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Widener Library

Harry Elkins Widener
Memorial Library
Country United States
Type Academic
Established 1915
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts
Branch of Harvard College Library
Items collected Primarily humanities and social sciences
  • 3.5 million (onsite)
  • 3 million (offsite)
Access and use
Access requirements Harvard faculty, students & staff
Circulation 600,000 items/year
Website Widener Library

The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, housing some 3.5 million books in its "vast and cavernous"[1] stacks, is the center­piece of the Harvard College Libraries (the libraries of Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences) and, more broadly, of the entire Harvard Library system.[2] It honors 1907 Harvard College graduate and book collector Harry Elkins Widener, and was constructed by his mother after his death in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912.

The library's holdings, which include works in more than one hundred languages, comprise "one of the world's most comprehen­sive research collec­tions in the humanities and social sciences."[3] Its 57 miles (92 km) of shelves, along five miles (8 km) of aisles on ten levels, comprise a "labyrinth" which one student "could not enter without feeling that she ought to carry a compass, a sandwich, and a whistle."[4]

At the building's heart are the Widener Memorial Rooms, displaying papers and mementos recalling the life and death of Harry Widener, as well as the Harry Elkins Widener Collec­tion,[5] "the precious group of rare and wonder­fully interesting books brought together by Mr. Widener",[6] to which was later added one of the few perfect Gutenberg Bibles—​the object of a 1969 burglary attempt conjectured by Harvard's police chief to have been inspired by the heist filmTopkapi.

Campus legends holding that Harry Widener's fate led to institu­tion of an undergrad­uate swimming requirement, and that an additional donation from his mother subsidizes ice cream at Harvard meals, are without foundation.

Tablets in vestibule and foyer. "This noble gift to learning comes to us with the shadow of a great sorrow resting upon it", said Senator Lodge at the dedica­tion. "But with the march of the years the shad­ow of grief will pass, while the great memo­rial will remain".[1]


  • Background, conception and gift 1
    • Predecessor 1.1
    • Death of Harry Widener 1.2
    • Terms and cost of gift 1.3
  • Building 2
    • Dedication 2.1
    • Widener Memorial Rooms 2.2
    • Amenities and deficiencies 2.3
  • Collections and stacks 3
    • Harry Elkins Widener Collection 3.1
    • Parallel classification systems and dual catalogs 3.2
    • Departmental and special libraries 3.3
  • In literature and legend 4
    • Swim-requirement, ice-cream, and other legends 4.1
    • Literary references 4.2
  • Burglary and other incidents 5
    • Gutenberg Bible theft 5.1
    • "The Slasher" 5.2
    • Joel C. Williams 5.3
  • Artwork 6
  • Restrictions on women 7
  • Renovation 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Background, conception and gift

Will of Harry Elkins Widener
Eleanor Widener, son Horace Trum­bauer in Harvard Yard, c. 1912


By the opening of the twentieth century alarms had been issuing for many years about Harvard's "disgrace­fully inadequate"[9]:276 library, Gore Hall, completed 1841 (when Harvard owned some 44,000 books)[10]:5 and declared full in 1863.[10]:5 Librarian Justin Winsor concluded his 1892 Annual Report by pleading, "I have in earlier reports exhausted the language of warning and anxiety, in represent­ing the totally inadequate accommo­da­tions for books and readers which Gore Hall affords. Each twelve months brings us nearer to a chaotic condition";[11]:15 his successor Archibald Cary Coolidge asserted that the Boston Public Library was a better place to write an undergraduate thesis.[12]:29 Despite substantial additions in 1876 and 1907,[13] in 1910 a committee of architects termed Gore

unsafe [and] unsuitable for its object ... no amount of tinkering can make it really good ... hopelessly over­crowded ... leaks when there is a heavy rain ... intolerably hot in summer ... books are put in double rows and are not infrequently left lying on top of one another, or actually on the floor ...[14]:51–2

With dormitory basements pressed into service as overflow storage[15] for Harvard's 543,000 books,[16]:50 the committee drew up a plan for replacement of Gore in stages. Andrew Carnegie was approached for financing without success.[2]

Death of Harry Widener

Emptying Gore Hall

In 1912, Harry Elkins Widener—​scion of two of the wealthiest families in America,[20] a 1907 graduate of Eleanor Elkins Widener survived.[20]

Harry Widener's will instructed that his mother, when "in her judgment Harvard University shall make arrange­ments for properly caring for my collec­tion of books ... shall give them to said University to be known as the Harry Elkins Widener Collection",[22] and he had told a friend, not long before he died, "I want to be remembered in connection with a great library, [but] I do not see how it is going to be brought about."[21]

To enable the fulfillment of her son's wish Eleanor Widener briefly consid­ered funding an addition to Gore Hall, but soon determined to build instead a completely new and far larger library building—​"a perpetual memorial"[17]:90 to Harry Widener, housing not only his book collection but Harvard's general library as well.[23] As Biel has written, "The [Harvard architects] committee's Beaux Arts design [for Gore Hall's projected replacement], with its massiveness and symmetry, offered monumen­tal­ity with nothing more particular to monumen­tal­ize than the aspira­tions of the modern university"—​until the Titanic sank and "through delicate negotia­tion, [Harvard] convinced Eleanor Widener that the most eloquent tribute to Harry would be an entire library rather than a rare book wing."[17]:88–9

Terms and cost of gift

To her gift Eleanor Widener attached a number of stipulations,[18]:43 including that the building's architects be the firm of Horace Trumbauer & Associates,[24] which had built several mansions for both the Elkins and the Widener families.[18]:27 "Mrs. Widener does not give the University the money to build a new library, but has offered to build a library satisfactory in external appearance to herself," Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell wrote privately. "The exterior was her own choice, and she has decided architec­tur­al opinions."[25]:167 Harvard historian William Bentinck-Smith has written that

Gore Hall under demolition
To [Harvard officials] Mrs. Widener was a lovely and generous lady whose wealth, power, and remoteness made her a somewhat terrifying figure who must not be roused to annoyance or outrage. Once [construction] began, all financial transactions were the donor's private business, and no one at Harvard ever knew the exact cost. Mrs. Widener was counting on $2 million, [but] it is probable the cost exceeded $3.5 million.[3]

Though Harvard awarded Trumbauer an honorary degree on the day of the new library's dedication,[4] it was Trumbauer associate Julian F. Abele who had overall responsi­bility for the building's design,[24] which largely followed the committee's outline (though with the committee's central circula­tion room shifted from center to the northeast corner, yielding pride of place to the Memorial Rooms).[17]:89

After Gore Hall was turned into a "pile of stones and rubbish" to make way,[10]:13 ground was broken on February 12, 1913, and the corner­stone laid on June 16. By later that year some 50,000 bricks were being laid each day.[29]


View from University Hall
Second floor plan

At Harvard's "geographical and intellec­tual heart"[30] directly across

  • History of the Harry Elkins Widener Memo­rial Collection – Houghton Library, Harvard Univer­sity

