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Exhibition Celebrating the Libraries' Centennial, November 2009 - March 2010

"The Heart of Our Place of Learning: William Allan Neilson Library, 1909 - 2009", was on display through November 2009 through March 2010. See the online exhibit: The Heart of our Place of Learning: William Allan Neilson Library, 1909-2009.

Date Event
Nov. 9 2009 - March 30, 2010 Exhibition - "The Heart of Our Place of Learning”: William Allan Neilson Library, 1909-2009"
Book Arts Gallery, Level 3, Neilson


Neilson Library opened for research and discovery on November 29, 1909. To celebrate the Library's centennial and document the history of Smith's first library building, the College Archives presents this exhibition on view in the Book Arts Gallery on the Library's third floor.

For more information, see the story posted on NewsSmith.


The core of Neilson Library was built in 1909, funded by a gift from Andrew Carnegie with matching gifts from alumnae and friends. It was expanded in 1937 and, in 1946, named the William Allan Neilson Library in honor of the College’s third president. In 1962 two more wings were added and extensive interior rearrangements made.

Another major expansion and renovation began in 1978 and was completed with the rededication of Neilson Library in November 1982 and of the converted Alumnae Gymnasium in May 1983. In 2000 an electronic classroom was created; in 2007 the Information Commons was opened; and today a new reading room is being planned for the ground floor. The uses of the Library building have evolved through each of these stages as the Library’s collections, services, and programs grow.


Today the mission of the Smith College Libraries is to advance teaching, learning, research, and discovery for Smith students, faculty, and staff by offering collections in multiple formats, access to information worldwide, and services responsive to users’ needs. Neilson Library primarily supports the humanities and social sciences with books, periodicals, theses, microforms, and online databases.

The library also houses The Mortimer Rare Book Room, formed by removing fifteenth- and sixteenth-century books from the Neilson stacks in the early 1940s. The collection has grown to just over 40,000 items and has expanded beyond its original role as protector of early printed artifacts.

The Alumnae Gymnasium, connected to Neilson Library, houses the Sophia Smith Collection, the oldest national repository for primary sources in women's history, and the College Archives, which documents the history of Smith.

Images from the Exhibition

PLEASE NOTE: All images displayed on this page are the property of the Smith College Archives. Publication in any form without the written consent of the college archivist is prohibited. 


Student in study carrel, circa 1940. Browsing Room, circa 1910. Students reading poetry in Browsing Room, 1939. Students in Periodical Room, circa 1950.


Neilson Library, circa 1909, with Burton Hall at Right. Front facade, 1961. Circulation Desk, 1944. Ruth Mortimer, curator of rare books, circa 1980.


William Allan Neilson Library, Front entrance with original wood doors, 1956. Mezzanine glass floor and grillwork, 1971.


Nanci Young
College Archives
(413) 585-2976