I’ve loved libraries as long as I can remember (they were homes away from home during my peripatetic childhood), and I’m particularly fond of college libraries, so I’m very glad that Leslie Fields, Records Service Archivist at Smith College, has put online the excellent exhibit she created on the history of the Neilson Library at Smith that I saw in person a few months ago. Leslie is very good at this sort of thing (I still remember an exhibit on William Henry Jackson’s Yellowstone photographs she put together almost a decade ago for the Morgan when she worked there), and she’s assembled “letters, photographs, architectural drawings, ephemera, and much more” to give the viewer a good idea of what the library was like a century ago and how it’s changed since. The photograph of the stacks of the brand-new library makes me want to dive into the image and start pulling books off the shelves, the reading room of 1910 was light-filled and inviting, and this 1937 carrel (note the “hat” tag) is a timeless image of college life. Click on any of the images to enlarge them; some are quite spectacular. (Should anyone feel tempted to try doing something similar, Leslie used Omeka to create the online exhibit, and the results are certainly a good advertisement.)


  1. I adored that library, particularly sitting on the soft, wide cushions of the window seats overlooking the campus. I can still remember the heavenly scent of books, old wood, paper, wax (inside) and grass, flowers, cherry blossoms (outside). The squeak of shoes on the polished floor. The snick of the heavy wooden card catalog box when you pulled it out. The worn armchairs that cracked when you settled in. Thanks, Hat, for reminding me of all that!

  2. My pleasure, and yes, the heavy wooden card catalog box is one of the sadder casualties of modernization.

  3. I have one at home.

  4. the heavy wooden card catalog box is one of the sadder casualties of modernization
    I too regretted that loss in my alma mater, but even more I regretted the lack of the subject catalogue in the online catalogue. I was astonished. A librarian told me that students never used it! I certainly did.
    Exploring the Neilson Library history was pleasant, especially the poem with the final sad reference to the activity Webster calls sex.

  5. Sad: I meant poignant.

  6. This is just silly.

  7. Huh?

  8. It’s easy to incorporate your modern multimedia collection into your classic décor with this charming library style multimedia cabinet. Designed to look like an antique library card file with 24 square drawers, it actually has 2 large cabinet doors that swing open to reveal shelving. Features charming label holders for indexing. Holds up to 612 CDs, 298 DVDs or a combination of the two.

    Yeah, well we found ours on the street like normal people. The trouble is I could never think what to use it for. Maybe I should saw it in half and use it as a wet bar.

  9. dearieme says

    What’s a “wet bar”?

  10. One with a sink. So here a drinks cabinet with plumbing.
    It’ll look fabulous with the television in the Louis XVI armoire.

  11. I know someone who used to do that too.

  12. Drink?

  13. No, I just phrased that all wrong. I meant I know some people who in about 1980 kept their telly hidden in an enormous armoire at the end of their bed. This kind of behaviour has probably gone out of style now that tvs have lost most of their girth.

  14. bruessel says

    My parents used to have a nifty television cabinet. The added advantage was that they could just look it when they went out, so I couldn’t watch the late-night Krimi in their absence.

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