External links

  • ^ Library Leadership and Manage­ment Associa­tion. "Previous Winners of the AIA/ALA Library Buildings Award Program". American Library Associa­tion. 
  • ^ Wilkinson, B.C. (October 21, 1999). "Fifteen Minutes: Breaking the Rules at Widener". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ Goins, Jason M. (March 23, 1999). "Needed Renova­tions Planned For Widener". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ "Big Doings at Widener Library". Harvard Magazine. July–August 1999. 
  • ^ a b Danuta A. Nitecki; Curtis L. Kendrick, eds. (2001). Library Off-site Shelving: Guide for High-density Facilities. Libraries Unlimited. p. 129.  
  • ^ Colson, Elizabeth (2002). "Anthropology and a Lifetime of Observation". Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.  (Oral history conducted in 2000-2001 by Suzanne Riess.)
  • ^ "Tablet Erected to Gore Hall – Placed by Library Committee on Front of Widener.". Harvard Crimson. September 26, 1917. 
    • "Widener Library Tablet Commemorates Gore Hall". Cambridge Tribune XL (29). September 15, 1917. 
  • ^ "Harvard Class of 1898. Report 2". Harvard University. 1907. 
  • ^ D. Widener – Law Requiring Five Days' Delay After Securing License Waived by a Court Order – Plans for Secrecy Fail – Bishop Lawrence Officiates at Ceremony in Emmanuel Church Vestry Witnessed by Twelve Persons" "Explorer Rice Weds Mrs. G., New York Times, October 7, 1915 
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (October 8, 2011). "What is the inscrip­tion over the door to the Widener Library in memory of Mrs. Hamilton Rice?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 14, 2014. 
  • ^ Dienstag, John (May 3, 2004). "Widener Reading Room Reopens". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ "Memorial Bust of Titanic Victim Placed in Widener – Francis Davis Millet '69 Honored by His Classmates—​Was Prominent Mural Decorator". Harvard Crimson. June 4, 1920. 
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (June 14, 2013). "Where are the John Singer Sargent paintings in Widener?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 14, 2014. 
  • ^ Travis McDade (2013). Thieves of Book Row: New York's Most Notorious Rare Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It. Oxford Univer­sity Press. p. 117.  
  • ^ Colleen Bryant (Jul 19, 2012). "I found a disturbing bookplate in a Widener book". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. 
  • ^ a b Cronin, Philip M. (December 12, 1951). "Faculty Profile. Sleuths in the Stacks". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ a b c "INDICT BOOK THIEF ON TWENTY COUNTS – Former Prepara­tory School Teacher, Arrested Two Weeks Ago, Had Home Stocked With Library Books". Harvard Crimson. November 4, 1931. 
  • ^ "The bookplates of Harvard men". Modern Books and Manuscripts – Houghton Library, Harvard Univer­sity. May 29, 2013. 
  • ^ a b Katherine P. States (October 15, 1977). "Don't Steal These Books, 1932 Inscriptions Warn". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ Zoll, Rachel (April 14, 1996). "Libraries throw the book at their abundant looters". South Coast Today. 
  • ^ Wilkie, Everett C. (2011). Guide to Security Considerations and Practices for Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collection Libraries. Association of College & Research Libraries. p. 27.  
    • Semerjian, Laura (November 16, 1996). "HUPD Dept. Focuses on Investigations". 
  • ^ Calder, Mari M. (February 28, 1996). "Verdict Nearing In 'Slasher' Trial". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ a b c Reed, Christopher (March–April 1997). "The Slasher". Harvard Magazine. 
  • ^ "Officials Add New Security For Widener Fire Threat, Bible Theft Spur Action". Harvard Crimson. September 23, 1969. 
  • ^ a b "Cat Burglar Steals Bible Before Fall From Grace". St. Petersburg Times. August 21, 1969. p. 2-A. 
  • ^ a b c d e
    "Burglar Slips as He Tries to Remove Gutenberg Bible From Widener Library", Harvard Crimson, September 18, 1969 
  • ^ David Herbert Donald (2002). Look Homeward: A Life of Thomas Wolfe. Harvard Univer­sity Press. pp. 72–3.  
  • ^ "Thomas Wolfe at Harvard: Damned Soul in Widener". Harvard Crimson. October 18, 1958. 
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (April 1, 2014). "Who was the Harvard student who famously was stunned to realize that he couldn't read all the books in Widener Library?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 5, 2014. 
  • ^ David Cort (June 12, 2012). "Does Harvard have a copy of the Necronomicon?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 13, 2014. 
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    • "April Fools". Sprinkler Valve Through Door: A peek inside Harvard's Widener Library. April 2, 2014. 
    • Bilstad, T. Allan (2009). The Lovecraft Necronomicon primer: a guide to the Cthulhu mythos. Llewellyn Worldwide.  
    • Lovecraft, H. P. (1977). A history of the Necronomicon (2nd ed.). Necronomicon Press.  
  • ^ Primus V (July–August 2003). "The College Pump – Lies about Harry". Harvard Magazine. 
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (February 22, 2012). "Is it true that Harvard students must pass a swimming test because of Harry Elkins Widener's death aboard the Titanic?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved April 30, 2014. 
  • ^ Mooney, Carolyn J. (October 12, 1994). "Swim or Sink". Chronicle of Higher Educa­tion: A35–A36. 
  • ^ a b Mann, Elizabeth (December 9, 1993). "The First Abridged Dictionary of Harvard Myths". The Harvard Independent. pp. 10–11. 
    • Ireland, Corydon (April 5, 2012). "The Widener Memorial Room". Harvard Gazette (The President and Fellows of Harvard College). 
  • ^ Harvard College Library (2009). "Widener Library. FAS Departmental Libraries". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  • ^ Wayne A. Wiegand; Donald G. Davis, eds. (1994). Encyclo­pedia of Library History. Taylor & Francis.  
  • ^ Harvard College Library (2007). "Widener Library. Collec­tions. Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Collec­tion". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-16. 
  • ^ "Widener Gutenberg Bible Near Best – Outstanding Specimen In Harvard Scarce Volume Collec­tion". Harvard Crimson. November 10, 1949. 
  • ^ Widener, Harry Elkins (March 10, 1912). "Just a few lines to tell you that I am about to take a quick trip to England" (Letter to  
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (Feb 7, 2012). "Does Harvard have a Gutenberg Bible?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 15, 2014. 
  • ^ Harvard College Library (2012). "Houghton Library. Collections. Harry Elkins Widener Collection. The Gutenberg Bible". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-06-01. 
  • ^ Harvard College Library (2012). "Houghton Library. Collec­tions. Harry Elkins Widener Collec­tion. The Gutenberg Bible". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-23. 
  • ^ a b c d Hugh Amory; Nancy Finlay (1992). A Houghton library chronicle, 1942–1992. Harvard College Library. 
  • ^ a b George S. Hellman (June 2, 1912). "Harvard To Get Harry Widener's Famous Library – Titanic Victim, Though Hardly Out Of College – Acquired A Fine Collection Of Books That He Willed To His Alma Mater – His Grandfather Adds A Memorial Wing To House It". The New York Times. 
  • ^ James E. Homans, ed. (1918). Harry Elkins Widener. The Cyclopædia of American Biography. 
  • ^ a b "HCL's Smart Barcoding Project Under Way in Widener". Harvard University. Library Notes. (1330). March 2006. 
  • ^ a b c d Gewertz, Ken (October 17, 2002). "Widener's main entrance to close for renova­tion". Harvard Gazette (The President and Fellows of Harvard College). 
  • ^ "Fifteen Minutes: Blue Line". Harvard Crimson. September 30, 1999. 
    • Marks, Stephen M. (October 24, 2002). "Dazed and Confused In Widener Library". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ Pollet, Dorothy; Haskell, Peter C. (1979). Sign systems for libraries: solving the wayfinding problem. Bowker. pp. 169–71. 
  • ^ a b Rolbein, Seth (April 13, 1997). "Deep in the stacks: Besides 3.5 million books, Harvard's Widener Library harbors scholars, thieves, eccentrics and a tale or two". The Boston Globe Magazine. p. 14. 
  • ^ Metcalf, Keyes DeWitt (1980). Random Recollections of an Anachronism or Seventy-Five Years of Library Work. Readex Books. pp. 264–5. 
  • ^ a b c d e f Reed, Christopher (March 1997). "Biblioklepts". Harvard Magazine.  A Part B Part C Part D Part E Part
  • ^ a b c d Hightower, Marvin (March 28, 1996). "Destroyer of Books Gets Stiff Sentence". Harvard Gazette (The President and Fellows of Harvard College). 
  • ^ a b Battles, Matthew (2004). Library: An Unquiet History. W. W. Norton.  
  • ^ Fox, Dov (2004). The Truth about Harvard: A Behind the Scenes Look at Admissions and Life on Campus. The Princeton Review. p. 100.  
  • ^ a b c Harvard College Library (2009). "HCL News. Widener Stacks Division Com­pletes the Movement of Millions of Volumes – Not an Easy Trick". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  • ^ "Speaking Volumes". Harvard Gazette (The President and Fellows of Harvard College). February 26, 1998. 
  • ^ a b Stam, David H. (2001). International Dictionary of Library Histories. Taylor & Francis.  
  • ^ Lemann, Nicholas (March 26, 1973). "The New Pusey Library: Yard Beautification". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ "Widener Space Deficit Reaching Danger Point". Harvard Crimson. December 4, 1965. 
