Library Exhibit

Renovating the John Hay Library 2013-2014

The John Hay Library, located at the crest of College Street opposite the Van Wickle Gates, is one of Brown University's historic landmarks. “The Hay" served as Brown University's main library from 1910 until 1964, when the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library opened. Today it houses special collections and University Archives. Currently the Hay is undergoing an extensive renovation of the first floor that will feature a restoration of the spacious grand reading room as an open study space and the creation of a state-of-the-art reading area for Archives and Special Collections.


This exhibit explores the evolution of the John Hay Library over the past one hundred years through a selection of materials ranging from archival photographs and drawings to floor plans of the future Hay, scheduled for completion in Fall 2014.


Early Hay

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Early Hay The John Hay Library was built in 1910 by the eminent Boston architectural firm Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, to serve as Brown University’s main library, replacing the outgrown former library, now Robinson Hall. It was funded in large part by Andrew Carnegie, “Patron Saint of Libraries,” and named in honor of his friend John Milton Hay, an 1858 Brown graduate who served as a secretary to President Abraham Lincoln and secretary of state under presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. The library was designed to hold 300,000 volumes, and the original reading room on the main floor extended the length of the south side of the building.

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Cornerstone, John Hay Library. May 3, 1909. Photographic print. Gift of H.D. Lamoureux (Class of 1910), March/April 1963. Brown University Archinves. | Early Hay

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Hay during construction in spring of 1910. Photographic print, 1910. Brown University Archives. Note: At the left of the Hay, where the List Art building now stands, stood the Mumford house, home of H.P. Lovecraft. Today the Hay's special collections include extensive holdings of Lovecraft's manuscripts, letters, and editions of his works in all languages. | Early Hay

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View of College Street and the Brown campus in the early 1900s from a tower on the Superior Court Building (on Benefit Street). Note: H.P. Lovecraft's former home to the left (foreground) of the Hay. Photographic Print. Brown University Archives. | Early Hay

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The Hay Reading Room in its original grandeur, ca. 1920 (looking east). Photographic print. Brown University Archives. | Early Hay

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Hay Reading Room. Drawing by Putnam Bailey, 1923. Brown University Archives. | Early Hay

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The Hay Reading Room in its original grandeur, ca. 1920 (looking northwest). Note that the room has only two doors; the center doorway was added during the 1939 renovation. Photographic print. Brown University Archives. | Early Hay

Mid-Century Hay

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Mid-Century Hay Within a decade of its opening, the John Hay Library was in need of additional space for collections, researchers, and staff. In 1939, funded primarily by a bequest of $150,000 from Colonel Webster Knight, Class of 1876 (who also donated an extensive stamp collection), the University expanded the Hay, nearly doubling its storage capacity. As part of the 1939 renovation, the main reading room was divided into three distinct but interconnected sections, separated by the installation of wooden book shelves that matched the original wall paneling. Following the completion of the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library (1964) and the Sciences Library (1971), the Hay was transformed into a special collections library and rededicated in 1981. This project was funded through an NEH challenge grant matched by contributions from alumni, corporate, and private foundation donors.

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John Hay Library current floor plan, 2012, Selldorf Architects (edited by Brown Library staff). The 1939 expansion and renovation included the addition of the north stacks and reading room (currently where Archives is located), partitioning the main reading room into three sections, and moving the reader services desk from the main reading room to the central hallway. The 1981 renovation included further dividing the east and west sections of the reading room to create staff work space and the creation of exhibit space on the first floor. | Mid-Century Hay

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As a result of the 1939 renovations, the Hay's Reading Room was divided into three sections. A new entry was also installed to create a passageway from the middle section of the reading room which served as the Reference Room. This photograph looks north down the central hallway toward the Reserve Book Room (where the Archives currently is located). Photographic Print. 1964. Brown University Archives. | Mid-Century Hay

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This image shows the periodicals area of the partitioned Hay reading room (located in the west section). Photographic print. 1942. Brown University Archives. | Mid-Century Hay

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The Guild Reading Room, “a comfortably and attractively furnished room designed for independent reading by men students,” opened in 1940 and occupied one of the three spaces in the newly partitioned first floor reading room. The room was named in memory of the late Reuben A. Guild, scholar, historian and former Brown University Librarian. Photographic Print. 1940. Brown University Archives. | Mid-Century Hay

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The Guild Reading Room, located in the east section of the partitioned Hay reading room. Photographic Print. 1940. Brown University Archives. | Mid-Century Hay

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This photograph shows the middle section of the partitioned Reading Room (foreground) and the opening leading to the Social Studies Room. The Social Studies Room replaced the Guild Reading Room. Photographic print. 1952. Brown University Archives. | Mid-Century Hay

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Social Studies Room, located in the east section of the partitioned Hay reading room. Photographic Print. 1952. Brown University Archives. | Mid-Century Hay

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Reserve Book Room, located in the space where the University Archives currently resides. Photographic Print. ca. 1966. Brown University Archives. | Mid-Century Hay

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As part of the 1981 renovations, the room near the main staircase was converted to an exhibits room. Photographic print. [date unknown] Brown University Archives. | Mid-Century Hay

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This 1960s rendering shows a proposed renovation plan for the Reading Room, envisioning two floors. Brown University Archives. | Mid-Century Hay

Hay of Tomorrow

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Hay of Tomorrow The current renovation of the John Hay Library will include a refurbishment of the magnificent reading room (on the south side of the first floor) into a unified, open, welcoming study space for students, restoring the size and grandeur of the original design. The area which formerly housed University Archives (on the north side of the first floor) will be converted into a new state-of-the-art special collections reading room. In addition, the first floor of the Hay will host a new exhibition gallery, student lounge, and consultation room. Plans also provide for the installation of an accessible entrance to the front of the building through the north side lawn.

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John Hay Library proposed floor plan, 2012, Selldorf Architects (edited by Brown Library staff). | Hay of Tomorrow

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Before & After: Photograph of John Hay Library entry hall in 2010 (left) and rendering by Selldorf Architects of the proposed new entry hall. | Hay of Tomorrow

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Before & After: Photograph of John Hay Library north lawn in 2010 (left) and rendering by Selldorf Architects of the proposed new accessible entrance. | Hay of Tomorrow

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Before & After: Photograph of John Hay Library main reading room in 2010 with partitions (left) and rendering by Selldorf Architects of the proposed restored reading room. | Hay of Tomorrow

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The renovated John Hay Library is scheduled to reopen in Fall 2014. | Hay of Tomorrow