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After renovation, John Hay collections to be more accessible

The John Hay Library includes 200 named collections and houses more than 3 million items

Though it lacks the broad sciences or humanities stock of the more-trafficked Sciences Library and John D. Rockefeller Library, the John Hay Library has gained a reputation for its elegant architecture and the more than three million items it houses from antiquity to the present.

But the class of 2017 will have to wait until next year to explore the Hay’s treasures. This year, the Hay is undergoing major renovations which will modify the library’s main reading room and are aimed to make the imposing edifice more welcoming to the public.


From soldiers to science

The Hay houses more than 200 named collections ranging from the history of science to children’s literature. Many of these extensive collections came to the library as gifts.

“Individuals who have been collecting these pieces throughout their lives look to pass it on to a repository where they know it will be used, appreciated and taken care of,” said Thomas Horrocks, director of Special Collections and the John Hay Library.

The Lincoln Collection, which consists of more than 30,000 items about President Abraham Lincoln, was purchased for the University by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Horrocks said. Rockefeller continued to purchase Lincoln-related material, donating these pieces to Brown and funding the creation of the Hay’s Lincoln Room, Horrocks added.

In addition to the Lincoln Collection, the Hay also houses the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, composed of military iconography. One of the largest of its kind, the collection contains printed books, sketch books, scrapbooks and a set of 5,000 miniature lead soldiers, among other items.

“It is unusual to see a woman was collecting military history — most of the collectors were men. But she was a pioneer and assembled a great collection,” Horrocks said.

The Hay is also home to the Lownes Collection, which consists of historical works in the sciences. It includes a rare edition of Audubon’s “Birds of America,” which is often brought out when students or visitors stop by the Hay.

“It is one of the premier history of science collections, and we continue to add to it,” Horrocks said.

At other special libraries, materials are usually used mainly by graduate students and scholars around the world, Horrocks said. But the  Hay is heavily used by undergraduates.

“We have three seminar rooms within the Hay that are used almost every day of the week and meet several times during the day,” said University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi. “Faculty ask that materials are brought so that students can touch and see the real thing.”


Keeping the old, in with the new

Since the 1930s, the reading room on the first floor of the library has been divided into three sections. The center section was mainly used by students for reading special collection materials, while staff used the other two sections. But the current renovations will change this division.

The new floor plan for the reading room will open up the entire space for the public and serve as an area for “general reading,” Hemmasi said. “The feature of the renovation is to open up this space and make it available to students,” Hemmasi added.

Other areas of renovation include turning the room that originally stored the University archives into a second state-of-the-art special collections reading room. Changes will also include adding a small seminar room, a student lounge and more exhibit space. An accessible entrance is also being added to the building.

The University has hired specialists with previous experience renovating museums and special libraries, Barbara Schulz, head of library facilities, said.

“We’ve designed lighting fixtures for this grand reading room that are similar to the ones that are depicted in original photos,” Schulz added. “They’ll be LED lights ... so you get the Old World look with current technology.”

To protect materials during the renovations, some of the collections have been moved to a library shelving facility in Cranston, R.I., though most remain in non-renovated sections of the library, Hemmasi said. For students interested in accessing the collections during the renovations, many of the materials can be found online, Hemmasi added.

Library staff members hope these new changes will help increase foot traffic through the library so staff can inform more visitors about exhibits, library materials and upcoming lectures, Horrocks said.

Staff members are also considering extending library hours when the building reopens, Hemmasi said.

Construction is expected to end in the fall of 2014.



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