Mortimer Rare Book Room History

The New Rare Book Room

During the construction of the northwest and south additions to Neilson Library, approximately 2,000 of the rarest books were in storage for about eighteen months. The new Rare Book Room was completed by October 1962, and the new wing was officially open. However, due to problems with the temperature and humidity controls, the rare book collection of approximately 7,000 items was not moved into its new quarters until February 1963. Fifty years later, maintaining a consistent climate in the Rare Book Room is still an issue.

New Rare Book Room 1962
Rare Book reading room, October 1962, from the MRBR office files [Click on image to enlarge]

A photograph from October shows the relatively few books in place in the new Rare Book Room, the curator’s office, and the workroom. This image also documents the original color scheme of the reading room: lime green carpeting with chairs upholstered in purple, orange, and mustard-colored fabric. The large tables have been replaced with smaller ones to allow for easier rearranging for class or individual use, the upholstery and carpeting have been updated, and the two exhibition cases have been replaced by a significantly larger exhibition area down the hall from the Rare Book Room in the core of Neilson Library. Yet, the reading room has stood the test of time.

At the October 19, 1962 dedication of the new library additions, Smith President Thomas Mendenhall spoke about the vital and central role of alumnae in the growth of the libraries’ facilities and books. He also said:

Finally, the special collections—Rare Books, the College Archives, and the Sophia Smith Collection—at long last have obtained adequate quarters in the James Mandly Hills Wing to the northwest which will now permit them to realize more fully their real value to a liberal arts college.