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The History of Neilson Library

Exterior front view of Library, 1909.


The core of Neilson Library was built in 1909, funded by a gift from Andrew Carnegie with matching gifts from alumnae and friends. It was expanded in 1937 and, in 1946, named the William Allan Neilson Library in honor of the College’s third president. In 1962, two more wings were added and extensive interior rearrangements made.

Another major expansion and renovation began in 1978 and was completed with the rededication of Neilson Library in November 1982 and of the converted Alumnae Gymnasium in May 1983. In 2000 an electronic classroom was created; in 2007 the Information Commons was opened; and today a new reading room is being planned for the ground floor. The uses of the Library building have evolved through each of these stages as the Library’s collections, services, and programs grow.

Today the mission of the Smith College Libraries is to advance teaching, learning, research, and discovery for Smith students, faculty, and staff by offering collections in multiple formats, access to information worldwide, and services responsive to users’ needs. Neilson Library primarily supports the humanities and social sciences with books, periodicals, theses, microforms, and online databases.

The library also houses The Mortimer Rare Book Room, formed by removing fifteenth- and sixteenth-century books from the Neilson stacks in the early 1940s. The collection has grown to over 40,000 items and has expanded beyond its original role as protector of early printed artifacts.

The Alumnae Gymnasium, connected to Neilson Library, houses the Sophia Smith Collection, the oldest national repository for primary sources in women’'s history, and the College Archives, which documents the history of Smith.

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The History of Neilson Library