Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

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On a bright day, the exterior of the Beinecke Library appears to float above its darkened entry level.
This rainy day view shows the massive corner piers supporting the building's exterior enclosure. The sunken sculpture forecourt is in the foreground at left.
Beinecke's starkly geometric exterior, with the Yale Law School Gothic spires in the background.
View of the neoclassical Hewitt Quadrangle surrounding the Beinecke.
Panoramic interior view of the Beinecke's mezzanine level. (The curved lines are caused by the wide-angle lens used to take the photograph.)
The climate-controlled central shelving stack of Beinecke Library is at right. The small illuminated display cases on the mezzanine level hold temporary exhibits.
The two volumes of an original Gutenberg Bible.
The Voynich manuscript housed at Beinecke Library.

The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (BRBL) is a library and literary archive located on the campus of Yale University. The library was a 1963 gift of the Beinecke family. The building was designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Gordon Bunshaft[1] of the firm of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill,[2] and is the largest building in the world reserved exclusively for the preservation of rare books and manuscripts. It is located at 121 Wall Street in the center of the Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut, in Hewitt Quadrangle (more commonly referred to as "Beinecke Plaza"). The Beinecke is financially independent from Yale University, with its own endowment; the director reports both to the University Librarian and to the Yale University Corporation.[3]

The library's iconic building will close for major renovation following Yale University’s commencement ceremonies in May 2015. The renovation will replace the building's mechanical systems and expand its research, teaching, storage, and exhibition capabilities, and should be complete in September 2016. A temporary reading room in Yale's Sterling Memorial Library (located directly across Wall Street) will provide researchers access to the library’s collections during the renovation.[4]


A six-story above-ground glass-enclosed tower of book stacks is surrounded by a windowless rectangular outer shell, supported only on four massive piers at the corners of the building, which descend 50 feet to bedrock. The outer walls are made of translucent veined marble panels quarried from Danby, Vermont, which transmit subdued lighting from outside, while providing protection from direct sunlight. At night, the stone panels transmit light from the interior, giving the exterior of the building an amber glow. The outside dimensions have "Platonic" mathematical proportions of 1:2:3 (height: width: length). The building has been called a precious "jewel box",[5][6] and also a "laboratory for the humanities".[3]

A public exhibition hall surrounds the glass stack tower, and displays among other things one of the 48 extant copies of the Gutenberg Bible.[6] Two basement floors extend under much of Hewitt Quadrangle. The first level down, the "Court" level, centers on a sunken courtyard in front of the Beinecke, which features The Garden (Pyramid, Sun, and Cube). These are abstract allegorical sculptures by Isamu Noguchi that are said to represent time (the pyramid), sun (the disc), and chance (the cube).[7] This level also features a secure reading room for visiting researchers, administrative offices, and book storage areas. The level of the building two floors below ground has movable-aisle compact shelving for books and archives.[8]

The Beinecke is one of the largest buildings in the world devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts. The library has room in the central tower for 180,000 volumes and room for over 600,000 volumes in the underground book stacks. The library's collection, which housed both in the library's main building and at Yale University's Library Shelving Facility in Hamden, Conn., totals roughly 1 million volumes and several million manuscripts.[9]

During the 1960s, the Claes Oldenburg sculpture Lipstick on Caterpillar Tracks (Ascending) was displayed in Hewitt Quadrangle. The sculpture has since been moved to the courtyard of Morse College, one of the university's residential dormitories.

The elegance of the Beinecke later inspired the glass-walled structure that protects and displays the original core collection (the books gifted by King George III and referred to as the King's Library) within the British Library building in Euston, London.


In the late 19th century, the rarer and more valuable books of the Library of Yale College were placed on special shelving at the Old Library (now Dwight Hall). These were moved to the Rare Book Room collection of Sterling Memorial Library when it opened in 1930. When the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library opened its doors on October 14, 1963, it had become the home of the volumes from the Sterling Memorial Library Rare Book Room, and three special collections—the Collection of American Literature, the Collection of Western Americana, and the Collection of German Literature. Shortly afterward, they were joined by the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection.

Beinecke Library became the repository for books in the Yale collection printed anywhere before 1800, books printed in Latin America before 1751, books printed in North America before 1821, newspapers and broadsides printed in the United States before 1851, European tracts and pamphlets printed before 1801, and Slavic, East European, Near and Middle Eastern books through the eighteenth century, as well as special books outside these categories.

Now, the collection spans through to the present day, including such modern works as limited-edition poetry and artists' books. The library also contains thousands of linear feet of archival material, ranging from ancient papyri and medieval manuscripts to the archived personal papers of modern writers.