  • ^ Harvard College Library (September 26, 2014). "Widener Library. History.". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2015-01-11. 
  • ^ Goodman, Ellen P. (November 8, 1983). "Legendary Librarian Dies, Planned Lament [sic?] and Pusey". 
    • Harvard College Library (2008). "Houghton Library. History". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2015-01-11. 
  • ^ HCL Communica­tions (November 6, 2003). "Houghton bridge is coming down". Harvard Gazette (The President and Fellows of Harvard College). 
    • Seward, Zachary M. (November 18, 2003). "Widener Library Bridge Coming Down". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ Kent, A.; Lancour, Harold; Daily, Jay E.; et al., eds. (1976). Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science 19. CRC Press. p. 318.  
  • ^ Theodore, Elisabeth S. (November 14, 2001). "Widener Beefs Up Security". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ a b c d e f g Metcalf, Keyes DeWitt (1988). Williams, Edwin E., ed. My Harvard Library years, 1937–1955: A sequel to Random recollections of an anachronism. Harvard College Library / Harvard University Press. pp. 24–30. 
  • ^ a b c d e f Metcalf, Keyes DeWitt (1965). Planning academic and research library buildings. 
  • ^ "Improved Machinery. An Electric Floor Surfacing Machine". The Engineering Magazine: iv. June 1916. 
  • ^ "New Addition Affords Widener Shelving Room – Recent Gift of Mrs. Hamilton Rice Increases Stack Space – Two Levels Added Below Present Stack". Harvard Crimson. September 22, 1928. 
  • ^ a b "The Newly Completed Widener Memorial Library, Harvard Univer­sity is equipped with Snead Standard Stack and Snead Standard Steel Shelving". The Library Journal: 9. December 1915. 
  • ^ a b c  
  • ^ "Contract for new library to be let soon – Specifications call for building of most modern type". Harvard Crimson. December 9, 1912. 
  • ^ a b Schaffer, Sarah J. (February 18, 1995). "Bibliophobia". Harvard Crimson. 
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (October 3, 2011). "Is it true that fresh flowers are delievered daily to the Widener Memorial Room?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved April 30, 2014. 
  • ^ a b c d e  
  • ^ Boston Sunday Herald, October 10, 1915, p. 1, quoted in Harvard College Library (2009). "The Memo­rial Library. The Library Opens". History of the Harry Elkins Widener Memo­rial Collec­tion. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  • ^ Harvard College Library (June 10, 2014). "Houghton Library. Collec­tions. Harry Elkins Widener Collec­tion. History.". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  • ^ a b Harvard College Library (2009). "The Memo­rial Library. The Rotunda". History of the Harry Elkins Widener Memo­rial Collec­tion. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
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  • ^ Lodge, Henry Cabot (September 1915). The Meaning of a Great Library. The Harvard Graduates' Magazine 24 (93) (Harvard Graduates' Magazine Association). pp. 31–8. 
  • ^ a b  
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (October 3, 2011). "Is the lamp in the Widener Memorial Room a real Tiffany?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 15, 2014. 
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (October 3, 2011). "What is the rug that's in the Widener Memorial Room?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 15, 2014. 
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (October 3, 2011). "Did the furniture in the Widener Memorial Room belong to Harry Elkins Widener?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 15, 2014. 
  • ^ Mason Hammond (Fall 1988). "A Carved Tablet Showing Early Printers' Marks on the Widener Library". Harvard Library Bulletin. XXXVI (4): 373–380. 
    • Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (April 1, 2011). "Over the front door of Widener there is a carving.". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 16, 2014. 
  • ^ Tomase, Jennifer (November 1, 2007). "Tale of John Harvard’s Surviving Book". Harvard Gazette (The President and Fellows of Harvard College). 
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    Potier, Beth (September 30, 2004). "Widener Library renova­tions: On time, on budget". Harvard Gazette. 
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  • ^ Bainbridge Bunting (1985). Margaret Henderson Floyd, ed. Harvard: An Architectural History. Belknap Press of Harvard Univer­sity Press. pp. 152–157.  
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  • ^ British Univer­sities Encyclo­paedia: pt. 1–2. World's libraries and librarians. London: British Univer­sities Encyclo­paedia Limited and the Athenaeum Press. 1939. 
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    Bethell, John T.; Hunt, Richard M.; Shenton, Robert (2004). Harvard A to Z. Harvard Universi­ty Press.  
  • ^ The Widener Memorial Library. Stone 36 (12). December 1915. p. 650. 
  • ^ a b *"Sargent’s Harvard murals". Trustees of the Public Library of the City of Boston and the President and Fellows of Harvard College. 2003. Retrieved 2014-05-24. 
    • "Sargent’s Harvard Murals. Entering the War.". 
  • ^ a b c Charles Forrest (Fall 2005). "2005 AIA/ALA Library Building Awards – Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library Renova­tion". Library Administra­tion & Manage­ment 19 (4): 197–205. 
  • ^ Ireland, Corydon (April 5, 2012). "Widener Library rises from Titanic tragedy". Harvard Gazette. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. 
  • ^ Commencement—​Exercises in Sanders Theatre. The Harvard Graduates' Magazine 24 (93) (Harvard Graduates' Magazine Association). September 1915. pp. 78–81. 
  • ^ Meister, Maureen (2003). Architecture and the Arts and Crafts Movement in Boston: Harvard's H. Langford Warren. UPNE.  
  • ^ Harvard College Library (2009). "The Memo­rial Library. Mrs. Widener to President Lowell". History of the Harry Elkins Widener Memo­rial Collec­tion. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  • ^ a b c Shand-Tucci, Douglas (2001). The Campus Guide: Harvard Universi­ty. Princeton Architectural Press. p. 165–169.  
  • ^ a b "Julian Abele". Sprinkler Valve Through Door: A peek inside Harvard's Widener Library. February 18, 2014. 
  • ^ Harvard College Library (2009). "The Memo­rial Library. The Gift to Harvard". History of the Harry Elkins Widener Memo­rial Collec­tion. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  • ^ Harvard College Library (2009). "The Memo­rial Library. Will of Harry Elkins Widener". History of the Harry Elkins Widener Memo­rial Collec­tion. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  • ^ a b A. Edward Newton (September 1918). "A Remembrance of Harry Elkins Widener". The Atlantic Monthly 122. pp. 351–6. 
  • ^ a b c "Mrs. A. H. Rice Dies in a Paris Store – New York and Newport Society Woman, Wife of Explorer, Noted for Philanthropy – A Survivor of Titanic – Lost First Husband and Son in Disaster – Gave Library to Harvard Univer­sity", New York Times, July 14, 1937 
  • ^ "William Randolph Hearst". Encyclo­paedia Brittanica. July 29, 2013. Retrieved June 17, 2014. 
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    Battles, Matthew (2004). Widener: Biography of a Library. Harvard College Library, 2004.  
  • ^ a b c d e f g h i Steven Biel (2012). Down with the Old Canoe: A Cultural History of the Titanic Disaster. W. W. Norton & Company.  
  • ^ a b Bethell, John T. (1998). Harvard Observed: An Illustrated History of the University in the Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press. p. 72.  
  • ^ "From a Graduate's Window". Harvard Graduates Magazine (Harvard Graduates' Magazine Associa­tion) 12 (45): 23–25. September 1903. 
  • ^ a b c d e Bentinck-Smith, William (1976). Building a great library: the Coolidge years at Harvard. Harvard Univer­sity Library.  
  • ^ Leighton, Philip D.; Weber, David C. (1999). Planning Academic and Research Library Buildings. American Library Association. pp. 13–14.  
  • ^  
  • ^ Harvard Univer­sity. Library (1892). Fifteenth Report (1892) of Justin Winsor, Librarian of Harvard Univer­sity. 
  • ^ a b c d e f g h i j William Bentinck-Smith (1980). "... a Memorial to My Dear Son": Some Reflec­tions on 65 Years of the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library. Harvard College Library. 
  • ^ Samuel Atkins Eliot (1913). "The Harry Elkins Widener Library". A history of Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1630–1913 – together with biographies of Cambridge people. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Cambridge Tribune. pp. 273–276.  (subscription required)
  • ^ a b c "Harvard Commencement. Widener Is Dedicated – Senator Lodge Makes the Speech of Presenta­tion – President Lowell Accepts Gift for Harvard – In Presence of Many Distinguished Guests – Mrs. Widener, Donor, Delivers the Keys – Bishop Lawrence in Benedic­tion and Prayer – Exercises are in Library Memorial Room – Univer­sity Marshal Warren Is in Charge". Boston Evening Transcript. June 24, 1915. p. 2. 
  • ^ Kelley-Milburn, Deborah (March 25, 2013). "What are the inscriptions to Harry by his mother in the entrance to the memorial library at Harvard?". Harvard Library. Ask a Librarian. Retrieved June 14, 2014. 
  • ^ a b c Library planning, bookstacks and shelving, with contri­bu­tions from the archi­tects' and librarians' points of view. Snead & Company Iron Works. 1915. pp. 11, 68, 152–8. 
  • ^ a b Harvard College Library (2009). "Harry Elkins Widener Collec­tion. Overview". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
  • [14]:102

