The school's first separate library building was constructed in 1886-87 near Divinity Hall. Designed by the Boston architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns, it had thick brick walls with brownstone trimmings and Gothic ornamental details, iron staircases, gables and chimneys, and a masonry porch. When its building was proposed, Acting Dean Francis G. Peabody suggested it should be part of a "Divinity quadrangle." Today the building is part of the Harvard University Herbaria at 20 Divinity Avenue.
The following extracts from the annual HDS Dean's Reports chronicle the Library's progress:
Dean's Report, 1883/84: The number of bound volumes was found to be larger than previous estimates had indicated, owing to the fact that in former enumerations, pamphlets after being bound had still been reckoned as pamphlets and not as volumes. The card-catalogue increased slowly during the year and a beginning was made in a card subject-catalogue.
I canot omit reference to the generous donation by Mrs. Ezra of a large part of Dr. Abbot's library, the gift including nearly four thousand volumes. Mrs. Abbot, without making any formal condition upon which the gift depends, yet states in her letter of donation that she should be glad to be assured of two things: first, that the collection shall be kept, under the title of the Ezra Abbot Library, so far intact as is consistent with its usefulness; second, that there shall be secured as soon as possible for this collection, and for the rest of the Divinity School library, a more adequate and safe place of deposit. The nature of the collection will probably make it easy to fulfil to a large extent the first of these requests. The second brings to light a need of the School that has been long felt and which is made by this gift more pressing, that of a fire-proof library distinct from Divinity Hall, but easily accessible from it. This is important for the preservation of our books, for the encouragement of future donations, and for making possible the transferance from Gore Hall of volumes important to students of Theology. Such transferance is made to some departmental libraries to the great advantage of students in these departments. It cannot be done in the case of Divinity library, as the risk from fire is too great.
Among the donations received during the last year may be men-tioned an anonymous gift of $750, and a gift of $450 from George S. Hale, Esq. This latter amount is, at the request of Mr. Hale, devoted to the purchase of books for the library.
Dean's Report, 1884/85: The Progress of the Scheme for a New Library Building
This demand, it will be remembered, was made imperative by the gift of the Ezra Abbot library. During the past year satisfactory plans have been secured, the estimates for which amount to $35,000. Individual subscriptions, and the gift of the Society for Promoting Theological Education, have reached a sum within ten thousand dollars of the amount needed, and it is safe to hope that the building will be erected during the summer of 1886. It seems best to urge, however, that this is not the end of the expenditure on buildings which the School immediately needs. It is absolutely necessary that Divinity Hall should be so renovated as to make it a modern and attractive building. The Divinity School deserves to be as well housed as the rest of the University, and it is at present in great contrast with all other departments. It should be, in my opinion, the purpose of the Corporation to utilize for the Divinity School the square of ground which lies behind Divinity Hall, and to develop it into a quadrangle of the same general form as the quadrangle of the Agassiz Museum. Of this space, Divinity Hall would form the front, the new library building should be the north side and would be connected with Divinity Hall by a covered passage. On the south side should be placed a new and more commodious chapel, and the rear should be for the present left open to the woods beyond. (Francis G. Peabody, Acting Dean)
Dean's Report, 1885/86: The most marked event of the year was the laying the foundation of a new building to contain fire-proof accommodation for the library, a reading-room and lecture-rooms. The generosity of the friends of the School which made this erection possible is most gratefully acknowledged. A list of gifts and donors will be found in the Treasurer's report. Special mention should be made, however, of the great service rendered by the Society for Promoting Theological Education. This society, to which the School has been so much indebted from the time of its first independent existence, entered most heartily into the work, made a generous appropriation of the funds that are in its hands, and appointed a committee of its members, who cooperated effectually with the acting Dean in his energetic and successful efforts to raise the money necessary for this building. The commencement of the work was delayed by the disturbances in labor which in the last year interrupted so much of the business of the country, but it will probably be completed during the current year. ...
The Librarian reports an addition to the library during the year of 539 volumes; 380 volumes were, however, sold during the year, these being duplicate copies which were not needed. The net increase in volumes is thus 180. By this sale the sum of $150 was realized, which will be expended in the purchase of new books. The library contains at present 17,569 volumes and 2308 pamphlets. This statement does not include nearly 4000 volumes, which formed a part of the library of the. late Professor Ezra Abbot, and which, as was stated in a former report, were presented to the Library of the Divinity School by Mrs. Abbot. Although these books belong to the library they cannot actually form a part of it until the building now in process of construction shall be completed.
Dean's Report, 1887/1888: In 1887-88 the School enjoyed for the first time the use of the new library building. It proved both pleasant and convenient, and now appears to have been indispensable to the best work of the School. The use of the library has increased at least three-fold since the change.
