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The institution, the building, and the people of the Beinecke

Beinecke Timeline: The First Fifty Years

Celebrating the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library with highlights from the past 50 years.

In the beginning

In the late 1950s, interest in rare books, the extraordinary philanthropy of the Beineckes, the University’s pressing need for a special collections library, and the genius of architect Gordon Bunshaft came together to give us the Beinecke Library.


— From Barbara A. Shailor’s introduction to The Beinecke Library of Yale University (2003)

1960 February 15

The architect’s model of the new Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is unveiled in the nave of Sterling Memorial Library. 

1961 May 1

Ground is broken for the Beinecke Library and construction begins.


Herman W. (“Fritz”) Liebert (far left) is appointed librarian of Beinecke.

1963 August 12

Books and manuscripts begin to be moved from Sterling to Beinecke.

The 1960s

Under the leadership of Herman W. Liebert, the Beinecke Library began its extraordinary history of gathering significant collections and notable single manuscripts. Just six months into its new life, the library acquired a large gathering of papyri. Two of the Beinecke’s best known manuscripts entered the collections during these years: the Vinland Map and the Voynich Manuscript. During these years of student unrest, the Hewitt Quadrangle, soon known as Beinecke Plaza, was the scene of anti-war protests, sit-ins, and all manner of student gatherings, from groovy to angry.

1963 October 14

The Beinecke Library opens to the public.

1964 Spring

The Beinecke makes a legendary papyrus purchase.


The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation is published on Columbus Day, setting of protests from the New Haven Italian community and years of scholarly controversy about the map’s authenticity.


Paul Mellon donates his collection of 330 alchemical books and manuscripts. 

The 1970s

While the Beinecke Library’s public profile was not as high in this decade as it would become in the next, the stream of notable acquisitions continued, from 16th century printings, to Western Americana, to the archives of important modernist writers.


Two hundred incunables are added to the library’s holdings as the Edwin J. Beinecke Memorial Collection.

1971 November

The library receives Frederick W. Beinecke’s bequest of his Western Americana Collection, culminating two decades of gifts in kind and purchases for the Yale Collection of Western Americana. 


For its tenth anniversary, the library published the first guide to its collections.


Louis L. Martz begins his five-year tenure as director of the Beinecke Library.


The previously restricted Edith Wharton papers open after lengthy legal negotiations. A line of eager scholars forms outside the revolving door at 8:30 in the morning.

1975 October 30

Beinecke celebrates its acquisition of the Ezra Pound Archive, setting a course toward collecting modernism in all its aspects. The Center for the Study of Ezra Pound is established.


Norman Holmes Pearson bequeaths poet H.D.’s papers to the Beinecke.

H.D. Collection Description


Library acquires the Marinetti Archive, photographs, postcards, and writings relating to the writings of Marinetti and the Futurist art movement.

1977 June

A blast freezer installed in the basement of the library to deal with an infestation by the death watch beetle.

1977 July

Donald Engley is appointed acting director of the Beinecke Library.

1977 November

Richard Wright archive opens.

Richard Wright Papers finding aid

1978 September 1

Steven Peterson is named director of the Beinecke Library.

Changing of the guard: The 1980s

With the appointment of Ralph W. Franklin as director in 1982, the Beinecke Library began a rapid expansion on many fronts: acquisitions, staff, technology, and public profile. The Technical Services and Public (now Access) Services departments were established, and in 1984 the Administrative Services unit was formed. By 1986, the Beinecke had appointed three new curators. Plans began in 1984 to address the backlog of uncataloged manuscripts, culminating in the formation of the Manuscript Unit in 1986. The digital era began with machine-readable cataloging records, and by the mid-80s, computers had revolutionized all aspects of the Beinecke’s activities. The Visiting Fellowship program was launched, making the library’s resources ever more available to scholars around the world.


Significant anniversaries were celebrated in exhibitions and related public events: centenaries of Carl Van Vechten (1980), James Joyce (1981), Ezra Pound (1985), and H.D. (1986), as well as Samuel Johnson’s bicentennial (1984), the sesquicentennial of the Texas Revolution (1986), and Alexander Pope’s tercentennial (1988).

1980 August 1

Lawrence Dowler (PhD, American History) is appointed acting director.


The library publishes Dickens and Dickensiana: A Catalogue of the Richard Gimbel Collection in the Yale University Library.

1981 June 1

The Beinecke launches a project to catalog the medieval and Renaissance manuscripts, with Barbara Shailor as project director. 


