Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017...4:31 pm

“Fuel for the fire of learning”: Houghton Library Opens its Doors

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On this day seventy-five years ago, 3 January 1942, library staff and their families attended a private celebration to mark the opening of the new Houghton Library. As the Second World War raged in two theaters, William A. Jackson, the new Library’s first director, and Philip Hofer, the founding curator of its Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, were busy managing the careful transfer of some 125,000 books from the old Treasure Room in Widener Library to their elegant new home, an effort that took sixteen days to complete.


“The Treasure Room”: Invitation for 3 January 1942. UAIII – Harvard University Archives.

The formal public dedication ceremony took place on 28 February 1942. Following remarks by Harvard president James B. Conant, Arthur Amory Houghton, Jr.—Harvard alumnus, Corning Glass executive, distinguished bibliophile, and generous library benefactor—offered this solemn realization: “Upon us has fallen the responsibility of safeguarding education in its broadest and most liberal sense.” Seventy-five years on, Houghton Library remains steadfast in providing faculty, students, and researchers from Harvard and beyond, as Mr. Houghton hoped it would that cold February evening, with “fuel for the fire of learning.”

A small exhibition will be on view through March that revisits the library’s opening day through six contemporary publications, art and photographs. It is part of a year-long program of faculty and staff exhibitions, distinguished lectures, and a major symposium this fall to celebrate the momentous day when Houghton Library first opened its doors to the world. This is the first in a series of blogs commemorating Houghton Library’s 75th anniversary.

Peter X. Accardo, Coordinator of Programs, contributed this post.

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