    Later-built tunnels, from the stacks level furthest underground, connect to nearby Pusey Library, Lamont Library,[64] and Houghton Library.[65] An enclosed bridge connecting to Houghton Library via a Widener window—​built after Eleanor Widener's heirs agreed to waive[63]:75 her gift's proscription of exterior additions or alterations[14]:79—​was removed in 2004.[66] (Houghton and Lamont Libraries were built in the 1940s to relieve Widener,[67] which had become simultaneously too small—​its shelves were full[68]—​and too large—​its immense size and complex catalog made books difficult to locate.[11] But with Harvard's collections doubling every 17 years, by 1965 Widener was again close to full,[69] prompting construction of Pusey.)[70]

    Collections and stacks

    The "labyrinth" of stacks. Each of the ten lev­els has some 187 rows of shelving.[58]:327
    The two lowest stack levels before inter­vening floor panels were installed

    The ninety-unit Harvard Library system,[33]:361 of which Widener is the anchor, is the only academic library among the world's five "megalibraries"—​Widener, the New York Public Library, the Library of Congress, France's Bibliothèque Nationale, and the British Library[71]:352—​making it "unambigu­ously the greatest univer­sity library in the world," in the words of a Harvard official.[72]

    According to the Harvard College Library's own description, Widener's humanities and social sciences collections include

    holdings in the history, literature, public affairs, and cultures of five continents. Of particular note are the collec­tions of Africana, Americana, European local history, Judaica, Latin American studies, Middle Eastern studies, Slavic studies, and rich collec­tions of materials for the study of Asia, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, France, Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, and Greek and Latin antiquity. These collec­tions include significant holdings in linguistics, ancient and modern languages, folklore, economics, history of science and technology, philosophy, psychology, and sociology.[12]

    The collection's 3.5 million volumes[30] occupy 57 miles (92 km) of shelves[73] along five miles (8 km) of aisles,[74] on ten levels divided into three wings each.[75]:4

    Again alone among the "megalibraries", only Harvard allows patrons the "long-treasured privilege" of entering the stacks of its general collections to browse as they please, instead of requesting books through library staff.[13] Until a recent renovation the stacks had little signage—​"There was the expecta­tion that if you were good enough to qualify to get into the stacks you certainly didn't need any help" (as one official put it)[40] so that "learning to [find books in] Widener was like a rite of passage, a test of manhood."[79] (A 1979 monograph on library design complained, "After one goes through the main doors of Harvard's Widener Library, the only visible sign says merely ENTER.")[80] At times color-coded lines and shoeprints have been applied to the floors to help patrons keep their bearings.[81][82]

