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Widener Library

From Academic Kids

The Harry Elkins Widener Memorial Library, commonly known as Widener Library, is the primary building of the library system of Harvard University. Located on the south side of Harvard Yard directly across from the Memorial Church, Widener Library serves as the centerpiece of the 13.5 million volume Harvard University library system, the largest university library system in the world. With 65 miles of bookshelves and 3 million volumes, Widener Library is among the largest single-building repositories of books in the world.

History

Widener Library, which opened in 1915, is named after Harry Elkins Widener (born January 3, 1885 in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania), a 1907 Harvard graduate, who was a book collector and victim of the Titanic disaster. His mother, Eleanor Elkins, made a $3.5 million donation to Harvard University to build a library named after him. There is an untrue urban myth at Harvard that in order to prevent what befell Widener from happening to another student, all students of Harvard College are required to prove that they can swim before they are allowed to graduate as is actually the case at Cornell and Stanford. While Harvard did require a swimming test of students in the 1920s, it had nothing to do with Widener, and Harvard no longer administers a swimming test for students.

From approximately 1997-2004, the Widener Library underwent a comprehensive renovation costing $97 million that included: adding fire suppression systems, adding air conditioning, enclosing light courts, and remodeling the stacks and public spaces. Under the terms of the Widener family donation, the exterior of the library is never to be altered, or else ownership of the building reverts to the city of Cambridge. Because of this, Harvard has been limited in its renovation options.

Popular culture

According to the fictional Cthulhu mythos of H. P. Lovecraft, Widener Library houses one of the few existing copies of the Necronomicon in the world, hidden somewhere among its endless stacks.

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