A Catalog of the Cary Collection of Playing Cards in the Yale University Library appears in four volumes.

1982 July 1

Ralph Franklin begins his tenure as director of the Beinecke Library.

1983 October 15

The Beinecke Library celebrates two decades with an exhibition and catalog, The First Twenty Years.


The acquisition of the Spinelli Archive provides primary research materials for the study of social, economic, and family history in Renaissance Italy.


The first Visiting Fellowships are offered.

Click here for a list of current and past Fellows.


The Beinecke marks its 25th anniversary with a year-long celebration and six exhibitions drawn from the library’s six curatorial units.

1988 January 23

“saturdada” Student-planned and executed Dada party goes down in history as a campus sensation.

1988 May

The Beinecke sets a collection development trend towards Polish literary archives with the agreement made with Czesław Miłosz to acquire his archive and ongoing papers.

The roaring 90s: Part one


Under the direction of Ralph Franklin, the Beinecke continued to press forward on various fronts—physical plant, technology, acquisitions, fellowships, exhibitions, events—becoming an ever great presence on campus. A major construction project, one of many over the ensuing years, transformed the lobby area of the library: the microfilm reading room became a classroom, and the old card catalog area was transformed into staff space. Anniversaries were celebrated, from the five-hundredth of the press established in Venice by Aldus Manutius to the fiftieth of canine movie star Lassie. 


Black history month observances begin at the Beinecke Library.


The exhibition Lassie at 50, drawn from the Eric Knight papers, sets off media mini-blitz.


The library hosts the first of two exhibitions celebrating the life and work of Alexis de Tocqueville. The second occurred in 2005, the bicentennial of his birth.


The Beinecke celebrates the bicentennial of James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, exhibiting material that had not been displayed previously.

1991 October 9

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama visits the Library to inspect the Tibetan Collection.

1991 October 11

Maurice Sendak speaks at the opening of exhibition Read Me a Story, Show Me a Book


Beinecke sets a course toward collecting the archives of contemporary Native American writers, beginning with the papers of Leslie Marmon Silko.


George Miles is appointed acting director while Ralph Franklin fills in as Yale University Library director of collection development.


The first Yale Graduate Student Fellowships are offered.


The Beinecke marks the centennial of Robert Louis Stevenson’s death with an exhibition and its catalog.


The Library celebrates the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Aldine Press with an exhibition and its catalog, Learning from the Greeks.


The Beinecke acquires the Randolph Linsly Simpson Collection. This extensive archive of photographs in various formats provides vivid images of African American life from the 1850s through the 1940s.


The Beinecke library launches its first internet homepage.

The roaring 90s: Part two

In the late 1990s, the Beinecke forged ahead into collecting photography while adding steadily to its traditional strengths in rare books and manuscripts. In a period marked by outreach, new endeavors included the O’Neill at Yale project, Master Classes for Yale students, and the Digital Library. A major building renovation (1999 to 2001) reconfigured the Wall Street stacks to provide classroom and staff space. Compact shelving dramatically increased capacity, and the underground area to the west of the building was reconfigured to provide additional shelving and a new home for the library’s archivists.


Anniversary exhibitions and celebrations included the 400th anniversary of Edmund Spenser’s Fairie Queene (1996); the 350th anniversary of the birth of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (1997); Goethe’s 250th birthday (1999); sesquicentennials of the Mexican War (1996) and the California Gold Rush (1998); and Thornton Wilder’s centenary (1997).


Access: From card catalog to digital library ...


The Beinecke acquires the archive of David Plowden, setting its course toward collecting modern photography of the American West.


The O’Neill at Yale project is launched, a collaboration among the Beinecke Library, the Playwrights Theatre in New York City, the Yale School of Drama, the Yale Dramatic Association, and the New Haven Public Schools.


The Digital Library is launched, extending collections access to scholars across the globe.


The Beinecke purchases the Frick Collection, expanding the Yale Collection of German Literature holdings into the twentieth century.

1998 February

Beinecke cosponsors the first annual Native American conference, “Translating Native American Cultures.”


Beinecke formalizes its program of Master Classes for Yale graduate students.

Master Classes

1999 April 5

Elihu Yale’s 350th birthday is celebrated on the Beinecke Plaza with speeches by librarians and university officials, music by the Yale Precision Marching Band, and what one observer judged to be a 350-pound cake.

1999 December 6

The first-ever pig roast takes place at the Beinecke. Students perform “Play of the Burgher’s Son” from a French medieval manuscript donated to the library by Bronson Pinchot, ’81 (“Cousin Balki”).