    As of 1997 the library reshelved some 600,000 volumes each year.[79] Another 3 million[83] Widener items reside offsite (along with many millions of items from other Harvard libraries) at the Harvard Depository in Southbor­ough, Massachu­setts, from which they are retrieved overnight on request.[18]:170-1 A project to insert barcodes into each book, begun in the late 1970s, has yet to reach some 1 million volumes.[83]

    Harry Elkins Widener Collection

    The works displayed in the Memorial Rooms comprise Harry Widener's collec­tion at the time of his death, "major monuments of English letters, many remarkable for their bindings and illustrations or unusual provenance":[10]:9 Shakespeare [85]

    Harry Widener "died suddenly, just as he was beginning to be one of the world's great collectors,"[54] said the Collection's first curator.[48]:7 "They formed a young man's library, and are to be preserved as he left it"[50]—​except that the Widener family has the exclusive privilege of adding to it.[14] Harvard's "greatest typographical treasure"[86]:17 is one of the only thirty-eight perfect copies extant[87] of the Gutenberg Bible,[88] purchased while Harry was abroad by his grandfather Peter A. B. Widener (who had intended to surprise Harry with it once the Titanic docked in New York)[54] and added to the Collection by the Widener family in 1944.[15]

    Like all Harvard's valuable books, works in the Widener Collec­tion may be consulted by researchers demonstrating a genuine research need.[92]

    Parallel classification systems and dual catalogs

    The original catalog room, "though mag­nif­i­cent ar­chi­tec­tur­al­ly, looked [as though the catalog cases] had simply been dropped hap­haz­ard­ly into them."[62]:225

    Like many large libraries, Widener originally classified its holdings according to its own idiosyncratic system—​the "Widener" or "Harvard" system—​which (writes Battles) follows "the division of knowledge in its [early twentieth-century] formulation. The Aus class contains books on the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the Ott class serves the purpose for the Ottoman Empire. Dante, Molière, and Montaigne each gets a class of his own."[75]:15

    In the 1970s new arrivals began to be classified according to a modified version of the Library of Congress system.[93]:256[18]:159 The two systems' differences reflect "competing theories of knowl­edge ... In a sense, the Widener system was Aristotelian; its divi­sions were empirical, describing and reflecting the languages and cultural origins of books and highlighting their relations to one another in language, place, and time; [the Library of Congress system], by contrast, was Platonic, looking past the surface of language and nation to reflect the idealized, essential discipline in which each [item] might be said to belong."[18]:158-9

    Catalog card. In the "Harvard system", C denotes Church History and Theology.

    Because of the impracticality of reclassifying millions of books, those received before the changeover remain under their original "Widener" classifications. Thus among works on a given subject, older books will be found at one shelf locations (under a "Widener" classification) and newer ones at another location (under the corresponding Library of Congress classification).[73][82]

    In addition, an accident of the building's layout led to the development of two separate card catalogs—​the "Union" catalog and the "Public" catalog—​housed on different floors and having a complex interrelationship "which perplexed students and faculty alike." It was not until the 1990s that the electronic Harvard On-Line Library Information System was able to completely supplant the dual physical catalogs.[18]:137,192

    Departmental and special libraries

    The building also houses a number of special libraries in dedicated spaces outside the stacks, includ­ing:

    There are also special collections in the history of science, linguis­tics, Near Eastern languag­es and civiliza­tions, paleogra­phy, and Sanskrit.[94]

    The contents of the Treasure Room, holding Harvard's most precious rare books and manuscripts (other than the Harry Elkins Widener Collection itself) were transferred to newly built Houghton Library in 1942.[86]:15

    In literature and legend

    Swim-requirement, ice-cream, and other legends

    The stacks (here under con­struc­tion) double as struc­tur­al ele­ments,[59] mak­ing Wide­ner the last major self-support­ing mason­ry build­ing, with no outer steel frame, built in the US.[33]:362 The exterior walls are three feet thick.[62]:316

    A Harvard legend holds that Eleanor Widener, to ensure no other Harvard man would share her son's fate, demanded, as a condition of her gift, that future graduates be required to demonstrate an ability to swim[95][96] (this requirement, the Harvard Crimson once elaborated erroneously, was "dropped in the late 1970s because it was deemed discriminatory against physically disabled students").[56] "Among the many myths relating to Harry Elkins Widener, this is the most prevalent", says Harvard's "Ask a Librarian" service. Though Harvard has had swimming requirements at various times (e.g. for rowers on the Charles River, or as part of a now-defunct freshmen training regimen)[97] Bentinck-Smith writes that "There is absolutely no evidence in the President's papers, or the faculty's, to indicate that [Eleanor Widener] was, as a result of the Titanic disaster, in any way responsi­ble for [any] compulsory swimming test."[10]

    Another story, holding that Eleanor Widener donated a further sum to underwrite perpetual availability of ice cream (purportedly Harry Widener's favorite dessert) in Harvard dining halls, is also without foundation.[95] A Widener curator's compilation of "fanciful oral history" recited by student tour guides includes "Flowers mysteriously appear every morning outside the Widener Room" and "Harry used to have carnations dyed crimson to remind him of Harvard, and so his mother kept up the tradition" in the flowers displayed in the Memorial Rooms.[98]

    Literary references

    Main reading room in 1915

    In H. P. Lovecraft's fictional universe Cthulhu Mythos, a 17th-century edition of the Necro­nom­i­con is hidden somewhere in the Widener stacks.[99]

    Thomas Wolfe, who earned a Harvard master's degree in 1922[100] wrote of "[wandering] through the stacks of that great library like some damned soul, never at rest—​ever leaping ahead from the pages I read to thoughts of those I want to read";[101] his alter ego Eugene Gant read with a watch in his hand, "laying waste of the shelves."[102]

    Historian Barbara Tuchman considered "the single most formative experience" of her career the writing of her undergrad­uate thesis, for which she was "allowed to have as my own one of those little cubicles with a table under a window" in the Widener stacks, which were "my Achimedes' bathtub, my burning bush, my dish of mold where I found my personal penicillin."[4]

    Burglary and other incidents

    Gutenberg Bible theft

    On the night of August 19, 1969 an attempt was made to steal the Gutenberg Bible, valued at $1 million.[103] The would-be thief hid in a lavatory until after closing, then made his way to the roof, from which he descended via a knotted rope to a Memorial Room window, which he broke into. But after smashing the Gutenberg's display case and placing its two volumes in a knapsack, he found it impossible to reclimb the rope carrying his 70-pound (32 kg) booty.[77]:D

    Eventually he fell some 50 feet (15 m)[86]:45 to the pavement of one of the light courts, where (despite landing on the knapsack)[77]:D he lay semicon­scious[103] until his moans were heard by a janitor.[86]:45 He was found about 1 a.m.,[104] "consid­er­a­bly the worse for his adventure",[77]:D with injuries including a fractured skull.[103] "It looks like a profes­sion­al job all right, in the fact that he came down the rope," commented Harvard Police Chief Robert Tonis. "But it doesn't look very profes­sion­al that he fell off."[103] Tonis specu­lated that the attempt may have been modeled on a similar caper depicted in the 1964 film Topkapi,[104] though a retired Harvard librarian later commented that the thief "evidently knew nothing about books—​or, at least, about selling them ... There was no explanation of what he expected to do with the Bible."[63]:72

