Law School  

• Lehman Social Sciences Library at the School of International School of International and Public Affairs  

• Mathematics Library

• Milstein Undergraduate Library of  Columbia College 

• Music & Arts Library (Weiner)

• Off-Site Shelving Facility (ReCAP)

• Rare Book & Manuscript Library

• Science & Engineering Library

• Journalism Library of Columbia Journalism School 

• Social Work Library of Columbia University School of Social Work

• The Gottesman Libraries of Teachers College

1954 commemorative 3 cent stamp celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Low Memorial Library

Dr. Charles Clarence Williamson

From the Library Journal April 1, 1920 (Public Domain)

C. C. Williamson (1877-1965) served as Director of the Columbia University Libraries and Dean of the Columbia School of Library Service from 1926 to 1940.  He began his career at the New York Public Library in 1911 using his background in economics to become the head of the  then new Division of Economics. His 1919 report for the Carnegie Corporation, The Williamson Report, criticized the educational requirements of librarians and believed a university graduate degree and not a college bachelor’s degree was the appropriate education for professional librarians.  In response to the Williamson Report, The Graduate Library School of the University of Chicago was founded in 1928 and provided librarians with a one year of postgraduate education in librarian science.  By the 1950s, most library schools offered master’s programs in library science.  In 1999, Williamson was named as one of 100 American librarians that made a lasting impact on library service.  

Elenor M. Alexander 

Elenor M. Alexander (Naughton) (1920-1995), born in Morristown, New Jersey, was the night supervisor at the Ocean County Observer for 10 years, and as a 40-plus year resident of Brick, New Jersey, served her community as a Girl Scout and Cub Scout leader.