Today’s Hours

Gelman Library:

Ask Us

A History of Libraries at GW

The Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library opened in 1973 and received its current name in 1980.

The Jacob Burns Law Library opened in 1967. The Law Library was formerly located in Stockton Hall. Before Stockton Hall was built in 1925, the law library had several homes dating back to 1865.

The Paul Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library opened in 1973. Prior to the current library, the Medical School library was located on H Street.

The following is a select chronology of events related to the libraries of The George Washington University:


The Columbian College Library began its existence, occupying two rooms on the second and third floors of the newly erected College building on College Hill, north of what is now Florida Avenue, between 14th and 15th Streets, N.W. Later in the year, faculty members were sent to Europe to procure library books, among other items.


In October the ship Electra arrived in Philadelphia, carrying philosophical apparatus and books for the Columbian College.


The 3,034 volumes in the library in 1825, along with other assets of the College, were conveyed in trust to three distinguished citizens to be held by them for the benefit of creditors.


The library, now numbering around 6,000 volumes, mostly theological in nature, and still occupying the original two rooms in the College building, faced criticism from the Committee on Library and Apparatus. Complaints noted the paucity of books of all kinds, except in theology, and the need for more space as well as the preparation of a catalogue.


Shortly after the end of the war, the Hospital and Medical School moved to 1335 H Street. The Evening Express of August 24, 1868, described W.W. Corcoran's gift of the building as a place for students to "practice application of bandages and surgical appliances to use the microscope, and to practice on the manikin." It also housed the beginning of a medical library.


The now Columbian University Library (the change from Columbian College to Columbian University occurred in 1873) moved from College Hill to the new University building at 15th and H Streets, along with other segments of the University transferring to that site.


Through President Welling's efforts, the Trustees of the University made what was then a very substantial appropriation toward the revival of the law library and the purchase of books.


The library acquired the collection of the late Professor Richard Heinzel of Vienna, containing 7,200 books and pamphlets in Germanic philology and literature and related fields.


Added to the above was the acquisition of the library of the late Professor Curt Wachsmuth of Leipzig, consisting of 7,900 books and pamphlets in Greek and Roman literature, archaeology, and history.


Through the generosity of the famous benefactor of libraries, Andrew Carnegie, and other donors, the Mount Vernon Alcove of the Political Sciences was founded, covering the fields of international law and the social sciences.


Shifted again, the library moved into a large room on the first floor of the building previously housing St. Rose's Industrial School at 2023 G Street. Subsequently it expanded into an additional room on the second floor of the three-story building.


The Law School library was named the Maury Memorial Law Library.


The library received as a gift a very fine example of incunabula entitled Summa de Casibus Conscientiae, a theological work by Astesanus de Aste printed by Johann of Cologne and Johann Manthen, two important early Venetian printers.


The new University Library building was opened on the site of the demolished St. Rose's Industrial School which had housed the library for twenty-seven years. The new quarters took the name The Abram Lisner Hall, after the former Trustee and generous benefactor who donated the funds for its construction.


This year marked the acquisition by gift from Miss Matilda Wright, as a memorial to her brother, W. Lloyd Wright, of the latter's collection on the City of Washington. The gift included 1,500 books and pamphlets, in addition to a number of photographs, prints and watercolors, letters, documents, and other memorabilia covering the period from the 1790s to 1950.

The 60,000 volume library of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, covering the subjects of international law and relations, history, and economics, was purchased.


The Trustees adopted a recommendation to initiate construction of the Law Library.


The main reading room of the new National Law Center was named in honor of Newell Ellison.

The Jacob Burns Law Library was completed.


The University celebrated the acquisition of the 500,000th volume in the combined University libraries' collections--a manuscript copy of Elmer Louis Kayser's book, Bricks Without Straw: the Evolution of George Washington University.


The groundbreaking ceremony for the new George Washington University Library building at 2130 H Street, NW, was held on February 15th.


The GW University Library was completed October 13th; a special Convocation was held for its dedication.

The University's new medical school building and medical library--Walter G. Ross Hall and the Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library--was completed. This new facility replaced the outdated facilities at 13th and H Streets.

The Paul Himmelfarb Library was designed to be attractive as well as efficient, embodying new ideas in audiovisual equipment. It has a closed-circuit system to pick up lectures and demonstrations from any part of the Medical Center. With a seating capacity of 399 and room for 80,000 volumes and 1,500 periodicals, the facility marked a new beginning for medical library research at the University.


James B. Alsip was named new University Librarian.