    Only the books' bindings (which are not original) were damaged.[103] Since the incident only one or the other Bible volume is on display at any given time[77]:E and a replica has been substituted at times of heightened security concern.[105]

    "The Slasher"

    Around 1990, empty bindings stripped of their pages began to appear in the Widener stacks. Eventually some 600 mutilated books were discovered, the vandal preferring works on early Christianity in Greek, Latin, or languages such as Icelandic.[76] Notes left at Widener, and later at Northeastern University, threatened graphically described mutilations of library workers, cyanide gas attacks,[106] and bombings of libraries and a local bank.[107] Other notes instructed that $500,000 be left in a Northeastern library, demanded that Northeastern "terminate all Jew personnel", and directed that $1 million be left in the Widener stacks: "pUt THe mONEy FucKer BEhiNd THE eLevATOR on D WEST in THE basemENT WhERE tHe 1,000,000.00 dollaRS IN rare GreEK bOOks wAS slASHEd ApARt MIGNE GREEK PATROLOGIA." These "ransom drops" were staked out by the FBI,[106] and surveillance cameras installed in ersatz books, without result.[108]

    In 1994 police connected an incident at Northeastern, in which a library worker there (a former Widener employee) was caught stealing chemistry books, with the fact that chemistry texts had been among the works mutilated at Widener.[76] Officials found "a kind of renegade reference room" in the worker's basement,[109] includ­ing library books, piles of ripped-out pages, a microfilm camera, and hundreds of unusable microfilms he had haphaz­ardly made of the books (worth $180,000) he had destroyed.[76] At trial "The Slasher" said he had acted in revenge for the eighteen months he had been detained in a state psychiatric hospital after expiration of a six-month jail term he had received for a minor offense.[106]

    Joel C. Williams

    Bookplate placed in 2504 books[110][111]

    In 1931 former graduate student Joel C. Williams was arrested[112] after attempting to sell two[110] books bearing Harvard College Library stamps to a Harvard Square book dealer, after which (the Harvard Crimson reported) "C. R. Apted, Superin­tend­ent of Caretakers, together with officials of the Library, made a trip to Williams' home",[112] where (posing as "book buyers" to spare the feelings of Williams' family)[18]:88 they found thousands of stolen books[112] in barrels and wastebaskets. The "absolutely crazy" Williams would "go to students studying in Widener and ask them what course they were taking. He would then borrow all the books for that course in the library. Then no one could get any to study," library official John E. Shea later recalled.[16]

    Despite the misleading[114] implication of bookplates placed in the 2504[77]:D recovered books, Harvard's charges against Williams were dropped after he was indicted on book-theft charges in another jusridic­tion, which imposed a sentence of hard labor.[115] After the unrelated arrest of a book-theft ring operating at Harvard, there was a "noticeable increase in the number of missing books secretly returned to the library", the Transcript reported in 1932.[18]:89


    In the 1920s the university commissioned John Singer Sargent to paint, within the fourteen-foot-high arched panels flanking the entrance to the Rotunda, two murals giving tribute to the univer­sity's World War I dead.[17] With Memorial Church, which directly faces Widener, these constitute what the Boston Public Library calls "the most elaborate World War I memorial in the Boston area."[31]

    On the second floor is a bronze bust, by John Elbridge Hudson.[118]

    Above the Rotunda entrance is inscribed:

    To the memory of Eleanor Elkins Rice  • whose noble and endearing spirit inspired the conception and completion of this Memorial Library  • 1938.[119]

    (Eleanor Elkins Widener became Eleanor Elkins Rice when, in October 1915, she married Harvard professor[120] and surgeon[121] Alexander Hamilton Rice, Jr., a noted South American explorer whom she had met at the library's dedication four months earlier.[51] She died in 1937.[20])

    A six-foot-square bronze tablet, featuring a bas relief of Gore Hall, is at the exterior northwest corner. Its inscription reads in part:

    On this spot stood Gore Gall  • Architect Richard Bond  • Supervisor Daniel Tread­well  • Built in the year 1838 in honor of Christopher Gore  • Class of 1776  • Fellow of the College, Over­seer, Bene­fac­tor  • Governor of the Common­wealth  • Senator of the United States  • The first use of modern book-stacks was in this library ...[122]

    Restrictions on women

    The building originally included a separate Radcliffe Reading Room behind the card catalogs—​"barely large enough for a single table"—​to which female students were restricted "for fear their presence would distract the studious Harvard men" in the Main Reading Room. In 1923 a sequence of communications between Librarian William Coolidge Lane and another Harvard official dealt with "the incident of Miss Alexander's intrusion into the reading room",[18]:37,86 and Keyes Metcalf, Director of University Libraries from 1937 to 1955, wrote that early in his tenure a Classics professor "rushed into my office, looking as if he were about to have an apoplectic stroke, and gasped, 'I've just been in the reading room, and there is a Radcliffe girl in there!'" By then female graduate students were permitted to enter the stacks, but only until 5 p.m., "after which time it was thought they would not be safe there."[18]

    By World War II (one woman recalled years later) "we could go into the [Main Reading Room] and use the encyclopedias and things like that there, if we stood up, but we couldn't sit down";[123]:56-7 but only by special permission (which even female faculty members had to request in writing) could a woman work in the building in the evening.[18]:112-4


    Southeast view of rear (Massa­chu­setts Ave.) facade (c. 1915) before Hough­ton Library and Wiggles­worth Hall were built to the east and south

    A five-year, $97 million renovation completed in 2004[40] (the first since the building opened[124]) added fire suppression and environ­men­tal control systems, upgraded wiring and communica­tions, remodeled various public spaces, and enclosed the light courts to create additional reading rooms[40] (beneath which several levels of new offices and mechanical equipment were hidden).[125] "Claustro­pho­bia-inducing" elevators were replaced,[82] the bottom shelves on the lowest stacks level were removed in recognition of chronic seepage problems,[124] Widener's "olfactory nostal­gia ... actually the smell of decaying books" was addressed,[126] and unrestricted light and air—​seen as desirable when Widener was built but now considered "public enemies one and two for the long-term safety of old books"—​were brought under control.[19]

    Some changes required that the Widener family grant relief[127] from the terms of Eleanor Widener's gift, which forbade that "structures of any kind [be] erected in the courts around which the [Library] is constructed, but that the same shall be kept open for light and air".[14]:79[18]:42 The need to relocate each of the building's 3.5 million volumes twice—​first to temporary locations, then back, as work proceeded aisle by aisle—​was turned to advantage, so that by the end of the renova­tion related materials in the library's two classifica­tion systems (see § Parallel classifica­tion systems) were physically adjacent for the first time.[73][82] The chart showing the floor and wing location, within the stacks, of each subject classifica­tion was revised sixty-five times during construction.[40] The project received the 2005 Library Building Award from the American Library Associa­tion and the American Institute of Architects.[128]

