You can start on the long odyssey — 215 years and counting — of libraries at Williams College, by clicking on the “History 01” tab at the top of this screen, or under “Pages” in the links at right. I hope you enjoy reading the saga as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it, that it holds as many interesting and entertaining discoveries for you as it did for me.
One of the great pleasures of the process was reading the words of Professor Frederick Rudolph ’42, who was my indispensable source — indeed his were the words that made College history come alive for me. For a bicentennial lecture series, he delivered an essay, “Williams College 1793-1993: Three Eras, Three Cultures,” included as an appendix in the 1996 reprint of Mark Hopkins and the Log. I see my history of Eph’s libraries as an extension of his thesis there.
Prof. Rudolph defines three eras at Williams: Christian college, gentleman’s college, consumer college. And I believe the Library embodied each culture in a specific building: Lawrence Hall, Stetson Hall, Sawyer Library. (I’d amend “consumer” to “selective,” which better suggests the recent approach of both College and students.) From this perspective, the synthesis sought in the Stetson-Sawyer project signals the emergence of a fourth identity for the College, which I would characterize provisionally as the institution of excellence.
Within these changes, Prof. Rudolph sees “singularity of purpose — the training of a governing elite — that is the history of Williams.” Though stated with characteristic directness (and certainly leaving out such alums as myself), this seems a fair statement of the College’s aim, and we will see how it plays out in the construction of the New Sawyer Library.