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A Brief History of the Stanford Libraries

Founded in 1885 by Jane and Leland Stanford as a memorial to their only child, Leland Stanford Junior University opened in 1891. The initial collection of books that comprised the library consisted of 3,000 volumes. For both founders, development of libraries and collections took a secondary position to the construction of buildings, but Stanford’s first president, David Starr Jordan, wrote that “a great library is the most important element in the formation of a great University.”

Green Library
Green Library, Bing Wing Entrance

Library collections grew slowly, but steadily over the next quarter century as the university struggled with financial difficulties and the aftermath of the devastating 1906 earthquake. A purpose-built main library building, now known as the Bing Wing of Green Library, opened in 1919. (A restoration of the Bing Wing was completed in 1999.)


In the second half of the twentieth century, Stanford University experienced unprecedented growth, supported by large federal research contracts and effective private fundraising campaigns. As the university grew, better funding for the libraries resulted in significant growth in holdings, new buildings, and a consolidation of small libraries into larger branches.

Today, there are twenty libraries on campus: five coordinate libraries (Law, Business, Medicine, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, and the Hoover Institution) report to their dean or director, while the remainder are organized centrally as the Stanford University Libraries & Academic Information Resources, or SULAIR, reporting to the University Librarian. SULAIR also encompasses other campus functions, including: Academic Computing, Residential Computing, HighWire Press, Stanford University Press, Stanford Professional Publishing Courses, and Stanford University Archives.

With a strong emphasis on effective use of digital as well as paper resources, SULAIR is a global leader in embracing new technologies and services in pursuit of excellence in teaching, learning, and research. One of the earliest library partners in the Google Book Search project, Stanford is now planning to open a new “bookless” Engineering Library circa 2011.


Last modified: November 30, 2007
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