    See also


    1. ^ [7][8] The quotation "He labored not for himself only ..." alludes to Ecclesi­as­ti­cus 33:17.
    2. ^ [17]:88 "When I cease to be President of Harvard College," Lowell wrote around this time, "I shall join one of the mendicant orders, so as to have less begging to do ..."[18]:23 In May 1911 the Boston American (published by disgraced Harvard dropout William Randolph Hearst)[19] carried a mock adver­tise­ment: "Wanted—​a millionaire. Will some kind millionaire please give Harvard Univer­sity a library building? Tainted money not barred. Mr. Rockefeller, take notice. Mr. Carnegie, please write."[17]:87
    3. ^ [10]:14 Eleanor Widener was vexed by confusion over the circumstances of her gift, writing to Lowell, "I want emphasized ... that the library is a memorial to my dear son, to be known as the 'Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library,' given by me & not his [paternal grandfather P. A. B. Widener] as has been so often stated."[26] Years later her second husband A. H. Rice, Jr. insisted that Lowell do his best "to see that in all official reports, etc. the Library is referred to as the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library?—​Widener! Not one cent of Widener money, one second of Widener thought, nor one ounce of Widener energy were expended on either the conception or construction of the Library."[10]:15
    4. ^ [27]:147 Eleanor Widener was not similarly honored, because women were ineligible for Harvard honorary degrees at the time.[16]:72 The Harvard Graduates Magazine reassured its readers that the admission of ladies, for the first time, to certain Commencement proceedings "will not, however, create any precedent. It was due to the dedication of the Library, which demanded that once, at least, custom should be broken in favor of Mrs. Widener and her friends ..."[28]
    5. ^ [45] The rug is a Heriz Persian;[46] on the desk is an unsigned Tiffany lamp.[47] In the library's early years, when the Memorial Rooms served as the office of the Widener Collec­tion's curator, fires were sometimes set in the fireplace.[48]
    6. ^ [53] Trumbauer "had no rivals when it came to tempting clients to spend immodest sums", wrote Wayne Andrews;[10]:16 Biel wrote that he had "made his name and fortune by knowing that 'only a magnifi­cent setting could hope to satisfy an American with a magnifi­cent income,' and he had already imparted such magnifi­cence to the Widener and Elkins mansions and an assortment of other palaces ... [He] knew who his client was, so he gave elaborate attention to memorial­izing Harry in style" in the Memorial Rooms.[17]:89
    7. ^ [56] In March 1916 Eleanor Widener wrote to [18]:43
    8. ^ [6] In the basement (later converted to additional shelving as stacks Levels C and D)[60] were
      the dynamos which run the five elevators and two book-lifts, the compressed air machinery for the pneumatic tubes, the dynamo and fan for the vacuum-cleaning system, a pump connected with the steam-heating apparatus, enormous fans which pump warm air into the Reading-Room and the stack, a filter through which passes all water which enters the building, and the connec­tions for electric light and power. The building is to be heated by steam, conveyed through a tunnel from the plant of the Elevated Railroad Company, which also furnishes heat to the other buildings of the College Yard and to the freshman dormitories.[58]:328
      The marble floors were polished using a machine "so simple that any laborer of ordinary intelli­gence can operate it to advantage [yet it] can do the work of ten men rubbing by hand."[61]
    9. ^ "The [faculty studies] are not all fully used," Coolidge wrote in 1917, "but you will understand that I can not go to a professor and tell him that I think he is not making use of his space and had better give it up. I have tried in some cases hinting to people that if they did not need their quarters there were others who could make good use of them. These hints have usually met with conspicuously little success."[18]:72-75
    10. ^ "At present", Carney continued, "everyone using the stack is obliged to go to the basement to reach the public toilet. This in the case of a man using one of the top floors of the stack is a particularly long trip ... An emergency toilet ... would be a desirable thing."[18]:59 By 1937 security changes had made the situation even worse, so that someone on the lowest stack level had to climb seven flights of stairs, exit the stack, then descend another set of stairs to reach the basement toilet. Sometime after 1937 toilets were installed in the stack by Harvard Librarian Keyes Metcalf, who later wrote that "As far as graduate students are concerned, I will go down in history as the man who provided toilet facilities in the Widener stack."[63]:139–40
    11. ^ [63]:27 On any given floor of the stack, it is 400 feet (120 m) from the entrance to the furthest shelves, and a patron "concerned with material in widely different fields may find that a tiresome amount of walking and stair climbing is involved."[62]:91,74 English professor Howard Mumford Jones complained in 1950 that in preparing a lecture on Robert Frost, after a long hunt for a bibliography listing works he would need to consult, then locating those works in the catalog, he found that
      the American Scholar is shelved on Floor A; the New English Quarterly under New England; the Classical Journal is shelved on Floor 5; and College English is in Educ on Floor B. I shall not go into the matter of distribution [of these works among wings] East, South, and West ...[18]:133-4
    12. ^ [3] However, "Harvard does not collect all subjects and all types of material ... The holdings in subject areas not represented in the curriculum (such as agriculture) are understandably limited ..."[71]:352
    13. ^ [76][77]:E It was not always so. Originally "school-boys" earning 40 dollars per month fetched books requested via slips submitted to the Delivery Room. "Should a slip be received for a book in a part of the stack where a boy has just been sent—​particularly in the West stack, which is the farthest away from the central station—​the [request] is telephoned across on the internal telephone."[18]:56 But by about 1930 Widener's stacks "were almost wide open to anyone who wanted to enter", so much so that in a single day a group of thieves was able to steal some one hundred valuable works on American history.[78]
    14. ^ [54] The December 31, 1912 agreement between Eleanor Widener and the President and Fellows of Harvard College provides that "this collection, together with such books as may be added to it by members of the family of the Donor, shall at all times be kept separate and apart from the general library of Harvard ... Harvard is not ... ever to add anything to the said Harry Elkins Widener collection ... [S]aid books shall not be taken or removed from the two rooms specially set apart ... excepting only when necessary for the repair or restoration of any volume ..."[14]:78-9
    15. ^ [89] Harry Widener knew his grandfather had bought the Gutenberg Bible, but not that it was intended for him. "I wish it was for me but it is not", he wrote to a friend.[90] After Harry's death, and (soon after) that of his grandfather, the Bible passed to Harry's uncle; at the uncle's death Harry's brother and sister added the Bible to the Harry Elkins Widener Collec­tion because it "had been bought for Harry and should be among his books." Yale also has a Gutenberg, though not in "quite as fine condition" as Harvard's, according to Harvard officials.[91]
    16. ^ [113] John Shea was for forty years Widener's "guardian and familiar spirit". His mother had been a college "biddy" who (he said) "did professor C. T. Copeland's laundry for years",[113] and he began his own Harvard career in 1905 as a Gore Hall coatchecker. By his 1954 retirement as Widener's Stacks Superin­tendent, he was "perhaps the last of the legendary College characters",[33]:58 renowned not only for leaving "no stone unthrown"—​as he himself put it—​in locating mis-shelved or otherwise errant books, but also for his "genius for such malaprop­isms [which] in fact, were generally the mot juste." These included references to "venereal blinds" and "osculating fans" in the Catalog Room, equipment that had "outlived its uselessness", a gift of a bottle of wine "as a momentum", and mention that Widener's head janitor "has a maniac for sweeping the basement."[1]
    17. ^ [116] Eleanor Widener "had originally stipulated that no further memorials would be permitted within her library, but the war had softened her feelings on the matter. Too many Harvard men died in the conflict to ignore their loss—​and further, it seems, Eleanor came to connect Harry's death with their sacrifice." (Battles)[18]:63
    18. ^ After his retirement Metcalf wrote that when planning the later Lamont Library, "I was still old fashioned enough enough to believe that, if women [would permitted to use it] we should probably not have the small, unsupervised reading rooms that we were planning."[63]:87
    19. ^ [40] "Before the renovation, the upper [stacks] floors smelled, in summer, of gently roasted books, while [the lowest floor] year-round offered the sporiferous scent usually associated with grottoes and Roman cellars." (Battles)[18]:180
      When Widener was built ventilation for books was emphasized, possibly to prevent mold; thus a slit ran along the base of every row of shelves, allowing air to flow from the floor below. Unfortunately books, papers and objects were prone to fall through these slits,[62]:135 and "the whole installation might have been regarded as a large collection of chimneys that would help a fire to spread rapidly from floor to floor." The slits were later closed.[63]:92-3


