Mission and History


Andover-Harvard Theological Library provides access to and guidance in the use of scholarly resources for the teaching and research activities of Harvard Divinity School and the wider University. By delivering exceptional services, the library seeks to meet and anticipate changing scholarly needs. The library cultivates a welcoming, user-oriented environment for teaching, learning, and collaboration among students, scholars, and librarians, and strives to remain a source of world-class collections for the study of religion.


Why Is the Library Called Andover-Harvard?

Andover Hall reading room.
Andover Hall reading room.

What we know as Andover-Harvard Theological Library was formed by an agreement in 1910 that brought together the collections of Harvard Divinity School and Andover Seminary in the fall of 1911 in the newly completed Andover Hall. This new facility included a reference and reading room (now the Sperry Room) and a fireproof stack for about 200,000 volumes, capable of indefinite enlargement. There were about 100,000 books (62 percent Andover; 38 percent Harvard), not including the extensive pamphlet collections.

When the educational partnership of the schools was dissolved in 1926, Andover's books remained in this library. They remain here today as the property of Andover Newton Theological School under the terms of an agreement with Andover Newton Theological School.


Religious books at Harvard have had a long and important history. Almost three-fourths of John Harvard's gift in 1638 of 400 volumes were theological. In the first printed catalog of the College Library (1723), two-thirds of the 3,500 titles were on the subject of religion. When the College Library burned in 1764, half of the 404 books that had been charged out (and thus saved from the flames) were religious books. The theological section was 30 percent of the College Library in 1830.

Divinity Hall
Divinity Hall.

A reading room ('at all times open') for theological students was established in 1812, with duplicates from the College Library. When Divinity Hall was completed in 1826, this library, enhanced by purchases for the newly established Divinity School, was moved there. Because of problems with the maintenance of Divinity Hall in the early 1830s, the Corporation moved the library back to the College Library in Harvard Hall. After negotiations by Dean John G. Palfrey, most of the library returned to Divinity Hall. Though the collection only totaled 3,495 books in 1852, it grew quickly, largely due to the gifts of faculty and alumni (Francis Parkman, Convers Francis, Jared Sparks, James Walker, and Thomas Hill) and by the purchase (made possible by a gift from Colonel Benjamin Loring) of 4,000 books from the library of Professor G. C. F. Lücke of Göttingen.

The "New Library"
The "New Library".

Conditions in the library, which now occupied six rooms in Divinity Hall, were far from ideal. There was no reading area and the library was open for only two hours a day. By 1870, the library included 16,000 volumes; it was managed, however, only by students and graduates. Security was an important issue. The Report of the Dean for 1871/72 noted that students were about as familiar with the library and its contents as with those of their own rooms, and regarded them with a feeling too much the same. A new fire-safe building to house the library (as well as lecture rooms) was finally completed in 1887 (this building is today incorporated into the Harvard Herbarium). 


The library was always important to Andover Seminary. The monetary gifts in 1808 from Samuel Abbot and others provided for a building with an apartment for a library (along with a chapel and lodging rooms). In 1818, the new chapel building included space for the library. In 1866, Brechin Hall was constructed as a separate library building.

Its growth in volumes was faster than at Harvard. Around 1840, there were 12,000 volumes, including the important purchases made in Germany by Edward Robinson, archaeologist, linguist, professor, and librarian. In 1847, the theological portion (about 1,250 volumes) of the library of John Codman of Dorchester was purchased. During the 1850s and through the Civil War, the collection included about 22,000 volumes. With the purchase of the library of Professor C. W. Niedner of Berlin (7,000 volumes) and the gift of about 8,000 pamphlets collected by the Rev. W. B. Sprague (compiler of Annals of the American Pulpit), the library grew to 30,000 volumes in the 1870s. In 1885 the widow of John C. Phillips added more than 300 volumes; in 1886 a separate reference library was opened. In 1894 there were over 50,000 volumes, and in 1908 there were over 60,000. Important librarians at Andover were Samuel Farrar (1808-30; 1833-44), William L. Ropes (1866-1905), and Owen Gates (appointed in 1905), who became the first librarian of the joint Andover-Harvard Library.


See our complete list of librarians of Andover-Harvard Theological Library.

For more information about the history of Andover-Harvard Theological Library, see:

  • Henry J. Cadbury. 'Religious Books at Harvard.' Harvard Library Bulletin 5 (1951), pp. 159-180.
  • George Huntston Williams (ed.). The Harvard Divinity School: Its Place in Harvard University and in American Culture. Boston: Beacon Press, 1954. [Esp. the section beginning on p. 165, 'The Later Years (1880-1953),' by Levering Reynolds, Jr.]
  • Alan Seaburg. 'An Enlightened Ministry: Andover-Harvard Theological Library, 1950-1980.' Harvard Library Bulletin, v. 29, no. 3 (July 1981), pp. 307-320.
  • James Tanis. 'The Library and Its Role in the Divinity School.' Harvard Divinity Bulletin, v. 16, no. 2 (Jan. 1962), pp. 19-22.