Early College Library History

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A Brief Timeline

Though its collection was relatively modest in early years, the Library was founded with the College in 1821. At that time, it was housed on the first floor of South College, the first building on campus, and consisted of about nine hundred volumes.

Soon after, in 1822, the library was moved to the forth floor of North College. Five years later, in 1827, the library was moved again, to Johnson Chapel which included a designated library room on the third floor. In that same year, the first printed library catalog was published.

In 1831, Sylvester Hovey, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at the College, travelled to Paris and London and purchased $8,000 worth of books for the College Library. According to the 1833 library catalog, this purchase “…consist[ed] mostly of standard works in the various departments of literature, those works which are most valuable and indispensable to a college library” (1).

Philanthropist David Sears donated $10,000 to the College in 1844 to begin the Sears Foundation of Literature and Benevolence, which stipulated that part of the fund be used annually to purchase library books.

In 1850, as the library continued to rapidly expand, an alumnus and two friends of the college began to collect funds for a new library building. On November 22, 1853, for this building, later named Morgan Hall, was dedicated. The project cost the College $11,000 (2).

Three college buildings: a house, a library, and an academic building
At center is Morgan Hall, the first designated library building, before the 1882 addition.

Use of the Library at Early Amherst

It is important to remember that the library at Amherst wasn’t always what it is today. This is perhaps most apparent if we compare the open hours of the College Library in the 1820s-30s with Frost Library’s semester hours today:

Clearly, in the nineteenth century, students weren’t camping out in the library all night to complete their assignments and readings. Nor do these hours encourage casual browsing or exploration of the stacks.

Now that you have a better sense of the library in the first few decades at Amherst, explore the first visualization!

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(1) Library Catalogue, 1833 in Amherst College Library Records, 1833-1977 [Box 6, Folder 6]. Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

(2) King, Stanley. The Consecrated Eminence. Amherst, MA: Amherst College, 1951. https://archive.org/details/theconsecratedem00king.