Cornell’s First University Librarian

The Early Cornell Library. McGraw Hall, ca. 1875.

When McGraw Hall opened in 1872, Willard Fiske supervised the Library’s move from its temporary quarters in Morrill Hall. Cornell’s Library would remain in McGraw Hall until 1891, when its first dedicated library building (now Uris Library) was built.

Fiske arrived in Ithaca to assume his new post in December 1868 and confronted a mountain of unorganized books. White had spent the previous two years building a core library collection for the new university, canvassing the bookshops of Europe and sending crates back to Ithaca. In the summer of 1868 White acquired 7,000 volumes from the library of Columbia University classics professor Charles Anthon, and a large library of philological books from Professor Franz Bopp of Berlin. One of Fiske’s first jobs was to move the books to the two middle rooms of Morrill Hall, and to classify and arrange them. According to the Librarian’s first report to the Trustees in June 1869, the collection already comprised nearly 24,000 volumes. The growing library spent its first three years in Morrill Hall, moving to McGraw Hall when that building opened in 1872. The Library remained in McGraw Hall until 1891, when Cornell’s first University Library building (now Uris Library) was built.

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