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   Columbia University Library Office Files circa 1862-1988. [Bulk Dates: 1890-1988]

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Preferred Citation

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

COinS Metadata available (e.g., for Zotero).

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. Library Office.
Title:Columbia University Library Office Files circa 1862-1988. [Bulk Dates: 1890-1988]
Physical description:235 linear feet (circa 278,000 items in 559 boxes, 1 volume, & oversize folder).
Language(s):In English, French, German, and Spanish.
Access: Series I and II are located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.  More information »



Collection is currently being processed, arrangement being determined.

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Scope and Content

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.

Subseries I.1: General Correspondence

The general correspondence is arranged in alphabetical order and contains primarily correspondence sent and received by the university librarians, along with other library staff. Individually named and general alphabetical files are arranged in one alphabetical sequence by correspondent name or subject heading and chronologically within each letter of the alphabet by year. Notable subjects in this subseries include correspondence on budgets, library statistics, collections, and staff. Important subjects filed under sub-files are interspersed within the general alphabetical correspondence and are noted parenthetically.

Subseries I.2: Salary Letters 1900-1916

This subseries contains letters relating to employee salaries and personnel files during the period from January 1900 to November 1916. Within this subseries, items are filed alphabetically under the individual's or organization's name. Includes sub-files on Barnard College, along with related personnel and administrative files for Miss M.O. Cox, Frederick W. Erb (Loan Department), Miss Harriet B. Prescott (Catalog Department), Dr. V.G. Simkhovitch (Bibliography), and Miss Margaret Van Zandt (Order Department). For salary letters outside this range, or additional information, such as salary reports and library statistics, consult Subseries I.1, General Correspondence.

Subseries I.3: Correspondence between Librarian and President circa 1898-1914

This subseries includes correspondence between the head librarian and the university president. In addition to correspondence between James H. Canfield, William Dawson Johnston, Seth Low, and Nicholas Butler, this subseries includes annual library reports and reorganization plans and special folders on the October 1907 Inspection Trip and a special file of letters between the librarian and the president on Carnegie Retirement Pensions, with extracts from correspondence with department heads.

Subseries I.4: Material for Columbia University Library History

This subseries contains correspondence filed in preparation for a possible history of the Columbia University Libraries. Among the letters are correspondence on library funding, library collections, library buildings, and library regulations and policies. While the subseries contains a few duplicates of items from 1874 and 1862 in the first folder, the bulk of this subseries consists of material between from September 1899 to February 1902. Folder 6 includes a filing memorandum with notes on subjects covered in the history.

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Using the Collection

Partially Offsite

Access Restrictions

 Series I and II are located off-site. You will need to request this material at least two business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Restrictions on Use

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; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.

Finding aid online for unprocessed portion of the collection.

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

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About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries. Rare Book and Manuscript Library; machine readable finding aid created by Columbia University Libraries Digital Library Program Division

Processing Information

Cataloged 05/05/89 Christina Hilton Fenn.

Series II inventory was compiled by Jessica Liston (CC) and Hannah Johns (SSW) in 2017-2018; Series II finding aid written by Joanna Rios, December 2018.

Machine readable finding aid generated from MARC-AMC source via XSLT conversion June 26, 2009 Finding aid written in English. Finding aid adheres to that prescribed by Describing Archives: A Content Standard
    2015-8-18 xml document instance created by Sierra Eckert.

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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.


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Annual reports.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Financial records.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Personnel records.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID


HeadingCUL Archives:
CUL Collections:
Nat'l / Int'l Archives:
Academic libraries--New York (State)--New York.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
American Library Association.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Butler, Nicholas Murray, 1862-1947.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Canfield, James Hulme, 1847-1909.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
College and research libraries.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University--Alumni and alumnae.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University--History.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University--Libraries.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Columbia University.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Dewey, Melvil, 1851-1931.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Johnston, William Dawson, 1871-1928.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Librarians--Societies, etc.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Libraries--United States.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Library science--United States--History.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID
Low, Seth, 1850-1916.PortalCLIOArchiveGRID

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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.

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