Mission and History

Our Mission

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.

A Brief History

Divinity Hall
Divinity Hall

Support for the study of religion at Harvard has had a long and important history. Almost three-fourths of the 400 volumes that John Harvard gave to the College in 1638 were theological in nature. Books on religion continued to make up a third to a half of the college’s holdings for the next two centuries. After the Divinity School was established in 1816, duplicates from the College Library were combined with new purchases to form the beginnings of a specialized library for the school. This collection was moved into Divinity Hall upon the latter’s completion in 1826.

The "New Library"
Divinity School Library

Although the collection totaled only about 3,500 books by 1852, it grew quickly after that, due largely to gifts by faculty and alumni (especially Francis Parkman, Convers Francis, Jared Sparks, James Walker, and Thomas Hill) and by the purchase of 4,000 books from the library of Prof. G. C. F. Lücke of Göttingen, made possible by a gift from Col. Benjamin Loring. By 1870 the library held 16,000 volumes but was managed only by students and recent graduates and was open for only two hours a day. In 1887 the Divinity Library finally received a home of its own in a new fire-safe building constructed next to Divinity Hall.

By 1910 the book collection of the Divinity School Library had grown to around 40,000 volumes. That year Harvard Divinity School and Andover Theological Seminary formed a partnership and agreed to house their collections together in a common library. Housed in the new Andover Hall, built by Andover Seminary on Francis Avenue in 1911, the Andover-Harvard Theological Library boasted a combined collection of around 100,000 books, not counting extensive pamphlet collections. When the educational partnership of the schools was dissolved in 1926, HDS acquired Andover Hall, and Andover Seminary's deposits remained in the library under the terms of a continuing agreement.

exterior of Andover-Harvard Theological Library against a blue sky
Andover-Harvard Theological Library
Since 1926 HDS has continued to invest in the Andover-Harvard Theological Library, whose collections have grown to include more than half a million print volumes, including a large collection of rare books; hundreds of journal subscriptions; more than a linear mile of archival materials; and large collections of digital, microform, and audiovisual resources. Stewardship of these collections and guidance in the practice of research that makes effective use of them is provided by a team of highly educated and service-oriented professional librarians. AHTL today is housed in a beautiful modern facility, constructed in 1960 and expanded in 2001, and forms a constituent part of the Harvard Library with its vast network of collections and services.