History of Rare Book Libraries in the United States

This timeline examines the history, movements, and trends in rare book and manuscript libraries in the United States.

Though it would be impossible to note the creation of every rare book or manuscript collection or library in the history of the United States, I here attempt to hit key events, historical figures, and movements. You will notice many points on the timeline directing you to additional information, mostly electronic sources, however, a final post (in the year 2000) will direct you to a variety of print sources as well.;xNLx;;xNLx;Though this timeline covers the history of rare book and manuscript libraries in the United States, it is important to note that this could be the story of many specialized libraries, such as art libraries, in the United States. The story begins with increasing complexity in library systems due to growth spurred on by the broadening number of Americans attending higher education. The story catches up to the present with the maintenance and transformation of collections due to digitization, and even the decline of many libraries as we face greater economic constraints as a country.;xNLx;;xNLx;Where we are headed based on this history is not evident, but if growth has been spurred on by the increasing number of those seeking higher education, it is easy to see a future where that growth has to stop or change in some way. Ultimately, the history and future of rare book libraries, and all libraries, in the United States is inextricably tied to education and funding.

1840-05-06 00:00:00

University of South Carolina library completed

The University of South Carolina library building was completed, the first free-standing university in the county.

1840-06-17 19:38:18

The Expansion of Universities

Colleges existed in the United States from roughly 1636 when Harvard University was founded as New College.

1841-08-01 07:11:58

Harvard University Library Completed

Gore Hall, Harvard's first free-standing university library, was opened.

1848-01-01 22:29:17

Alfred Clark Chapin

Alfred Chapin was an avid collector of rare books and an alumnus of Williams College, a member of the class of 1869.

1849-09-05 17:36:27

Elizabeth Blackwell graduates from medical school

In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell graduates from the Medical Institution of Geneva, N.Y., becoming the first American woman to receive her medical degree.

1853-04-03 05:22:26

Amherst College Library Completed

Morgan Hall, Amherst College's first free-standing library, opens.

1864-04-23 07:59:34

Ainsworth Rand Spofford

Ainsworth Rand Spofford served as the Librarian of Congress from 1864 to 1897.

1883-10-29 21:15:31

University of Michigan's Library Opens

The University of Michigan's first free-standing library opens.

1887-06-01 02:03:17

Founding of the Newberry Library

The Newberry Library, a private research library that today houses a variety of rare and unique books and manuscripts, was founded by Walter Loomis Newberry. The background image of this timeline is of the permanent building of the Newberry, which was not completed until 1893.

1894-07-02 06:28:29

Northwestern's Lunt Library Completed

The Lunt Library, Northwestern University's first library, is completed.

1900-01-09 11:35:03

Special Collections Start to Separate

As university library systems become increasingly complex, rare book and manuscript collections begin to separate out from the general university library holdings.

1918-06-16 05:44:39

Founding of the Huntington Library

Henry E. Huntington founds the Huntington Library, a private rare books and manuscripts research library with particularly strong holdings in British and American history and literature. The library is located in San Marino, CA.

1920-05-01 18:16:52

New Library Building Built at the University of Michigan

A larger, updated library space is built for the university by architect Albert Kahn.

1923-11-11 06:23:45

William L. Clements Library founded at the University of Michigan

The Clements Library is a rare book library specializing in Americana.

1931-03-01 07:45:23

Northwestern's Deering Library Built

The Deering Library succeeded the Lunt Library as the university's primary library.

1934-04-07 04:29:42

Library of Congress Rare Books Division Created

See also: Ainsworth Rand Spofford.

1938-01-01 21:43:27

Amherst College's Treasure Room Opens

In 1917, Amherst College's library moves from Morgan Hall to the Converse Library. Twenty-one years later, the first rare book room, or 'treasure room,' is added to the library when an addition is made.

1948-03-18 12:48:34

The RBMS is created

The Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) traces its roots back to 1948.

1953-01-01 03:18:13

University of Georgia's First Special Collections Department Formed

The University of Georgia's first Special Collections department was formed.

1955-04-01 06:23:08

Continued Expansion

Following the continued expansion of university library systems in the first half of the 20th century, a second library boom comes in the sixties. This boom results in several university library expansions as well as in the construction of several free-standing rare book and manuscript libraries.

1960-10-03 23:21:47

Dedication of the Lilly Library

The Lilly Library, Indiana University's (Bloomington) first free-standing rare books and manuscripts library is dedicated.

1963-10-14 07:52:59

The Beinecke Rare Book Library Opens to the Public

Yale Library's free-standing rare book library, the Beinecke, opens to the public.

1970-05-01 18:16:52

Addition to University of Michigan Library

Additions are made to the University library: a tower, and two attached library buildings.

1970-06-01 15:09:24

Northwestern's University Library Built

The University Library, the sucessor to both the Lunt and Deering libraries, was built in 1970.

1980-08-29 19:50:47

Rare Book and Manuscript Libraries Open Up

By the 1980s, the practices of special collections had changed substantially, and they had become much more welcoming.

1995-03-24 17:18:05

Technology and Special Collections

Though many rare book and manuscript libraries still contain a card catalog, which the backlog often keeps them from converting, technology has crept into rare books and manuscript libraries over the years.

2000-08-18 06:18:53

Library Funding Decreasing

So far in the 21st century, library funding has taken a downturn as the economy has gone through various rough patches.

2000-08-18 06:18:53

Resources for Additional Study

Click more for a list of resources relating to rare book libraries, librarianship, and the collecting of rare books.

History of Rare Book Libraries in the United States

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