Sarah Burke Cahalan

Outreach, Special Collections, Digital Projects

History of Library Preservation at Harvard

In 2009 and 2010 I conducted research for the Weissman Preservation Center on the history of library preservation at Harvard, a project which covered the earliest days of the university to some of the most recent developments in collections care.  I created a chronology of events in library preservation at Harvard, as well as an article about library fires–and the fear of library fires–in the history of the institution.  Here is a brief description of Harvard’s nineteenth-century library architecture:

…The long life of Gore Hall was a mixed blessing for Harvard’s books.  The building was damp: moss grew in the summer and frost formed in the winter.  The eroding interior walls dropped plaster dust on books.  (The building was also unsafe for humans.  On Thanksgiving Day, 1889, “a fifty-pound corner ornament” fell from the ceiling onto a table in the reading room.)  Charles Eliot’s focus on the safety of the building’s location ignored the safety of the building’s conditions, and renovation efforts had to work around the original building’s flaws.  John Langdon Sibley considered the 1874 installation of a hot air furnace to be “Eliot’s folly,” and expressed concerns about fire and cracked bindings.  Nevertheless, Gore’s granite exterior and splendid isolation protected it from outside fires, while its strict policies protected its interior.   Many libraries of this period, such as those at Radcliffe College and the Law School, were illuminated by gas jets.  Before the 1890s, when it was wired for electrical lighting, Gore Hall had a policy against artificial lighting.  This meant that it often had to close at 4:00 pm on winter evenings.  Notwithstanding the occasional scare, Gore Hall never experienced a major fire…

Full-text of “Bookish fires: the legacy of fire in the Harvard libraries” (PDF): Bookish_Fires

“Timeline of Library Preservation at Harvard” (PDF): Preservation_Timeline

“The Harvard Bindery: A Short History” (PDF): Harvard_Bindery

 

The Weissman Preservation Center at Harvard.

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This entry was posted on May 27, 2012 by .