The Joseph Mark Lauinger Memorial Library, universally known as Lau to Georgetown students, provides individual and group study spaces on every floor and stacks of books needed to crank out a 15-page research paper. All day and all night, Lau is bustling with student activity on every level.
While most students are familiar with the unconventional additions to the library like the innovative Maker Hub, the vast history of its collections, like the Booth Family Center for Special Collections on the fifth floor and Woodstock Theological Library on the lower level, deserve similar attention. Lau offers students much more than just spaces to study and stress during finals.
Georgetown’s libraries have a rich and storied history from before Lau was even constructed. The man who spearheaded the initiative for Georgetown’s first library to be built was the university’s third president, Fr. Louis Guillaume Valentin DuBourg, S.J., who established Georgetown’s first library in 1796.
Over time, as more books were coming into the university, Georgetown needed a larger space to store them. After the south pavilion of Healy Hall was completed, University President Patrick F. Healy, S.J., chose the third and fourth floors for a new library. However, construction for the new library was never completed due to a lack of funding.
In 1889, during Georgetown’s centennial celebrations, Washington, D.C. banker Elisha Francis Riggs decided to donate $10,000 to support the completion of the new library, according to Digital Georgetown. Through the construction process, Riggs covered all associated costs.
In 1891, Riggs Library, named in honor of Riggs’ father, was opened. Once Riggs became the official library, all the books from DuBourg’s library were transferred to Riggs and the university’s archives were stored in Healy Hall.
For almost 80 years, Riggs dutifully served as the campus’s main library. However, by the 1950s, the library’s collection had grown to around 220,000 volumes of books and journals. Riggs was deemed insufficient for the size of Georgetown’s collection, and construction for two new libraries began. The first new library was the Blommer Science Library, named after alumnus Henry J. Blommer (C ’26). The Blommer Library houses most of the university’s science collection, according to the university library website.
The second library, completed in 1970, is the one most Georgetown students today are very familiar with: Lauinger Library. Named after an alumnus who lost his life in the Vietnam War, the library has since grown at an exponential rate.
Its collection now includes millions of volumes and is constantly growing with additions to its electronic databases and archives. While the knowledge it holds from a plethora of academic fields is vast, there are many opportunities within the library for students to learn about Georgetown and its history.
The Booth Family Center for Special Collections is a space on the fifth floor of Lau that stores archives, manuscripts and rare books, as well as an art collection. It opened as part of Lau upon the library’s founding in 1970 and was most recently renovated and reopened in 2015. The BFCSC features classrooms, reading rooms, a reception area and a collaborative workspace for students and faculty.
The origin of the BFCSC can be traced back to the founding of Lau itself. When the university’s current library was opened in 1970, the BFCSC was opened within it on the fifth floor. The collection serves as a home for archives, artifacts and the remaining books from DuBourg’s library, according to Christen Runge, the assistant curator of the BFCSC’s art collection.
The BFCSC often organizes exhibitions throughout the year. What makes these exhibitions unique in D.C. is that they only display items from the BFCSC’s collection; there are never any items borrowed from outside the university’s archives. This makes the displays more Hoya-centric, be it a series of old photos of Healy Hall or statistics of faculty-to-student ratios in 1819. In addition to providing periodic snapshots of the Hilltop, exhibitions can also be very informative regarding Georgetown’s history, such as one that covered the history of the university’s mascots.
These objects are invaluable testimonies to the past and they help provide a window into Georgetown’s history, as university archivist Lynn Conway eloquently explained to The Hoya.
“They document our history as a school, a campus, and a home away from home for students. And by revealing our past, they provide context for our present and inform our future,” Conway wrote.
In the Paul F. Betz Reading Room, anyone can request materials for viewing and research from Mondays to Fridays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Faculty can also bring students to the Barbara Ellis Jones (CAS ’74) Inquiry Classroom for a hands-on and in-depth experience with the help of curators. The BFCSC’s curators are also always open to cooperating with students in their research and facilitate their work by helping them parse through the collection.
