John Hay Library

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John Hay Library
John Hay Library (Brown).jpg
CountryUnited States
EstablishedNovember 1910 (1910-11)
ArchitectShepley, Rutan and Coolidge
Location20 Prospect Street, Providence, Rhode Island
Branch ofBrown University Library

The John Hay Library is the second oldest library on the campus of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, United States. It is located on Prospect Street opposite the Van Wickle Gates. After its construction in 1910, the Hay Library became the main library on campus, replacing the library now known as Robinson Hall. Today, the John Hay Library is one of five individual libraries that make up the University Library.[1] The Hay houses the University Library's rare books and manuscripts, the University Archives, and the Library's special collections.[2]

The library's entrance on Prospect Street


The John Hay Library opened in November 1910, serving from that time until 1964 as the main library of the University. The library was named for Secretary of State 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.[3] It was constructed to a design by the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and 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.[4]

A 1939 renovation placed bookcases to split the main reading room into three sections.[5]

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 library headed by Selldorf Architects began in 2013. The building was closed on June 1, 2013 and reopened in Fall 2014.[5] The 2014 renovation reconfigured the library's main floor, doubled the exhibition space, and returned the main reading room to its original design.[5]

The interior of the library's Willis Reading Room

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[6] The library houses the largest collection of Lovecraft materials in the world.[7]
  • Henry David Thoreau – books from personal library
  • George Orwell Collection – Among other materials, the Hay possesses Orwell's manuscript of his most well-known novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four – the only Orwell manuscript still in existence[8][9]

Anthropodermic book collection[edit]

The John Hay Library is well known for its collection of anthropodermic books (books bound in human skin).[10] 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.[11] The library has three such human-skin books:

Brown University Archives[edit]

The University Archives serves as the institutional memory of the university by collecting, preserving, and making accessible the materials that provide evidence of past University actions and contribute to an understanding of the university's structure and its history. For the definitive reference work on the history, people, and places of Brown University, please consult the Encyclopedia Brunoniana[12] by Martha Mitchell.

The records of the Corporation that governs Brown University are in the University Archives. They consist of minutes, correspondence, reports, and committee records of the Corporation from 1763 to the present. The earliest Corporation records are part of a collection called Rhode Island College miscellaneous papers.[13] These records document the founding of the University, relocation from Warren to Providence, building of University Hall, George Washington's visit in 1790, and other business of the college, ending with Nicholas Brown's letter donating $5,000, which changed the name of the college from Rhode Island College to Brown University and at the same time established the first endowed professorship.

The Archives contains papers of Brown's presidents, select faculty and alumni papers, student organization records, and university publications. There are over 60,000 photographs depicting campus scenes, buildings, groups, events, student activities, athletic teams and events, and individual faculty members, students, and alumni preserved and accessible in the University Archives. Some have been digitized are available at Images of Brown.

The Edward North Robinson Collection of Brown Athletics represents over 150 years of athletics at Brown. Consisting of photographs, moving images, artifacts, posters, drawings, cartoons, administrative records, and publications, this collection traces the earliest days of athletic competition at Brown and Pembroke up through the modern era. This collection is supported through an endowment created by Jackson Robinson (Class of 1964), the grandson of famed Brown football coach. Edward North Robinson.

The Christine Dunlap Farnham Archive[edit]

The Christine Dunlap Farnham Archive identifies collections with materials pertaining to women within Special Collections and University Archives. Collections in the Farnham Archive document the history of women in Brown University and Pembroke College, the post-graduate lives of Brown alumnae, and the lives of Rhode Island women. The collections document the lives of prominent women but also chronicle the lives and work of ordinary women. In addition to correspondence, diaries, photographs, newspapers, yearbooks, and memorabilia, it also includes a collection of oral history tapes and videos. 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.[citation needed]

Also included within the Farnham Archive is the Feminist Theory Archive, inaugurated in 2002, which preserves the legacies of prominent feminist thinkers. This collection continues the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women's commitment to documenting the contributions of feminist scholars to cutting-edge research and making their papers available to scholars.


  1. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions :: John Hay Library, Brown University". Retrieved 2017-01-18.
  2. ^ "John Hay Library :: Brown University Library". Retrieved 2017-01-18.
  3. ^ "Encyclopedia Brunoniana | John Hay Library".
  4. ^ Drake, Miriam (2003). Encyclopedia of Library and Information Science. CRC Press. ISBN 0-8247-2077-6.
  5. ^ a b c Coelho, Courtney (4 September 2014). "Renovated John Hay Library reopens - News from Brown".
  6. ^ "Lovecraft Collection - Brown University Library".
  7. ^
  8. ^ Staff, Journal. "Brown library buys singer Janis Ian's collection of fantasy, science fiction". Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  9. ^ Braga, Jennifer. "Announcement | 70th Anniversary of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four | Brown University Library News". Retrieved 2019-09-24.
  10. ^ Johnson, M.L. (January 7, 2006). "Some of nation's best libraries have books bound in human skin". Associated Press. Retrieved 2012-06-06.
  11. ^ Taryn Martinez (2006-01-31). "In a literal bind". The Brown Daily Herald. Archived from the original on 2013-02-08. Retrieved 2007-10-03.
  12. ^ "Index to Encyclopedia Brunoniana".
  13. ^ "RIAMCO - Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online".

External links[edit]

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