Recent Publications | May 30, 2023

I Give These Books: The History of Yale University Library

Oak Knoll Press

The founding, organization, and expansion of a major American university library over more than three centuries is the focus of I Give These Books: The History of Yale University Library 1656 - 2022 by David Alan Richards, published by Oak Knoll Press.

The disparate stories of the libraries of the fledgling colleges in the colonies of the Eastern Seaboard, beginning more than 150 years before the Declaration of Independence, has been recorded occasionally in scattered scholarly journals, but never has there appeared a fully-fledged history of the library of one of Americas oldest universities from its founding through the present day.

The first gift for a college library in New Haven was made in 1656, almost half a century before Yale College itself was founded, with books from Europe and England brought by Puritans to Boston, seeking to found their own colony. They had travelled in 1637 in the same ship with John Harvard and his books, bequeathed at his death to a new college in Cambridge, Massachusetts which took his name. Most of Yale’s ten founding trustees were themselves educated at Harvard, but these ministers of congregations along Long Island Sound deposited their vellum-bound volumes to form their schools first roomful of folios and quartos in New Haven in 1701.

In time, 18th century tutors who acted as book keepers gave way to 19th century librarians who labored to produce catalogues with classification systems that allowed the growing collections to be organized and retrieved. Those collections themselves were first solicited from overseas donors, then were augmented by personal libraries from faculty members, and then through alumni endowments began to be acquired by purchase in Europe, exchange with other institutions, and even through rare book auctions.

The struggles of the 18th century in acquisition gave way to the efforts of the 19th century, to house their expanding numbers in ever larger buildings. In the 20th century, the Yale University Library was transformed from a storehouse to a workshop, for faculty and student researchers alike in both Yale College and the university’s burgeoning graduate and
professional schools. Now, in the 21st century have arisen the new challenges of the digital world and the preservation and transmission of its products, which the Library is pioneering.

With undergraduate degrees with honors in history from Yale College and Cambridge University, where he was a Keasbey Scholar, and a law degree from Yale Law School, David Alan Richards is the author of Rudyard Kipling: The Books I Leave Behind, Rudyard Kipling: A Bibliography, and Skulls and Keys: The Hidden History of Yale’s Secret Societies. He is the president of the London-based Kipling Society and was a longtime officer of the Grolier Club of New York City.