From the Archives: The Libraries of St. Paul’s School

posted in: Archives, Uncategorized | 0

February is Library Lovers Month!

We all know that Ohrstrom Library is a beautiful and spacious building, with plenty of room for reading, studying, learning, and socializing.  But did you know that SPS’s first library was only one room?  Read on to learn more about the history of libraries at St. Paul’s School.

Original Library

The Big Study was built in 1873. Centrally located between the Old Chapel and the New Chapel, it was a main gathering space for faculty and students, making it the ideal place for the School’s growing collection of books. The Reverend Hall Harrison,a teacher of Greek and English, was entrusted with its care and became the School’s first librarian.

From Arthur Stanwood Pier’s St. Paul’s School 1855–1934:

“Mr. Harrison secured a large new classroom for the library, had open shelves built in it, made a campaign for the purchase and gifts of many new books, and saw that the tables in the middle of the room were supplied with illustrated papers and magazines.  Under his enthusiastic and energetic administration the interest of the  boys in the library and in reading increased enormously.”

Within a year, Harrison inspired the founding of the Library Association. Many of the Association’s early records are now preserved in the Archives.

Library in the Big Study Annex

In 1888, when the Big Study was enlarged, the library moved to the upper floor of the expansion in Room #2 of the Big Study Annex. This new location had space for 12,000 volumes and seating for twice the number of students as in the original location.  Charles S. Knox became the second librarian, and he is credited with the creation of a fine reference collection. He was also the first to gather together all the books relating to Shakespeare onto special shelves, a practice still reflected today in Ohrstrom Library’s Shakespeare Room.  A large selection of books from these early libraries is now housed in the Archives.

Sheldon Library

Sheldon Library was the gift of the children of William C. Sheldon, a Trustee from 1877 to 1896. Designed in the Beaux-Arts style by the architect Ernest Flagg, it was built on the site of the original Miller’s Cottage and opened in 1901. The interior layout featured a central chamber with a high ceiling that functioned as the main reading room, with reading rooms on either side. The stacks were located in the rear of the building. Niches in the main reading room displayed busts of classic authors, and the walls were decorated with an assortment of paintings. Sheldon served as the School’s library until Ohrstrom Library opened in 1991.

Ohrstrom Library

Ohrstrom Library, designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern, opened in April 1991. Construction began in 1988 to replace Sheldon Library, which was no longer large enough to accommodate the needs of St. Paul’s School. Named for Trustee George L. Ohrstrom Jr. ’45, the Library is located at the center of the grounds. The design features architectural elements that mirror other School buildings, such as the Chapel of St. Peter and St. Paul and Schoolhouse. The inside offers reading rooms, classrooms, and a variety of places for quiet individual or group study within easy reach of the bookstacks.

Students helped move books from the old Sheldon Library to the new Ohrstrom Library, in an event that took place on January 4, 1991. For a few hours during the middle of the day the students formed a continuous line that began at Sheldon and ran all the way to Ohrstrom Library. They passed books along the line and succeeded in moving a portion of the books into the new library. SPS teamwork in action!

Want to learn more?  Check out these exhibits from our digital archives:

The Early Libraries of St. Paul’s School

Ohrstrom Library Celebrates 25 Years


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *