Firestone Library: A Beacon for 21st-century Scholarship

March 19th, 2013 / Development Com...

From sumptuous illuminated manuscripts of the Persian epic Shahnamah to the papers of Thomas Jefferson, Firestone Library’s magnificent collections draw scholars to Princeton from around the world.

Firestone Library

Photo: Andrea Kane

The library, currently in the midst of a renovation scheduled to end in 2018, is vital to the University’s academic mission. The project will result in a much improved campus landmark: a building that supports modern library services and contemporary approaches to scholarship while also providing the proper environment for one of the world’s great book, manuscript, and map collections.

  • Founded in 1775 in one room in Nassau Hall, the library moved into its current home in the Harvey S. Firestone Memorial Library building in 1948. Despite its size -- Firestone was (and still is, currently at 430,000 square feet) the largest academic building on campus -- the requirements of modern scholarship outpaced its capacity, and the building was expanded in 1971 and again in 1988.
  • The library began with a gift of 474 books from New Jersey Provincial Governor Jonathan Belcher. Today, it has more than 7 million books, 6 million microforms, artifacts, and manuscripts in 11 libraries around the campus. Firestone is the main library and has primary responsibility for the humanities and social sciences.
  • Its vast electronic resources include databases of reference works, abstracts, statistics, languages, journals and newspapers, images, and digital maps. Each student and faculty member checks out, on average, more than 100 books or electronic readings per year.
  • During the renovation, Firestone Library’s interior is being reconfigured to improve the organization and accessibility of the collections. The project also is bringing infrastructure up to modern standards while retaining original features, such as fieldstone walls and carved limestone window frames.
Rendering of Firestone Library renovation

Architect’s rendering of the third floor reading room. Courtesy Frederick Fisher and Partners.


  • The plan, by executive architects Shepley Bulfinch of Boston with design architects Frederick Fisher and Partners of Los Angeles, calls for new exhibition and reading spaces, the restoration of an elegant two-story reading room on the third floor, wireless ergonomic study carrels, and a solarium.
  • Wooden chandelier

    Photo: Jeffrey Rowlands

    The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections will move to a climate-controlled suite with a glass-roofed reading room.

  • One of the building’s most distinctive elements -- its imposing Collegiate Gothic tower, reachable only by staircase -- was once home to faculty offices, but has been a storage space for more than two decades. Its original paneling, wooden chandelier, and ornate windows remain intact, and it will soon be available to the campus community for the first time, as a reading room offering 360-degree views of campus.

The library remains open during the renovation, with efforts to schedule the most disruptive work at times of the day when the building is closed, and times of the year when it is not as heavily used.

For more information about the project, visit the Firestone Library website and follow the link to the renovation blog.