Harvard College Library Circulation and Reference letters, 1919-1976
This collection is comprised of correspondence of the Circulation and Reference Department of the Harvard College Library from 1919 to 1976. Correspondence is arranged in groups by academic year, and within groups, alphabetically by last name of correspondent. Topics presumably reflect the reference inquiries of particular correspondents.
- Harvard College Library (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
The Harvard College Library Circulation and Reference letters are open for research with the following exceptions: Harvard University records in this collection are restricted for 50 years from the date of creation. Specific restrictions are noted in the inventory. Access to fragile original documents may be restricted. Permission of the University Archives is required for photocopying or publishing.
Extent53.2 cubic feet (152 document boxes)
This collection is comprised of correspondence of the Circulation and Reference Department of the Harvard College Library from 1919 to 1976. Correspondence is arranged in groups by academic year(s), and within groups, alphabetically by last name of correspondent. Topics presumably reflect the reference inquiries of particular correspondents. Correspondence from earlier years (when written reference inquiries were largely included in general Library correspondence and Librarian's collections – see collections listed in Related Materials above) is minimal, but increases in amount during the 1930s and into the 1940s.
In its early years, the Harvard College Library did not place great emphasis on patron services, nor were collections intended for wide use. Through the end of Librarian John Langdon Sibley's term in 1877, the Library was mainly used by and its services were aimed toward graduate students and scholars, with regulations on the hours of the Library, the amount of books allowed to be taken out, and borrowing and visiting privileges strictly enforced. Justin Winsor (1877-1897), taking over from Sibley, relaxed or eliminated some of these restrictions, including opening the stacks to undergraduates, establishing a reserve system, and introducing interlibrary loan. These policies represented a turn for the Harvard College Library toward patron services, and included a greater focus on reference service.
In 1914, while the building that would become the Widener Memorial Library was under construction, two students at the Graduate School of Business Administration surveyed Harvard's libraries in order to comply with then Director of the University Library Archibald Cary Coolidge's wish that work in the new building should begin with efficient systems and administration in place. The students recommended the creation of a reference department, and though this suggestion was adopted-- with Assistant Librarian Walter Benjamin Briggs serving as head of the Circulation and Reference Department beginning in 1915-- the Library provided minimal reference services until the late 1930s.
Over the broad time span of this collection, the Circulation and Reference Department underwent numerous changes, shifting with modernized library processes and technologies. Namely, with the growth of the Harvard Library system (which includes 72 libraries), the functions of the department were distributed amongst various staff within specific libraries, with greater knowledge of their specific collections. Still, the essential task of reference service remains the same.
This collection is arranged in chronological groups of correspondence by academic year(s). Within groups, files are arranged alphabetically.
Former call number
UAIII 126.96.36.199 Boxes 1-30 were formerly classified as UAIII 188.8.131.52 Circulation and Reference letters, 1919-1933.
The documents in this collection are University records and were presumably acquired in the course of University business.
In the Harvard University Archives:
- Annual Reports of the Delivery Department, 1921-1944 (UAIII 50.8.114)
- Circulation and Reference Department Office files, circa 1960s (UAIII 184.108.40.206)
- Circulation and Reference Department correspondence subject file, 1930s-40s, 1962-68 (UAIII 220.127.116.11)
- Bentick-Smith, William. Building a Great Library: The Coolidge Years at Harvard. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976.
- Carpenter, Kenneth E. The First 350 Years of the Harvard University Library: Description of an Exhibition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.
This document last updated 2016 July 1.
- Coolidge, Archibald Cary, 1866-1928.
- Lane, William Coolidge, 1859-1931.
- Potter, Alfred Claghorn, 1867-1940.
- Tillinghast, William Hopkins, 1854-1913.
- Harvard College Library.
- Academic librarians.
- Academic libraries--Massachusetts--Cambridge.
- Academic libraries--Reference services.
- Harvard University--Libraries.
- Library employees.
- Universities and colleges--Libraries.
- Cambridge (Mass.)
Formats and genres
The processing of this material involved a survey of legacy data about this collection; intellectual arrangement, including integration of one related collection (see superseded call numbers); and the creation of this finding aid. Material was not examined. Titles transcribed by the archivist from legacy data.
This finding aid was created by Leah Edelman in May 2016.
Preservation and description of the Harvard College Library Circulation and Reference letters was supported by the Harvard Library's Hidden Collections initiative.
- Harvard College Library. Harvard College Library Circulation and Reference letters, 1919-1976: an inventory
- Harvard University Archives
- Language of description
- EAD ID
Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository
Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA