Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

The Libraries

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library. The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library ranks as one of the great architectural libraries of the world and is the only such library to directly support academic programs in architecture, urban planning, historic preservation, art history, and archaeology, as well as the liberal arts education of undergraduates. It was founded in 1890 by Samuel Putnam Avery and Mary Ogden Avery as a memorial to their son, Henry Ogden Avery, a New York City architect who died unexpectedly that year at the age of thirty-eight. The nucleus of the library was Henry’s collection, which included a number of rarities, as well as his drawings; Mr. and Mrs. Avery also provided a generous endowment to ensure continued and magnificent growth. Conceived as a library of architecture, archaeology and the decorative arts, Avery Library sought from its very beginning to make the great architectural treatises and plate volumes accessible to students, architects, and artists. These works, referred to as “Classics,” constitute the core of Avery’s stellar rare book holdings, which also include an extensive collection of catalogues of the American building trades, as well as one of view books of American cities and towns. The Classics collection today accounts for approximately ten percent of the library’s 380,000 volumes. Included in that figure is one of the largest collections of architectural periodicals in existence; and since 1934 the library has produced the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, now an online database edited at Columbia and published with the support of the J. Paul Getty Trust. The Drawings and Archives collection has grown from Henry’s archive to over one million items, with a particular emphasis on American work, including major archives of Richard Upjohn, Alexander Jackson Davis, Greene & Greene, Emery Roth & Son and drawings by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Drawings and Archives department has been a leader in employing new technologies to make its rich collections accessible to scholars and practitioners.

In 1912, Avery was the first library at Columbia to receive its own quarters, separate from Low Library, on the Morningside Heights campus. A gift from Samuel Putnam Avery, Jr., funded Avery Hall — designed by William Kendall of McKim Mead and White, and arguably one of the campus’s most beautiful buildings — to house the library, as well as the School of Architecture. The building was expanded underground in the 1970s to accommodate the Fine Arts collection and further growth. Most recently, Avery Library has expanded again, with the opening in 2003 of the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Study Center for Art and Architecture, which houses the Drawings and Archives collection, as well as the University’s Office of Art Properties. Avery Library Home Page

Burke Library. The Special Collections of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary comprise, in addition to the Seminary archives, a number of distinctive collections. The library of Leander van Ess, a Roman Catholic priest and Biblical translator, brought to the brand new Protestant seminary what was then the largest collection of incunabula in America. In addition to papers generated by its many distinguished faculty members, the Library also contains the McAlpin Collection of British History and Theology, a comprehensive collection of works on those topics printed between 1500 and 1700, and the extraordinary Missionary Research Library which documents in depth the social and cultural history of Protestant religious missions from the early 19th-century to the present. The Burke Library is a recent addition to the Columbia University Libraries community. Burke Library Home Page

C. V. Starr East Asian Library.  The beginning of Chinese studies in 1902 served as an impetus for the building of a library devoted to the subject. Thanks to founding donations from alumnus and Trustee Horace Walpole Carpentier and the Empress Dowager of China, the library was one of the earliest and soon became one of the finest East Asian language collections in the country. The Japanese collection was begun in the 1920s by Ryusaku Tsunoda, adding to the Chinese Collection; together they became the East Asian Library in 1935. The Imperial Household Ministry of Japan donated a collection which includes, among other treasures, 594 woodblock-printed and manuscript volumes covering the range of Japanese primary sources. The Library also contains a substantial collection of rare and scarce Korean books and in recent years has expanded its Tibetan collections. Housed in the former Law School Library in Kent Hall, the C. V. Starr East Asian Library includes the Kress Seminar Room, where rare books and manuscripts may be consulted, and an exhibit gallery. Among the Library’s many treasures are a collection of Chinese paper gods, oracle bones, an archive of letters from 20th century Japanese writers, and a 15th-century Korean book, the first to use printed Han’gul. Starr Library Home Page

Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Special Collections.   The Special Collections in the Law School’s Arthur W. Diamond Library include incunabula, selected legal treatises, American books printed in the Confederacy, and many named collections of books and papers derived from the personal libraries of prominent men in the history of the field. In addition to the Jay family donation mentioned above, the books include the library of Joseph Murray, bequeathed to King’s College in 1757, the law books of Samuel Johnson and William Samuel Johnson, the first presidents of King’s College and Columbia College respectively, and the library of James Kent. Additional special collections in canon law, Roman law, and War Crimes trials are supplemented by the Law School archives and significant groups of manuscripts and papers related to legal history and teaching. Law Library, Special Collections Home Page

Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library, Special Collections.  King’s College began instruction in medicine in 1767 and three years later had the distinction of granting the first doctor of medicine degree in North America. From the beginning, the medical school acquired books to support its studies, but the Health Sciences Library did not come together as a single entity until the opening of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in 1928. Even before that, though, the medical school had begun to create a rare book collection with the purchase of the libraries of professors John Green Curtis in physiology and George Sumner Huntington in anatomy. Archives and Special Collections of the Augustus C. Long Library now comprises some 15,000 rare books including nearly complete collections of the works of Vesalius and Tagliacozzi. Among the particular collections of distinction are the Jerome P. Webster Library of Plastic Surgery, the Lena and Louis Hyman Collection in the History of Anesthesiology, the Auchincloss Florence Nightingale Collection and the Freud Library. Archives and Special Collections also serves as the archives for the University’s four health science schools and holds a substantial manuscript collection. Health Sciences Library, Archives & Special Collections Home Page

