John Hay Library

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John Hay Library

The John Hay Library is the second oldest library on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, USA. Located on Prospect Street, opposite the Van Wickle Gates, it replaced the outgrown former library, now Robinson Hall, as the main library on the campus. Today, the John Hay Library is one of five individual libraries that make up the University Library. The Hay houses the University Library's rare books and manuscripts, the University Archives, and the Library's special collections.

The John Hay Library opened in November 1910, serving from that time until 1964 as the main library of the University. It was designed in the English Renaissance style by the eminent Boston architectural firm of Shepley Rutan & Coolidge. The Library is named for John Hay, class of 1858, who served as Abraham Lincoln’s private secretary during the Civil War and later became Secretary of State. His papers and personal library form part of the collections at the John Hay.

The library was named for John Hay (Class of 1858), the private secretary and assistant to Abraham Lincoln, at the request of Andrew Carnegie, who contributed half of the $300,000 cost of the building.[1] It was constructed to a design by the Boston architectural firm of Shepley Rutan & Coolidge with Vermont white marble in an English Renaissance style. The library was dedicated on November 10, 1910 and had an estimated collection of 300,000 volumes.[2]

When the main library was removed to the new John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library in 1964, the John Hay Library retained the special collections and provided temporary quarters for the Physical Sciences Library until the Sciences Library was built in 1971. The John Hay Library was completely renovated and was rededicated on September 21, 1981. A major renovation of the John Hay Library will begin in 2013. The Library will be closed as of June 1, 2013 and will remain closed until the Fall of 2014. Collections will not be available for research.

Anthropodermic book collection[edit]

The John Hay Library is well known for its collection of anthropodermic books (books bound in human skin).[3] The Hay acquired the books in the 1960s as gifts from two alumni, at least one an avid book collector. The books were not originally bound in human skin, but were instead rebound for private collectors in the 19th century.[4] The library has three such human-skin books:

Special collections[edit]

The Library houses Brown's Special Collections division, which includes those materials that require special handling and preservation. Although many of the items in Special Collections are rare or unique, a majority of the materials are part of large subject-oriented collections which are maintained as discrete units. Altogether, Special Collections consists of over 250 separate collections, numbering some 2.5 million items.

Notable items include:

  • Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection - graphics, books and miniature soldiers
  • Brown University Archives - official university records, photographs, university publications, student group records, artifacts, and personal papers
  • Colonel George Earl Church - South American explorer and geographer, 3,500 personal manuscripts and letters, plus books
  • H. P. Lovecraft - personal manuscripts and letters
  • Henry David Thoreau - books from personal library

The Pembroke Center Archives[edit]

Created under the auspices of the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women, the Christine Dunlap Farnham Archives focuses on nineteenth and twentieth-century Brown and Rhode Island women and their organizations. In addition to correspondence, diaries, photographs, newspapers, yearbooks, and memorabilia, it also includes a collection of oral history tapes and videos. The materials on women are located throughout the University Archives and Special Collections. There is a 500-page Research Guide to the Christine Dunlap Farnham Archives which includes more than 1,000 entries describing the collection. This guide, however, is badly outdated and in some cases contains erroneous information.

Also included within the Pembroke Center Archives is the Elizabeth Weed Feminist Theory Papers collection, inaugurated in 2002, which preserves the legacies of prominent feminist thinkers. This collection continues the Pembroke Center's commitment to documenting the contributions of feminist scholars to cutting-edge research and making their papers available to scholars.

External links[edit]


  1. ^ From Martha Mitchell's Encyclopedia Brunoniana: John Hay Library
  2. ^ Drake, Miriam (2003). Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. CRC Press. ISBN 0-8247-2077-6. 
  3. ^ Johnson, M.L. (January 7, 2006). "Some of nation's best libraries have books bound in human skin". Associated Press. Retrieved 2012-06-06. 
  4. ^ Taryn Martinez (2006-01-31). "In a literal bind". The Brown Daily Herald. Retrieved 2007-10-03. 

Coordinates: 41°49′35.16″N 71°24′17.81″W / 41.8264333°N 71.4049472°W / 41.8264333; -71.4049472