The University Library became the Melvin Gelman Library at a Service of Naming on May 14th. Melvin Gelman was an alumnus and generous benefactor of the University.


The National Law Center expansion program began with the renovation of the Jacob Burns Law Library and Stockton Hall. Bacon Hall was replaced by a new classroom building.


Dr. Sharon Rogers became the University Librarian.

The Gelman Library celebrated its tenth anniversary (1983-84 academic year). At a ceremony on March 28th, the library received its one millionth volume, the Property of Samuel Blodget. Blodget was an early landowner in the District of Columbia.

The Jacob Burns Law Library was dedicated on Thursday, October 18th.


On July 11 the Library Council of the Consortium agreed to accept the recommendation of the Project Review Group that NOTIS be the preferred computer system to be used by the Washington Consortium.

The Friends of the Libraries publication, Friend's Newsletter, was launched.

The Friends of the Libraries hosted the official presentation to Gelman Library of the Archive of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Washington.

A fee-based information service was set up in the Gelman Library. This service became the Gelman Library Information Service (GLIS).


The card catalog was converted to compact disk.

The newly renovated Gelman Library was formally opened on August 1987 (Gelman remodeling project first-floor renovation).


With a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Gelman Library began the creation of a University Archives and Records Program at the University.

The Gelman Library acquired a basic collection of Yiddish books from the National Yiddish Book Center. This, combined with other Yiddish volumes previously owned by the Library, is the largest Yiddish collection in the District of Columbia, except for that of the Library of Congress.

The Educational Commission of the People's Republic of China donated 1,000 volumes of Chinese literature.


The creation of the library student tuition gift fund, initiated by President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in 1989-90, was an important component in providing for the implementation of the ALADIN online catalog, the purchase of compact shelving, the shifting of library materials, the purchase of additional computers, and enhancements to the book collection.


The Virginia Campus Library opened on the new GW campus in Ashburn, VA (now the Virginia Science & Technology Campus). It was designed to meet the specialized needs of non-residential graduate students enrolled in intensive cohort programs at the Virginia Campus, offering a small curriculum-focused collection and services supporting distance learning.

The Graduate Study and Twenty-Four Hour Reading Room was dedicated.

Walter E. Fauntroy, long-time delegate to Congress, donated his papers to the University. They are housed in Gelman Library's Special Collections Research Center.


Dr. Sharon Rogers became the new Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at GW. That same year Deborah Masters was appointed Interim University Librarian.


The Gelman Library celebrated its twentieth anniversary. The Friends of the Libraries marked their 20th Anniversary.


Jack A. Siggins began serving as University Librarian.

The Gelman Library hosted the welcoming reception for the National Security Archive on January 31, 1995.

The Gelman Library became a smoke free building.

The Himmelfarb Library acquired a new integrated library system.

In 1995-96, the Library implemented a new CD-ROM LAN as the first step towards campus-wide and remote access to these information sources.


The Gelman Library celebrated the gift of an extensive Judaica collection from Dr. and Mrs. Ari Kiev. The I. Edward Kiev Collection is housed in the Kiev Room on the Seventh Floor.

The Lower Level was remodeled to accommodate 60 new computer terminals available to students 24 hours a day; a resource center for faculty to develop new multimedia instructional programs; and a student facility for computerized self-instruction. 

The Library, in partnership with the Computer and Information Resource Center (CIRC), unveiled the networked study carrels on the 4th and 5th floors in 1998. Students were able to check out notebook computers and use them to search ALADIN at 61 carrels.

In 1996 Mount Vernon College announced plans to affiliate with The George Washington University. In 1998 GW and Mount Vernon College began an eighteen-month transition to The George Washington University at Mount Vernon College. As a result of the affiliation the Eckles Memorial Library, located on the campus of the Mount Vernon College, became a part of the University library system.

1998 - 1999

GW became a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).

Renovations of the sixth and seventh floors were completed and opened for use.


The Web Team launched a completely redesigned Library web site of over 1,200 pages.

The Gelman Library raised funds for the two-millionth volume, Illustrated Atlas of the United States, and Adjacent Countries, and the two-million–and-first volume, Web of Science.


A Starbucks is installed on the first floor of the Gelman Library.


The Special Collections and University Archives Department moved to new facilities on the 7th Floor of the Gelman Library.


Sprinklers were installed throughout the Gelman Library.


GW received the historic records from PNC-Riggs Bank Archives, valued at more than $5 million. Included in the gift are records documenting the personal finances of Abraham Lincoln, Francis Scott Key, and Susan B. Anthony.