A new millennium

After the retirement of director Ralph Franklin, Patricia C. Willis, Barbara A. Shailor, and Frank M. Turner led the library in turn through the early years of the new century. Two concert series were established, as well as regular poetry readings and a lecture series on book history. The waterproofing membrane under the plaza was replaced (2005). The Beinecke addressed space needs by adding a new manuscript processing area at 121 Whitney Avenue (2006) and ts own module at the Library Shelving Facility (2008). In 2003, the first archival collection to include a computer entered the library, and by the end of the decade, archivists were harvesting information from the working computers of authors whose papers the Library collects.


A spate of literary and historical anniversaries kept librarians busy, arranging exhibitions and public events: John Dryden’s tercentenary (2000), the centenary of Guiseppe Verdi’s death (2001), Hector Berlioz’s bicentennial (2003), the tercentennial of John Locke’s death (2004), the 250th anniversary Henry Fielding’s death (2004), Petrarch’s 700th birthday (2004), and Alexis de Tocqueville’s bicentennial (2005), and more noted below.

2000 April 26

Brass plays its first concert at Beinecke. Upcoming and past Brass concerts.

2000 October 21

Five thousand people visit Beinecke’s open house at the kickoff of Yale tercentennial celebration.


Patricia C. Willis is named acting director.

2001 April 2

Larry Kramer donates his papers to the Beinecke and makes a major financial contribution in support of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale.

2001 July

Barbara Shailor takes over as director of the Beinecke Library.

Yale Bulletin article


The Beinecke celebrates the centenary of Langston Hughes.

Langston Hughes Collection Description

2002 April 29

Annual readings by Yale College Poets begin.

2002 May 3

The exhibition and book America Pictured to the Life celebrate the collections bequeathed to Yale by Paul Mellon.

2002 September 11

Collegium Musicum concert series is launched, with the 9/11 memorial concert Tenebrae: The Lamantations of Jeremiah

2002 September 19-20

Eleven winners of the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, among the most prestigious prizes for American writers, come together for readings and panel discussions.

2002 Oct. 7

Launch of the poetry reading series for the Yale Collection of American Literature.

2002 October

The Beinecke celebrates the centenary of William Walton with an exhibition and catalog, concert, and staging of Façade starring Lady Walton.


Frank M. Turner is named director of the Beinecke Library.

Yale Bulletin & Calendar article

2003 October 25

The Beinecke celebrates the tercentenary of the city of St. Petersburg with an exhibition and its printed catalog, a concert by the Russian Chorus, and another unforgettable party on the mezzanine, attended by 800.

2004 June

The Rare Book and Manuscript Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, meets at Yale and is hosted by the Beinecke. 


Beinecke exhibition celebrates the centenary of Polish novelist and dramatist Witold Gombrowicz.


Twenty years after O’Keeffe's death, the Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz correspondence opens to many eager scholars.


The Yale Program in the History of the Book is launched.

Visit for the current schedule.

2006 December

The publication of the Catalogue of the Frederick R. Koch Collection at the Beinecke Library officially marks the donation.


The exhibition “Documenting Slavery” commemorates the bicentennial of the British government’s ban on slavery. The display includes the drawings of the Amistad prisoners.

2010 and beyond

As the Beinecke enters its second half century, it faces challenges both old and new: ever accelerating technological change, the maintenance of an aging physical plant, the need for space as staff and holdings grow, the change from paper to digitally based books and archives. The Yale University Library mourned the passing of Beinecke director Frank Turner in 2010. E.C. Schroeder is appointed to lead the Beinecke Library.


The Beinecke library celebrates Gary Trudeau and the 40th anniversary of Doonesbury.

2010 December

E. C. Schroeder is appointed Director of the Beinecke Library.

Yale News article

2011 June 21

The Donald Windham – Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes are announced.

Windham-Campbell website


The centenary of Czesław Miłosz is celebrated with an exhibition.


The Beinecke joins in the university-wide celebration of Shakespeare at Yale.

Shakespeare at Yale Exhibition Website


Beinecke Library celebrates its 50th anniversary with special exhibitions, lectures, conferences, poetry readings, and concerts. Details.


Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
121 Wall Street | New Haven, CT 06511
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Monday - Thursday: 9 am to 7 pm
Friday: 9 am to 5 pm
Saturday: 12 pm to 5 pm

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Monday - Thursday: 9 am to 6:45 pm
Friday: 9 am to 4:45 pm

Holiday Schedule and Closed Collections Schedule