By the erection of the new building, the space in Divinity Hall that had been given up to the library and to lecture rooms was set at liberty. With the exception of the Chapel, Divinity Hall is now entirely used for students' chambers. By the change six additional room are gained, and one room that, had ben encroached upon by a lecture room was restored to its original proportions. The addition to the rent of the building that comes from these sources is $350. ...
The removal of the library to the new building made imperative what had long been desirable, a new arrangement and cataloguing of the books. The last year all the books were classified and arranged upon the shelves in accordance with the classification. They were also relabeled within and without. All needful preparations were made for commencing a card-catalogue this year. The School is indebted to the experience, ingenuity, and efficiency of the librarian, D. J. H.. Ward, Ph.D., for much of the success with which these changes have been accomplished. Professor Thayer, the chairman of the Library Committee, has also given much time and thought to the matter.
Dean's Report, 1888/89: The new library proved itself even more useful than in the preceding year. During the latter part of the year it was open in the evening, as well as during the day, and was largely frequented. The use of this room has been extended to College students taking Divinity School courses, for which no books are reserved in Gore Hall; to clergymen resident in Cambridge, and to students in the Episcopal Theological School. This last provision was made in response to a petition from two or three members of that School that they might be allowed to make such use of the library.
The "Faculty-room," which serves also as the Dean's office, proves a great convenience. The Dean is there at a certain time every day; and the room being directly opposite to the reading-room, it easy and natural for the students to have communication with him. The need is already felt, however, of a larger lecture-room, as it is very desirable that all the lectures which primarily belong to the Divinity School should be given in connection with it. The large attendance of College students renders this, in some cases, impossible. It would be well if there could be found a way to throw two of the lecture-rooms together when a larger hall is needed.
The School received the last year from Mr. Stephen Salisbury of Worcester a valuable gift of 65 Babylonian written tablets. Of such tablets there are now about 150 in the collection of the school, including six which belong to the University. It is greatly to be desired that these might serve as the nucleus of a Semitic Museum, in which Palestinian antiquities and other objects of interest should have a prominent place ...
The work of cataloguing was continued during the year. Though this involvrs an expenditure which the School at present can ill afford, it is a work of absolute necessity.
Dean's Report, 1889/90: Of the accessions 192 volumes and 1 pamphlet were purchased. The most important gift of the year was that of 47 volumes by bequest of Rev. William Silsbee. This was increased by the gift of 22 volumes made by his widow from his library. Books and pamphlets (of the latter 1383) were given by Mrs. Henry W. Foote from the library of her late husband. Similar gifts from the library of Dr. Hedge were made by his children. 30 volumes and 43 pamphlets were received from the American Unitarian Association, through which gift we have all of the publications of this Association which are now in print.
The important work of cataloguing the Library has been diligent carried on during the year. The object of the catalogue is not merely to enable a person to obtain books, the titles and authors of which., knows, but also to make it possible for any one wishing to consult Library in regard to any topic to learn what is the help which Library can give him. Books are thus catalogued, not only as title and author; there is also given, so far as important books and subjects are concerned, some analysis of their contents. To take and obvious example, one studying in regard to the authorship of the fourth Gospel might perhaps have no idea that in Ezra Abbot's "Critical Essays" is contained one of the most important discussions of this subject. In the new catalogue, under the appropriate heading, reference will be made to this and to other discussions that are worth consulting. This analysis obviously requires to be made very fully and with great judgment. It requires, also, learning both general and special. We are fortunate in having to conduct this work a librarian so well fitted for it as Robert S. Morison, A.M., a graduate of the School. This work involves an expenditure which the School is hardly able to bear, but the need is so pressing that the work cannot be deferred. From the nature of the case the process is a slow one, especially as those engaged in it have other duties in connection with the Library. During the year 3180 volumes were cataloged.
The greater part of the use of the Library is that of the reserved books in the reference room; of this no statistics can be given. From October 1st, 1889, to June 30th, 1890, there were taken from stack 758 volumes, and from the reserved books, for use over night, 665 volumes. There was a tolerably steady increase, month by month, in the number of books borrowed from the stack. The number of such books in October this year was more than a third larger than that in October, 1889.
In my last report reference was made to the value of objects illustrating Biblical subjects. Since that time a gift of money has been announced from Mr. Jacob H. Schiff to the University for the beginning of a Semitic museum. While this museum will have no organic connection with the School, its resources will always be at the service of Divinity Students, and cannot fail to increase interest among us in the study of the Bible. The School may congratulate itself on having within easy reach collections so intimately connected with Biblical peoples and history.
See also: "The Harvard Divinity School Library." Library Journal, v. 13, no. 2 (Feb. 1888), p. 42-43. Reprinted from the Christian Register.