Columbia University Archives

Columbia University Library Office files, 1890-1998

Summary Information


The office files of the University Librarian's Office of Columbia University Libraries, 1889-1948, are composed is composed chiefly of correspondence sent and received between Columbia University Librarians, library staff, Columbia University administrators, and outside individuals and organizations, as well as related reports, budgets, as well as related reports, budgets, and administrative material concerning the history of the library.

At a Glance

Call No.: UA#0214
Bib ID 4078638 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Columbia University. Libraries
Title Columbia University Library Office files, 1890-1998
Physical Description 48.37 linear feet (Series I: 116 document boxes); 181.4 linear feet (Series II: 435 document boxes); 30.27 linear feet (Unprocessed: 63 document boxes, 4 record cards, 1 volume, and 1 oversize folder)
Language(s) English .

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

There are no restrictions on this collection.



Series I: Correspondence and Series II. Library Office Files are processed and arranged chronologically; the remainder of the collection is unprocessed.



The office files of the University Librarian's office of Columbia University Libraries, 1889-1948. Although chiefly the correspondence of the Library Office administrative staff, there are also forms, notices, regulations, and papers concerned with policy statements of various departments and cooperative projects in which the library participated. The correspondence and related materials cover the period, 1890-1928. In addition, there are financial records for book funds, 1944-1946; for budgets, 1916-1930 and 1935-1938; for salaries, 1889-1919; and a personnel and financial analysis, 1929-1948. There are also some administrative memoranda, 1910-1916; and annual reports of the Librarian and Supervisors, 1913-1925; committee files for the Study Committee, 1968-1969; Representative Committee of Librarians, 1973-1977; Standing Committees, 1966-1970; Division Heads Meetings, 1966-1970; Committees superceded by the Professional Advisory Committee, 1970-1972; Butler Library floor plans and furnishings; Director's Office memoranda and related files, 1943-1964; Reader Services' memoranda, 1946-1953; Supervising Librarians minutes, 1953-1958; Technical Services memoranda, 1946-1953; and printed materials: LIBRARY COLUMNS, COLUMBIA LIBRARY WORLD; and Burgess-Carpenter Library Correspondence, 1950-1975.

  • Series I. Correspondence, 1899-1926

    The records that comprise the Columbia University Library Office Files, Correspondence (1898-1926) include the institutional correspondence and related professional material from the office of the university librarian and other members of the library staff. The files track a series of changes in the university library's administration, beginning with the movement of the library uptown in 1898 to its new location within Low Library in the Morningside Heights campus and conclude in 1926 with the hiring of a new permanent head of the library, Charles C. Williamson, after a series of interim library directors. During this period, the library underwent significant changes with the institution of new efficiency measures, changes in classification systems and record-keeping (as the library instituted a modified version of the Dewey Decimal System in the early 1900s, and transferred to card-catalogs in 1904), and changes in institutional structure as new departmental and divisional libraries were established and new administrative divisions––like Accessions, Cataloging, Shelving, Serial, and Reference Departments––emerged and were codified during the first decades of the century. Canfield's efforts were to maximize the accessibility of library collections, conducting reports and surveys on the state of public libraries making efforts to establish for systematic surveys of special collections across the U.S. and to campaign to make government documents more publically accessible.

  • Series II. Library Office Files, 1890-1998

    This series contains the records transferred to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library from 1983 to 1989. These additions are made up for the most part of correspondence files, subject files or the library's Central Files, and the Director's Office files. The original order of the materials has been preserved and related additions have not been integrated but have been kept in the order and context in which they were received.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

There are no restrictions on this collection.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Columbia University Library Office Files; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.

Selected related Material-- at Columbia

Melvil Dewey papers, circa 1870-1931. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Butler Library Reference Department Files, 1904-1959. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University

Accrual of Records

Additions are expected.

Ownership and Custodial History

Transferred from Columbiana, 1954; transferred from the Library Office, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982& 1989; gift of Marianne von Dobeneck, 1989.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged 05/05/89 Christina Hilton Fenn.

Series II inventory was compiled by Molly Boord (GS 2021), Hannah Johns (SSW 2019), Jessica Liston (CC 2020) and Kelly Powers (CC 2018) in 2017-2018; Series II finding aid written by Joanna Rios, December 2018.

Revision Description

2015-8-18 xml document instance created by Sierra Eckert.

December 2018 Series II was processed and incorporated into the finding aid.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Annual reports Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Budgets Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Financial records Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Memoranda Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notices Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Payrolls Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Personnel records Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographic prints Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Regulations Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
blueprints (reprographic copies) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
minutes (administrative records) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Academic libraries -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Columbia University. Libraries -- Administration Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Historical Note

The Columbia University Library played an important role in the changing nature of the library and of American library management and administration more broadly. During the 1880s, under the direction of Melvil Dewey as the head librarian, the university became the site of the first school for professional librarian training, Melvil Dewey's School for Library Economy, which opened its doors to students in 1887. The library became a locus for the increasing professionalization of the field of library management as over the course of the 1890s, graduates of Dewey's school––many of them women––moved into staff positions within the library. The l890s marked the beginning of a period of transformation in the structure of Columbia University and its library. In the 1890s, the university established a number of its professional schools and graduate schools. Under the leadership of George Baker, from 1889-1899, the Columbia University Library expanded its collection, and James Hulme Canfield oversaw the growth of the library from the small library of Columbia College to the large metropolitan research library.