The True University: Yale's Library from 1843 to 1931

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By the summer of 1930, Sterling Memorial Library was nearing completion, lacking only the university’s 1.6 million books. At 6:00 AM on July 7, with a ceremonial parade of the library’s earliest accessions, the two-month project of moving the books commenced. Leading the trail of librarians was the head librarian, Andrew Keogh, and the head of the serials cataloguing department, Grace Pierpont Fuller. Fuller was the descendant of James Pierpont, one of the principal founders of Yale, and was carrying the Latin Bible given by her ancestor during the fabled 1701 donation of books that signaled the foundation of the Collegiate School. These first few books would be taken to a small room within Sterling modeled after the 1742 Yale library, to be placed on a table to symbolically recreate this moment. With a second gifting of the same books that had founded the Collegiate School and Yale College, Yale was to be founded anew as a true university. The parade of librarians was a graduation ceremony, signifying Yale’s emergence as a university that sought not only to transmit knowledge, as it had in the days of Yale College, but to actively create it. Less than a century before, in 1843, Yale’s first full-time librarian was moving the college’s considerably smaller collection of 12,000 books into what was simply known as the Library, a structure meant to protect books and keep them away from the impressionable young minds of the students. Sterling Memorial Library, with its immense reading rooms and capacity for 3 million books, would have been unimaginable. With Sterling, the library assumed its proper place at the heart of Yale, resulting in a dramatic transition from a building that housed a rarely used collection of books into a grand library acknowledged to be the physical and intellectual center of the university.


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