Devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is one of the world’s largest libraries devoted entirely to rare books, including Yale’s literary archives.
About the Collections
The Beinecke has one of the largest collections of rare books and manuscripts anywhere in the world. When entering the building, you will see the glass tower of books that rises through the core of the building and holds 180,000 volumes.You will also see two stairways ascending on either side to the mezzanine level in which you can see the current exhibit on display.
The library houses a host of rare, strange, and downright bizarre texts. Though it doesn’t have a book bound in human skin like Harvard does (seriously, read about that here), the Beinecke house a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed using moveable type; a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, with hand-painted images of the birds of our amazing country; and a mysterious book known as the Voynich Manuscript, which was written in an indecipherable code in the 15th century and contains images that have puzzled historians for decades.
The library doesn’t just house books, though. Also on display are ‘ketubah,’ a unique type of decorated Jewish marriage contract; a collection of 100 early hand-drawn maps of America; a collection of playing cards (as well as the blocks and plates used to create them); photos, artwork, and even music.
About the Library
Books aside, the design of the Beinecke is sure to leave you in wonder. Though it can look rather drab and industrial, the newly-renovated building is actually a work of art and science.
The square insets you see in the photo below aren’t concrete; they are actually “windows” made out of thin sheets of Vermont marble. These sheets of marble allow natural sunlight to filter into the building. In most cases, sunlight damages paper, which is why old manuscripts are kept away from windows and excessive light; because this light is filtered by the marble, it doesn’t damage the materials, which means they can be displayed inside the library without worry.
It’s actually quite amazing just how well the books are kept due to the low light glowing from the translucent marble. The entire aura of the space is unique, so make sure to pick a sunny day to go so you can experience it first-hand.
Current Exhibits: Gather Out of Star-Dust
At the “Gather Out of Star-Dust” exhibit, you will see documents, photographs, artworks, and objects of a time when African American culture surged into the American mainstream. Explore the reasons why the Harlem Renaissance elicited critical and public interest with the more than 300 artifacts from the library’s James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters. There are even interactive touchscreens which let you hear sound recordings of the era and explore the collection even further.
This is definitely a “must see building” if you are near the Yale Campus one day. So if you have a whole afternoon or just 30 minutes, come on down to New Haven to experience the magic of the past.
The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is free to the public and is located at 121 Wall Street in New Haven. The library is open on Monday from 10am-7pm, Tuesday to Thursday from 9am-7pm, Friday 9am-5pm, and Saturday from 12pm-5pm. For more information, visit the website here.
Want to grab a bite before or after your visit? Within a half mile of the library, there are some tasty places to eat like Zinc, Claire’s Corner Copia, Prime 16, and Barcelona.