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The library in Old North, photo from University Archives

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History of the Georgetown University Library

Georgetown University owes the beginnings of its library to its third president, Louis Guillaume Valentin DuBourg, who in 1796 brought with him more than 100 volumes from Baltimore. During the 19th century, the libraries' collections rivaled those of any in the United States in size. Harvard's collection was larger; those of Yale and Brown were similar to Georgetown's; and everyone else trailed far behind. By 1861 Georgetown claimed a collection of 30,000 volumes.

Early in 1889, E. Francis Riggs, as a memorial to his father, donated the funds to fit out the Healy Building's south pavilion as a modern and capacious library. The original room was designed for 105,000 volumes, more than twice the number to which the university laid claim. Today, Riggs is one of the few remaining cast iron libraries in the country and continues to serve its original purpose of housing books.

By the mid-20th century, the Libraries’ collection, amounting to about 220,000 volumes housed mainly in Riggs, was determined to be insufficient to support the teaching and research programs of the university. As a result, Georgetown opened two libraries to better serve the needs of the rapidly growing University. In 1962, the first new library opened, bearing the name of Henry J. Blommer (C'26). Today, most of the science collection, including 66,000 books and bound periodicals and more than 800 current journal subscriptions, are held in the Blommer Science Library.

The biggest addition, however, came in 1970 with the opening of a new Main Campus library to house a collection that had grown to almost 450,000 volumes. Dedicated to Joseph Mark Lauinger, a 1967 alumnus who died in Vietnam, the new library featured striking modern architecture designed to facilitate the location of materials and to offer a variety of quiet and comfortable study accommodations with spectacular views of the city and Potomac River.

Since Lauinger Library opened, the growth of the collections has been dramatic. The acquisition of the library's millionth volume was celebrated in 1983, and the university library system as a whole celebrated the acquisition of its two millionth volume in 1994. Today, the Main Campus libraries hold more than 2.3 million volumes (including approximately 400,000 e-books), more than 1.3 million microforms, and constantly growing collections of audiovisual materials, photographs, government documents and electronic databases. (See The Library in Numbers.)

To a large extent, the growth of Georgetown's collections is the result of gifts: not only gifts in kind, but gifts of funds as well, largely raised under the auspices of the Library Associates. This generosity has made possible collections which today comprise nearly 100,000 rare books; nearly 700 separate manuscript collections, which extend over more than 7,000 linear feet of shelving; extensive collections of fine prints, posters, original editorial cartoons and other graphic arts containing more than 15,000 items; more than 300,000 photographs and slides; and more than 10,000 films, audiotapes, videotapes and phonograph recordings.

Today the Georgetown Library continues to fulfill its mission to respect the heritage of the past while anticipating the requirements of the 21st century, by providing preeminent services, collections and spaces.