Special collections[edit]

The library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. In order to access materials, there are a few forms and policies that users must read, located here.[10]

The holdings of the Beinecke Library include:


In addition to items on permanent display such as the Gutenberg Bible, the Beinecke offers a year-round program of temporary exhibits drawn from its collections.[14] For example, in 2006 the library presented Breaking the Binding: Printing and the Third Dimension, a show of flap books, pop-ups, perspective books, panoramas, and peep-shows in printed form. Display cases are located on the mezzanine level and at the ground floor entry level, and may be freely viewed by the general public whenever the library is open.

The Library celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013.[15] There were two full-year exhibitions that explored the library's architecture and people as well as a series of showcases of rarely seen manuscripts, printed works, and visual objects from across all curatorial areas.[16]


In 2005, the art thief Edward Forbes Smiley III, a well-known and trusted antiques dealer at that time, was caught slicing maps from rare books with an X-acto blade. He had dropped the concealed tool on the floor, and it was spotted by an alert worker. Smiley was arrested, and later served several years in prison for thefts of rare documents valued in millions of dollars from this and other libraries.[17]

The Beinecke library operates under a closed stack system, and rigorous security rules now allow carefully controlled access to materials in a spartan subterranean reading room, under video surveillance.[18]

The glass-enclosed central stacks (not accessible to the public) can be flooded with a mix of Halon 1301 and Inergen fire suppressant gas if fire detectors are triggered.[19] A previous system using carbon dioxide was removed for safety reasons.[20]

An infestation of bookworms was controlled by freezing books and documents at −33 °F (−36 °C) for three days. All new acquisitions are given this treatment as a precaution.[8][19]

In popular culture[edit]

  • In Uncommon Carriers, John McPhee admires a restaurant's display of "a glass tower of recumbent wines that may have been an architectural reference to the glass column of visible books in the Beinecke Library at Yale".[21]
  • In The Once and Future Spy by Robert Littell, an assassination attempt is made on a CIA analyst at the Beinecke Library.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "'Gordon Bunshaft on Beinecke Library'". Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  2. ^ "Yale University - Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library". Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  3. ^ a b Fellman, Bruce (February 2002). "Leading the Libraries". Yale Alumni Magazine. Yale Alumni Publications, Inc. Retrieved 2012-06-03. 
  4. ^ "[Homepage]". Beinecke Library Renovation. Yale University. Retrieved 2014-06-07. 
  5. ^ "About the Library Building: Online Tour". Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Retrieved 2012-06-03. 
  6. ^ a b Waytkus, Liz. "Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library". docomomo_us. Docomomo US. Retrieved 2012-06-03. 
  7. ^ "The Garden (Pyramid, Sun, and Cube)". Public Art at Yale. Yale University. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  8. ^ a b Kopley, Emily (Nov 2005). "Beneath the Beinecke". The New Journal: The Magazine about Yale and New Haven, since 1967. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  9. ^ Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. "About the Building". Retrieved 3 September 2013. 
  10. ^ Planning Your Research Visit | Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  11. ^ The Audubon collection includes two copies of the double elephant folio of Birds of America
  12. ^ The Elizabethan Club collection is composed of about 300 volumes of 16th- and 17th-century literature, including the first four folios of Shakespeare, the Huth Shakespeare quartos, and first or early quartos of all the major dramatists
  13. ^ Early manuscripts including more than 1,100 medieval and Renaissance codices and several hundred manuscript fragments dating from the fourth century through the Renaissance, as well as the Voynich Manuscript
  14. ^ "Exhibitions". Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Retrieved 2012-06-03. 
  15. ^ Special Events | Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Retrieved on 2014-04-12.
  16. ^ Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript LIbrary. "50th Anniversary". Retrieved 9 September 2013. 
  17. ^ Finnegan, William (October 17, 2005). "A theft in the library: the case of the missing maps". The New Yorker (Conde Nast): pp64–80. Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  18. ^ "Reading Room Rules". Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Retrieved 2012-06-03. 
  19. ^ a b Tidmarsh, David (February 4, 2010). "Myths abound about Beinecke". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 2012-06-03. 
  20. ^ "Preserving the World’s Literary Heritage ... One Library at a Time". Hiller New England Fire Protection. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  21. ^ McPhee, John (2006). Uncommon Carriers. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-28039-8. , p. 129

Further reading[edit]

  • Parks, Stephen (editor); with contributions by Robert G. Babcock, Vincent Giroug, Georges A. Miles... [et al.] (2003). The Beinecke Library of Yale University. Yale University (Conn.): Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. ISBN 0845731505. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 41°18′42″N 72°55′38″W / 41.31161°N 72.92722°W / 41.31161; -72.92722