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Library Most Imposing Building in Yard


The following article on Widener Library is part of the "spiel" of Peter Kerby '38, one of the student guides of "Harvard On View," official Summer guide service to the University.

The library building on your right was given by Mrs. Eleanor Widener, of the famous Widener family of Philadelphia, in memory of her son, Harry Elkins Widener, a graduate of Harvard College in the Class of 1907 and a victim of the sinking in 1912 of the ill-fated ship Titanic.

The Harvard University library system is the largest university library system in the world. As far as this country is concerned, speaking of all libraries, we are the third largest, outranked only by the Congressional Library in Washington and the New York Public Library. As far as the world is concerned, we are the seventh largest.

This building, the Widener Library, contains approximately 2,500,000 books, while every year we add approximately 120,000 to keep up with the newer volumes published. The other million or so books of the University are housed in the various special libraries of the Houses and various departments of Harvard.

As we enter the building, on the right I should like to point out the Farnsworth Room, which is a room entirely devoted to recreational reading. There is a lady attendant there whose main job it is to make sure that students take no notes on their reading, but rather that they do read to amuse themselves.

Entering the main portion of the Library, the room to the right is known as the Treasure Room, a room open to students and Faculty only. Here Harvard has many of its rare and valuable gifts.

Directly across the hall we have a room which contains a catalogue of the United States Library of Congress. In these cases around the room the Library has placed various exhibitions from the archives, which are the most complete and consistent in this country.

Note also that we have two different types of marble used in the interior construction of this building, domestic as well as foreign.

As we ascend the stairs, we will notice the excellent murals on either side of the entrance to the Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Room. The murals are works of John Singer Sargent and were made possible by an anonymous donor in 1922.

Although Harry Elkins Widener died when he was only 27 years old, he had a very fine collection of first editions and early manuscripts. His personal collection of books are in this Memorial Room, a collection of 3300. Of especial note is the famous Shakespeare folio. Also here is a book published by William Caxton in the latter part of 1494, together with quite a complete collection of first editions of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Now, as we are going on up the stairs, straight ahead we will take a glimpse into the main reading room, which seats approximately 300 people. In the cases along the wall there are textbooks which are in use in students' courses. The special type of blue light is exceedingly "easy on the eyes."

On the right as we leave this room, the periodical room is seen in which are found periodicals and magazines from all over the world, while above on the third floor are housed special libraries.

As we descend the stairs, we have an excellent view of the stacks of the University Library. There are ten floors of fireproof stacks, seven above and three below ground. In front of you we get a better view of the murals by John Singer Sargent.

The one at the left represents Victory and Death, the soldier in the center clasping Victory in his right arm and Death in his left. The mural on the right represents the coming of the Americans to Europe. The woman with the blue gown in the foreground symbolizes France, while the woman behind her with the broken sword represents Belgium, and the third woman, with the helm, Britain.

Now we are out on the main steps of the building. Before we go on with our tour of the Yard, note please on the right Emerson Hall, named after Ralph Waldo Emerson. Here many famous philosophers have lectured as Harvard professors, including, among others. Royce, James, Palmer, and Santayana.

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