History of the Library

John Carter BrownJohn Carter BrownThe scholarly value of the Library’s collection is extraordinary partly because its origins go back to a time when systematic book collecting around a historical theme was a rarity. Although the Brown family had been acquiring books since early in the eighteenth century, the present collection was not fully launched until the mid-nineteenth century when John Carter Brown (1797–1874) began avid pursuit of Americana, an area of interest he termed “the Great Subject.”

His son, John Nicholas Brown (1861–1900), actively continued this tradition and before his untimely death had conceived the idea of giving the Library to the world of historical research as a memorial to his father. In his will, John Nicholas Brown assigned funds for the construction of an appropriate building and for an endowment to support the Library’s work. The original Library building was formally dedicated in 1904. In 1990, the Library raised the capital to construct a 15,000 square foot addition, designed in the classical style like the original structure and named the Caspersen Building.

Librarians of the John Carter Brown Library

George Parker Winship 1895–1915
Champlin Burrage 1916
Worthington C. Ford 1917–1922 (acting)
Lawrence C. Wroth 1923–1957
Thomas R. Adams 1957–1983
Norman Fiering 1983–2006
Edward L. Widmer 2006–2012
Neil Safier 2013–