That library became a reality in 1878 when Linderman Library was officially opened.
This magnificent structure was designed by Addison Hutton, a celebrated architect of the time. The first portion of the building was in a Venetian style, including a domed rotunda with a spiral staircase and a spectacular stained glass skylight. In 1929, a Victorian addition was added that quadrupled the capacity of the library. It literally wrapped around the original building with the addition of the Grand Reading Room, new offices, seminar and classrooms, and added shelving spaces.
In the 1990’s, the skylight was disassembled piece by piece and shipped to France for renovation and then shipped back to be reassembled.
The newest renovation came between 2005 – 2007, when newly created seminar rooms, classrooms, group study spaces, handicap areas, exhibition areas, Lucy’s Café, and a 21st century humanities center were added. Bruce Taggart, Vice Provost for Library and Technology Services, tackled this major renovation as one of his first strategic planning initiatives.
Taggart stated that The Linderman Project was “Renovation, Preservation, and Transformation” during those two years. He added, “The beauty and history was maintained but it became a state-of-the-art teaching and research library for all future generations of the Lehigh University students.”
Ilhan Citak, an archivist and historian who works with special collections, said that with the generous donation of Asa Packer, they were able to acquire Audubon and Shakespeare books and manuscripts that are a prestigious part of their collection there today.
He adds, “The most amazing aspect of this library is that it was one of the first ones in North America that was actually designed as a library, with consideration for collections, staff, and users.”
Linderman Library’s Special Collections Department has approximately 40,000 volumes of printed books as well as over 5,000 linear feet of manuscript collections. There are also some first editions of English and American literature from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Lois Black, Curator of Special Collections, is an enthusiastic member of the Linderman staff. She says that it’s a big job, but a labor of love, to come to work everyday in this beautiful environment.
They have a challenge to not only build their collections with an eye for the future, thinking about who might be using their collections next year, next decade, or next century, but also to match their existing collections with researchers who might find them just as important and valuable as they do.
Black came to Linderman twelve years ago because “it was the unique collections and rare materials that attracted me to Lehigh in the first place.” When she first came to work at Linderman Library, Harry Potter was very much in vogue. She was “amused and pleased that students referred to Linderman as the Harry Potter library.”
She stated that the castle-like exterior, the inside spiral staircase, as well as the open rotunda and stained glass ceiling dates from the original opening of the library in 1878. “I would say it’s an enchanting and fitting setting for our special collections,” she explained.
The special collections attract an audience from around the globe. They have had researchers from the Republic of Georgia and graduate students and faculty from all across Europe researching their medieval and renaissance manuscript collections. Black adds, “Our manuscripts from that period are unique, and we are in the process of digitizing them so that scholars can access them from anywhere.”
Their most recent special collections exhibit is about Robinson Crusoe. This year marks the 300th anniversary of its publication. Black said that this is a chance to showcase the early editions of the text that they have in their collection thanks to the generosity of a Lehigh alumnus.
In their collection, they have copies of the second, third, and fourth editions of Robinson Crusoe as well as many later variants. They have illustrated editions, as well as a chapbook that was published in 1790. Chapbooks were meant to be distributed as street literature, so they were cheaply produced.
Black continued, “It was also an opportunity to open a window to other areas of our collection.” Since there is a picture of a castaway on a deserted island representing the subject of the book, they set up an exhibit case on the history of navigation since they have a strong engineering collection.
In addition, there is another exhibit dedicated to natural history because they also have strong scientific collections. So, instead of the exhibition being just about the text of the book itself, they expanded it so that “there is something of interest for everyone with the expanded theme showcases in those other areas.”
Their website has a listing of all of their special exhibits than can be accessed through this link: https://omeka.lehigh.edu/special_collections.
Black concludes, “From 1878 to 2019, Linderman has had a remarkable transformation—19th century into the 21st century. It is the perfect marriage of history and technology.”