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A History of Libraries at GW

The 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 George Washington University:

1821 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.

1823 In October the ship Electra arrived in Philadelphia carrying philosophical apparatus and books for the Columbian College.

1827 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.

1853 The library now numbering around 6,000 volumes, mostly theological in nature, and still occupying the original two rooms in the College building, came in for criticism from the Committee on Library and Apparatus. Complaints were voiced on the paucity of books of all kinds, except in theology, and on the need for more space, as well as for the preparation of a catalogue.

1868 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 was also the beginning of a medical library.

1884 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 the site at the time.

1887 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.

1906 The library of the late Professor Richard Heinzel, of Vienna, containing 7,200 books and pamphlets in Germanic philology and literature and related fields, was acquired.

1907 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.

1908 Through the generosity of the famous benefactor of libraries, Andrew Carnegie, and other donors, the Mount Vernon Alcove of the Political Sciences which covered the fields of international law and the social sciences was founded.

1912 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.

1925 The Law School library was named the Maury Memorial Law Library.

1930 The library received as a gift a very fine example of incunabula entitled Summa de Casibus Conscientiae, a theological work by Astesanus de Aste, and printed by Johann of Cologne and Johann Manthen, two of the important early Venetian printers.

1939 The new University Library building was opened on the site of the demolished St. Rose's Industrial School which had housed the library for 27 years, the new quarters taking the name The Abram Lisner Hall, from the former Trustee and generous benefactor who donated the funds for its construction.

1950 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, containing 1,500 books and pamphlets, in addition to a number of photographs, prints and water colors, 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.

1966 The Trustees adopted a recommendation to initiate construction of the Law Library.

1967 The main reading room of the new National Law Center was named in honor of Newell Ellison.

The Jacob Burns Law Library was completed.

1970 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.

1971 The groundbreaking ceremony for the new George Washington University Library building was held on February 15th. The new library is located at 2130 H Street, NW.

1973 The GW University Library was completed October 13th: a special Convocation was held for the dedication of the University Library.

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.

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 1500 periodicals the facility marked a new beginning for medical library research at the University.

1979 James B. Alsip was named new University Librarian.

1980 The University Library becomes the Melvin Gelman Library at a Service of Naming on May 14th. Melvin Gelman was an alumnus and generous benefactor of the University.

1982 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.

1984 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 receives 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.

1986 On July 11 the Library Council of the Consortium agrees 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 will become the Gelman Library Information Service (GLIS).

1987 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).

1988 The Gelman Library began a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission for 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 the Library of Congress.

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

1989 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 ALADIN, the purchase of compact shelving and shift of collections, the purchase of additional computers, and enhancements to the book collection.

1991: The Virginia Campus Library opened.

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 will be housed in the Department of Special Collections.

1992 Dr. Sharon Rogers became the new Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at GW. That same year Deborah Masters was appointed Interim University Librarian.

1993 The Gelman Library celebrated its twentieth anniversary. The Friends of the Libraries marked their 20th Anniversary.

1995: Jack A. Siggins began as the 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.

1997-1998 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 CIRC, unveiled the networked study carrels on the 4th and 5th floors. Students are 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 The Gelman Library, in partnership with the Computer and Information Resource Center, unveiled the networked study carrels on the 4th and 5th floors and made notebook computers available to students.

1998 - 1999 GW became a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).

Rennovations of the sixth and seventh floors are complete and open for use.

2001 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.

2004 A Starbucks is installed on the first floor of the Gelman Library.

2005 The Special Collections and University Archives Department moved to new facilities on the 7th Floor of the Gelman Library.

2005 Sprinklers were installed throughout the Gelman Library.

2006 GW received the historic records from PNC-Riggs Bank Archives that were valued at more than $5 million. Included in the gift are records documenting personal finances of Abraham Lincoln, Francis Scott Key, and Susan B. Anthony.

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