The John Hay Library was opened in 1910. The building, designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge in the English Renaissance style and originally intended to be built of limestone, is of marble obtained from a quarry in Dorset, Vermont. Located on Prospect Street, opposite the Van Wickle Gates, it replaced the outgrown former library, now Robinson Hall, as the main library on the campus, but the departmental libraries still continued to function separately. The new library was named for John Hay 1858 at the request of Andrew Carnegie, who contributed half of the $300,000 cost of the building. Inside, on the main floor, were the librarian’s office, the cataloguers’ room, and one long reading room on the south side of the main floor with space for reference books, reserve books, current periodicals and 190 readers. The Harris Room with an inscribed fireplace and its own two-story stack, was situated on the mezzanine floor above the front entrance. The top floor had a large exhibition room, a rare book room, quarters for the Wheaton Collection of international law and the Rider Collection of Rhode Island history, and several small seminar rooms. In the basement was the office of the Secretary of the Associated Alumni, and a room for the University Archives. At the rear of the building were eight floors of stacks. At the dedication of the library on November 11, 1910, eight hundred graduates and guests moved in procession to Sayles Hall to hear the principal addresses, by James B. Angell 1849 on “Mr. Hay as an Undergraduate,” and Elihu Root, Senator from New York, on “Mr. Hay as a Diplomat.”
With room for 300,000 volumes, the building was expected to last for generations, but by 1930 the demand for space for library operations had become so critical that windows were installed in the first floor coat room to provide work space for the clerical staff and new stacks were installed in the top floor exhibition room. A bequest of $100,000 for an addition to the library was made by Webster Knight 1876, who died in 1933. He also left his valuable stamp collection to the library. Architect’s plans were drawn up for a marble addition about the same size as the original building, but what the University was able to afford in 1939 was a new wing, which added seating for 140 readers in two reading rooms, study carrells for fifty students, and stack space for 150,000 volumes. Designed by Coolidge, Shepley, Bullfinch and Abbott, the addition of red brick with five dormer windows was described as architecturally “in keeping with the early Georgian buildings on the Brown campus.” At this time the long reading room on the south side of the first floor was divided into three sections, with the reference room in the center, the periodical room on the west side, and on the east side a “comfortabley and attractively furnished room designed for independent reading by men students,” called the Guild Room in honor of former librarian Reuben A. Guild 1847. The first floor of the extension became a general undergraduate reading room. The stacks were removed from the former exhibition room, which became the humanities reading room and incorporated the modern language books which had been kept in Marston Hall. When the main library was removed to the new John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library in 1964, the John Hay Library retained the special collections and provided temporary quarters for the Physical Sciences Library until the Sciences Library was built. The John Hay Library was completely renovated under the direction of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott, and was rededicated on September 21, 1981. It now houses the numerous special collections and the University Archives.