Barnard College Library, Rare Book Collection.   The core of the rare book collection of Barnard College is the Overbury collection of 3,300 books written by women, including first editions and rare publications by Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, and Zora Neale Hurston, among others. The Barnard College Archives contains records of the college dating back to its inception and other material documenting the growth and progress of women’s education in the United States, as well as the records of the American Woman’s Association. Barnard College Library, Archives & Special Collections Home Page

The Columbiana Collection.  Columbiana, established in 1884, is one of the oldest special collections at Columbia. In 1997 it merged with the University Archives (established in 1991), the central repository for Columbia records, forming a new entity devoted to maintaining institutional history. Among the resources the University Archives-Columbiana provides are administrative records, trustee minutes, pamphlet and clippings files, photographs, university publications, and ephemera. The King’s College Room, in Low Library, adjacent to the University Archives-Columbiana Library reading room, displays paintings, period furniture, and decorative arts, pertaining to King’s College and Columbia, 1754 to 1850. Several of the earliest books acquired by the College are on permanent exhibit there, along with early charters, letters, and significant documents. University Archives-Columbiana provides reference assistance to the community, creates exhibits, and conducts various outreach programs. The Archives report to the Secretary of the University. Columbia University Archives Home Page

Gabe M. Wiener Music & Arts Library.  Although several rare music books were part of the Library collection before 1900, the Music Library was not organized as a separate entity until 1934. At that time, a Music Librarian was named and charged with the task of organizing the collection of scores, correspondence and manuscripts that had been distributed among the general stacks, the Music Department and other areas of the campus. Of special interest in what has been since 1997 the Gabe M. Wiener Music & Arts Library, located on the 7th floor of Dodge Hall, are several hundred early printed books on music and scores, a collection of libretti from the 19th and 20th centuries, 20,000 recordings of classical and American popular music from the estate or Robert L. Weiner, holograph facsimiles of twentieth-century piano music from the Robert Miller Collection, and what is believed to be a unique collection of zarzuelas (popular Spanish opera scores and parts). Holdings also include the papers and compositions of Edward MacDowell, the first head of the Music Department at Columbia, the Seidl Collection, scores or fragments of scores by Béla Bartók, and Hector Berlioz, and first or early editions of the works of Luigi Cherubini. Music Library Home Page

Oral History Research Office.  Founded by historian Allan Nevins in 1948, Columbia’s oral history program was the first of its kind in the country and remains the largest within an academic institution, comprising over 8,000 taped interviews. Subjects range from in-depth personal interviews with prominent figures to special projects that focus on institutions or events. Representative of the scope of the collection are interviews with Frances Perkins on her years as Secretary of Labor, with Buster Keaton and D.W. Griffith on film, with Bennett Cerf and George Braziller on publishing, with the officers of the Carnegie Corporation on the growth of philanthropy. Other topics include Women in Law, Physicians and AIDS, Civil Liberties, and African-American Journalists. Transcripts of the interviews are available for research in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. In recent years, the office has undertaken video interviewing as well, which it hopes to make widely accessible on the World Wide Web. Three major projects documenting local and national impact of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 have been undertaken with the support of public and private funding agencies.
Columbia Center for Oral History Home Page

Office of Art Properties.  Columbia has been acquiring paintings and works of art since the eighteenth century when the second President of King’s College, Myles Cooper, whose own distinguished portrait by John Singleton Copley is at Columbia, expressed an interest in establishing an art collection. It was an interest not sustained by subsequent presidents. Nevertheless, art works — primarily portraits of faculty and administrators — were acquired and gradually the collection was broadened to include study materials and a wide variety of art objects, almost all of them received as gifts. The Office of Art Properties, charged with cataloging the collection, overseeing its conservation, and guiding the placement of art on campus, is under the administration of the Avery Librarian. Art Properties Home Page

Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  The largest repository of special collections on campus, the Rare Book and Manuscript Library has been housed since the late 1930s on the sixth floor of Butler Library. Comprising an estimated 500,000 rare books, 28 million manuscript items, and vast collections of photographs, audio-visual material, ephemera and realia, the Library also holds the collections of the former Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum, which include masks, puppets, portraits, teaching models, and playbills. Although its collections range from papyrus fragments, cuneiform tablets, and cylinder seals to newly-minted artist’s books, the Library’s strongest holdings are in printing and publishing history, the history of philanthropy, American history and literature, journalism history, medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, human rights, and the book arts. Distinctive collections with their own curators include the Bakhmeteff Archive of Russian and East European History and Culture, the Archives of the Carnegie Corporation, the Herbert H. Lehman Papers, and the recently acquired archives of Human Rights Watch. Rare Book & Manuscript Library Home Page

Other Collections. Although most other libraries at Columbia do not maintain collections of rare books or manuscripts, many of them in fact, because of their age and the scope of collecting activity, contain reference materials, subject files, and unique or scarce items that might in other institutions be considered special collections. Among these are, for example, the collection of early settlement house reports in the Social Work Library, the early foreign dissertations in the History and Humanities Library in Butler, and the many publications in the area studies libraries that were issued in limited runs or on deteriorating paper and are no longer available. Some of these are reclassified as rare when their fragility or value becomes apparent to the users or the library staff.

Columbia University Libraries / Butler Library / 535 West 114th St. / New York, NY 10027 / (212) 854-7309 /