Mission and History

Our Mission

Harvard Divinity School Library provides scholarly resources and support services for the study of religion at Harvard, seeking to meet and anticipate users’ ever-changing needs. The library staff cultivates a welcoming, user-oriented environment for teaching, learning, and collaboration among students, scholars, and librarians and strives to remain a world-class resource for the study of religion.

A Brief History

Divinity Hall
Divinity Hall, 1826

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 Library, 1887

The collection grew quickly in those early years, due largely to gifts by faculty and alumni (especially Francis Parkman, Convers Francis, Jared Sparks, James Walker, and Thomas Hill) and to the purchase of the library of Prof. G. C. F. Lücke of Göttingen (made possible by a gift from Col. Benjamin Loring). In 1887 the Divinity Library received a home of its own in a new fire-safe building constructed next to Divinity Hall.

In 1910 Harvard Divinity School and Andover Theological Seminary formed a partnership and agreed to combine their collections in a common library. Housed in the new Andover Hall, which was built by Andover Seminary on Francis Avenue in 1911, it became the Andover-Harvard Theological Library. When the Harvard-Andover educational partnership was dissolved in 1926, HDS acquired Andover Hall, and Andover Seminary's deposits remained in the library under the terms of a continuing agreement.

Entrance to Swartz Hall

Swartz Hall and HDS Library today

After 1926 HDS continued to invest heavily in the library. In 1960 a beautiful new modern facility was constructed, which was expanded significantly in 2001. Renamed the Harvard Divinity School Library in 2021, it functions today as a constituent part of the Harvard Library with its vast network of collections and services. Its staff of highly educated and service-oriented librarians develops and stewards collections and content in a wide variety of formats and provides guidance in the practice of research that makes effective use of those resources.