Despite these available resources and the effort to inform the campus community about the BFCSC, students feel that their access is limited, according to Kitra Katz (COL ’20), a student employee for access services at Lau.
“I have been to Special Collections, but only actually got to go when I was assigned a project for class. It’s only open during business hours during the week — when students are in class. I think it doesn’t get used by students because of this reason; it just isn’t accessible,” Katz wrote in an email to The Hoya. “And if we do find the time, we might not be able to find the item in advance we want to look at.”
Even students who are aware of those resources like the reading room may still find using the resources difficult. Another frustration for Katz is that students must go with specific requests, and can’t browse through the collection.
“And you can’t look at an item without explicitly requesting it. I’ve attempted to look through the Special Collections catalog, but I wish it was more user friendly,” Katz wrote. “They have some amazing materials, but in practice undergrads can’t get our hands on them.”
While students yearn for access to the collection’s captivating archives, there are also other areas of Lau that offer a peak at more religiously oriented history of the Hilltop.
Woodstock Theological Library
To know the establishment of Woodstock is to know Georgetown’s Jesuit roots. During the late 18th century, the Jesuits were persecuted by the papacy, and many traveled to the United States to establish Jesuit provinces there.
Notable among them was Fr. John Carroll, S.J., who founded Georgetown upon his arrival. In their travels, the Jesuits brought with them many manuscripts and old texts from Europe for Jesuit-in-training research. In 1869, the Woodstock library was founded at Woodstock College outside Baltimore. The library became a hub for theological texts and a compendium of religious knowledge. After a brief stint in New York from 1969 to 1974, Woodstock was moved to Georgetown in 1974 and has remained on the Hilltop since.
Today, Woodstock is recognized one of the oldest Catholic theological libraries in the United States, containing 190,000 circulating volumes and 700 periodical titles. Today, Georgetown students, faculty and theological scholars can use the library’s resources for historical and theological research. The library includes material from the 11th through 19th centuries.
Books printed before 1500 are called inked novels. Woodstock holds 25 — a particularly high number, according to Fr. Leon Hooper, S.J. These manuscripts are made of a kind of sheepskin called vellum and have particular conditions required to maintain and preserve them.
“[We need] humidity control and temperature control, and that isn’t one of our strong suits. We’re fairly good at keeping stuff cold,” Hooper said.
Woodstock also houses texts from other religions in its collection, perfectly epitomizing the Jesuit value of interreligious understanding. For example, the theological library houses a transcript of the Quran written in Arabic, as well as a Torah scroll written by a young scribe in the 19th century.
Since many of these books are rare and extremely old, it is a complicated process for students to use them. While access to the texts is not too difficult, students require special permission, as well as gloves, to be able to touch them. Hooper insists, however, Woodstock is always open to all and willing to assist anyone who may need help.
“Everything here is open to use for study and these are special collection, so we do insist that people use the stuff here in our own facilities,” Hooper said.
The Georgetown library website is also a great resource, according to Hooper, though not all materials are available electronically. As manuscripts and books become accessible online, the need for a library space becomes compromised and challenged.
“It’s a funny sort of thing though because there are two ways of getting at it, you know, coming in and looking at the material, and we publicize that. Or you can scan it and put it up on web. Once it is on the web, people don’t need to come in,” Hooper said.
Given that all Georgetown students must take two theology courses, professors could potentially integrate Woodstock as an experience outside the classroom. Woodstock has many fascinating artifacts, significant documents and a rich history. Students do not have to be theology majors or minors to stop by; anyone with interest in archives, collections, art, humanities or sciences can find something interesting there.
Despite Lau largely being seen as a study space by students, it is also an incredible compendium of knowledge that chronicles the university’s history and more. Whether students want to learn more about the story of the Jesuits or understand more about the chronology of the university’s presidents, spaces like Woodstock and the BFCSC offer the chance for a comprehensive Hoya education.
Hoya staff writer Faris Bseiso contributed reporting.