    1. ^ a b Primus IV (September–October 1998). "The College Pump – Sheavian Slips". Harvard Magazine. 
    2. ^ Hanke, Timothy (June 4, 1998). "Counting Libraries at Harvard: Not as Easy as You Think". Harvard Univer­sity Gazette (The President and Fellows of Harvard College). 
    3. ^ a b Harvard College Library (2009). "Widener Library Collec­tions. Overview". The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Retrieved 2014-05-15. 
    4. ^ a b Tuchman, Barbara W. Practicing History: Selected essays. Random House Publishing Group. p. 15.  
    And Coolidge wrote to [10] "The need of better toilet facilities [in the stacks] has been pressed upon us during the past year by several rather distressing experiences," Widener Superintendent Frank Carney wrote opaquely in 1918.:97[63][62] A primitive form of air conditioning was aban­doned within a few months.:89[17]:107[18] Nonetheless certain deficien­cies were soon noted.

    The innovation[62]:255 of placing student carrels and private faculty studies directly in the stack reflected Lowell's desire to put "the massive resources of the stack close to the scholar's hand, reuniting books and readers in an intimacy that nineteenth-century [library] design had long precluded".[18]:45-6 (Competition for the seventy[38]:327 coveted faculty studies has been a longstanding administrative headache.)[9]

    Touted as "the last word in library construction",[57] the new building's amenities included telephones, pneumatic tubes, book lifts and conveyors, elevators,[6] and a dining-room and kitchenette "for the ladies of the staff".[58]:676 Advertisements for the manufacturer of the building's shelving highlighted its "dark brown enamel finish, harmonizing with oak trim",[59] and special interchangeable regular and oversize shelves meant that books on a given subject could be shelved together regardless of size.[8]

    Amenities and deficiencies

    For many years Eleanor Widener hosted Commencement Day luncheons in the Memorial Rooms.[10]:20 The family underwrites their upkeep,[54] including weekly renewal of the flowers[55]—​originally roses but now carnations.[7]

    Conversely, "even from the very entrance [of the building] one will catch a glimpse in the distance of the portrait of young Harry Widener on the further wall [of the Memorial Rooms], if the intervening doors happen to be open."[38]:325

    The [Rotunda] is of Alabama marble except the domed ceiling, with fluted columns and Ionic capitals [while the Library] is finished in carved English oak, the carving having been done in England; the high bookcases are fitted with glass shelves and bronze sashes, the windows are hung with heavy curtains [and] upon the desks are vases filled with flowers.

    The big marble fireplace and the portrait of Harry Widener occupy a large portion of the south wall. Standing front of the fireplace one may look through the vista made by the doorways, the staircases within and the stairs without and get a glimpse of the green campus.[6]

    The central Memorial Rooms—​an outer Rotunda[51] housing memorabilia of the life and death of Harry Widener,[52] and an inner Library displaying the 3300 rare books collected by him—​were described by the Boston Sunday Herald soon after the dedication:

    Widener Memorial Rooms

    "I hope it will become the heart of the University," Eleanor Widener said afterward, "a centre for all the interests that make Harvard a great university."[50]

    In the Memorial Rooms, after a benediction by Bishop William Lawrence,[8] a portrait of Harry Widener was unveiled, then remarks delivered by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (speaking on "The Meaning of a Great Library"[49] on behalf of Eleanor Widener) and Lowell ("For years we have longed for a library that would serve our purpose, but we never hoped to see such a library as this").[42] Afterward (said the Boston Evening Transcript) "the doors were thrown open, and both graduates and under­graduates had an opportu­ni­ty to see the beauties and utilities of this important univer­sity acquisition."[8]

    The Memorial Rooms "reflect an atmos­phere of realism", said a visitor, "[as if] Harry Widener still lived among his books."[17]:91 The desk at left was Harry's own.[5]
    Flanking the Memorial Rooms' entrance, murals by Sargent honor World War I dead.
    Above the door, hallmarks of 15th-century printers: Caxton; Rembolt; Aldus; Fust and Schöffer.[44]
    "Even from the very entrance one [can glimpse] the portrait of young Harry Widener" far inside.
    "President Lowell accepting the key from Mrs. Widener"

    The building was dedicated immediately after Com­mence­ment Day exercises on June 24, 1915. Lowell and Coolidge mounted the steps to the main door, where Eleanor Widener presented them with the building's keys.[42] The first book formally brought into the new library was the 1634 edition of John Downame's The Christian Warfare Against the Devil, World, and Flesh,[10]:18 believed (at the time) to be the only volume, of those bequeathed to the school by John Harvard in 1636, to have survived the 1754 burning of Harvard Hall.[43]

    Gabriel Ferrier's por­trait of Harry Widener hangs in the Memorial Rooms.[41]


    The Memorial Rooms (see § Widener Memorial Rooms) are in the building's center, between what were originally two light courts (28 by 110 ft or 8.5 by 33 m)[39] now enclosed as additional reading rooms.[40]

    The east, south, and west wings house the stacks, while the north contains administrative offices and various reading rooms, including the Main Reading Room (now the Loker Reading Room)—​which, spanning the entire breadth of the building and some 42 feet (13 m) in both depth and height, was termed by architec­tur­al historian Bainbridge Bunting "the most ostenta­tious interior space at Harvard."[37]:154 A topmost floor, supported by the stacks framework itself, contains thirty-two rooms for special collections, studies, offices, and seminars.[38]:327-8

    :361[33]".Medical School Quadrangle and the Langdell Hall [or 'Imperial and Classical'] style displayed in the Law School's Imperial or "the austere, formalistic :281[36],Hellenistic :457[35]:57[34]

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