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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)

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.

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. 


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.

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).


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

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. 


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


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 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).


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


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

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.

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.

2006 December

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

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.


Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library
121 Wall Street | New Haven, CT 06511
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Exhibition Gallery
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

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