Check It Out: The Origins of the Georgetown University Library
This exhibition marks the 40th anniversary of Georgetown’s Lauinger Library with a look at the origins of the University’s book collections. Their long and varied history dates back almost to the founding of the University in 1789 (if not before, since the Library includes books brought by the first Jesuit missionaries to Maryland in the 1630s). This exhibition takes up a few threads of that story, from the founding of the College Library, to the handwritten 1831 library catalog that documents the core collection—much of which still survives—to the highly focused Jesuitica collection formed by early librarian Thomas C. Levins, to the building of the dramatic Riggs Library and the acquisition at the end of the 19th century of one of Georgetown’s crown jewels, the 10,000 volume Americana library of John Gilmary Shea. These early developments formed the basis for some of the greatest strengths in the Special Collections Research Center today, especially its exceptional collections of Jesuitica and Catholic Americana.
The exhibition includes several of Georgetown’s great treasures: a first edition of Wilson’s American Ornithology, to which the Library subscribed, and George and Martha Washington’s copy of Mark Catesby’s Natural History, donated by George Washington Parke Custis. The exhibition skips ahead to the Library’s millionth and two millionth volumes (respectively, a first edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the rare broadside announcing George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation). It then concludes with a glance back at the building of the Joseph Mark Lauinger Library 40 years ago. “In my end is my beginning,” as poet T. S. Eliot put it: the principles the architects of a projected renovation and addition to Lauinger were recently charged with taking into account—principles derived from the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius—could be found on the shelves of Georgetown’s original Library in a 16th century edition.
Having recourse not only to extensive records about the Library in the University Archives, but also to many of the original books themselves, is full of surprise and discovery. It is our hope that the rich resources and surviving collections highlighted in this exhibition will become the starting points for future research by Georgetown students and faculty about the history of books and libraries on the Hilltop.
Curated by John Buchtel and Karen O'Connell
Assisted by Lynn Conway