Guide to the Northwestern University Library Accessions Catalogs

Collection Title: Northwestern University Library Accessions Catalogs
Dates: 1878-1941
Identification: 9/1/10
Creator: Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.). Library
Extent: 34 Boxes
Extent: 28 ledger cases, 6 boxes
Language of Materials: English
Abstract: The Northwestern University Library Accession Records document the growth of the Library's collections over the course of sixty-three years, spanning the careers of seven librarians, and representing the holdings of four successive library spaces. The Accession Records contain lists of the books and other Library materials acquired between December, 1878 and July, 1941.
Acquisition Information: Northwestern University Library; transferred to the University Archives at an unknown date and given the accession number 74-141 in 1974.
Processing Information: Jeremy Abbott; 04/28/2005.
Separated Materials: None.
Conditions Governing Access: None.
Related Materials: For books acquired by the Library prior to 1878, See: Bannister, C.K. The Catalogue of Books in the Library of the Northwestern University; Northwestern University Library: Evanston, IL, 1868; Vol. 1.For a history of the Northwestern University Library (from which much of the historical information above has been paraphrased), see
Repository: Northwestern University Archives
Deering Library, Room 110
1970 Campus Dr.
Evanston, IL, 60208-2300
Phone: 847-491-3354

Biographical/Historical Information

Northwestern University was founded in 1850; classes began in the building known as Old College, at Hinman and Davis Streets in Evanston, in 1855, with an enrollment of ten young men. During the summer of 1856, Northwestern's board of trustees allocated $1000 to create a library. Initially the library was directed by faculty members, and borrowing privileges were restricted to faculty. Professor William Godman, one of the two original faculty members (teaching Greek language and literature), was appointed the first librarian. Godman oversaw the refitting of a room on the third floor of Old College for a library, and also acquired the first books, which by June 1857 numbered 1977. Godman was succeeded in 1858 by Daniel Bonbright, professor of Latin. Over the next 12 years, under Bonbright and his successor, Louis Kistler, the library grew slowly; a title list prepared by the library's first recorded student assistant, Charles Bannister, in 1868, includes about 3000 volumes.

The arrival of the Greenleaf Collection (described below) in 1870 increased the size of Northwestern's library sevenfold and coincided with its relocation from increasingly cramped quarters in Old College to the third floor of the new University Hall, an imposing limestone structure that remains a Northwestern icon. The library's new space measured 70 by 20 feet and was filled within three years, foreshadowing the space problems that would always plague the university library. In the following years the collection continued to be developed aggressively. In addition to acquiring libraries from retiring or deceased faculty, significant expansion was made possible, in 1876, by the designation of the library as a depository of U.S. government publications. By 1894, close to one-third of the library's collections consisted of government publications.

Student protests over limited access to the collection and over the chronic absence of the faculty-librarians led to the introduction of very circumscribed student borrowing privileges by the end of the 1880s. The practice of naming a faculty member as university librarian in ended in 1889; two senior student assistants—George Wire (1883) and Lodilla Ambrose (1887-1908)—went on to direct the university library. In 1890, university president Henry Wade Rogers convinced the trustees to finance a new library building, and in 1894, with much assistance from librarian Ambrose, the Orrington Lunt Library was dedicated and named after its major donor.

In the following two decades, Northwestern growing enrollment made the provision of first-class library services a high priority. Ambrose's successor, Walter Lichtenstein, had been a bibliographer at Harvard; at Northwestern, he worked to catalog hitherto “hidden” collections—roughly 40,000 volumes in his first few years alone—and to expand the collections. He conducted book-buying trips in Europe and, from 1913 to 1915, to South America, journeys that made possible the growth of Northwestern's book collections from 75,000 to 116,000 during his 10-year tenure—not counting the further growth of government publications from 50,000 to 85,000. Lichtenstein was replaced in 1919 by Theodore W. Koch, who oversaw the construction of the Charles Deering Library, which opened in January 1933 with a capacity of 500,000 volumes (not including government publications). Koch's reputation facilitated the gift of important books and collections to the university. Among other purchases, Koch acquired the collection now known as the Biblioteca Femina–3000 volumes assembled for the International Congress of Women, held during Chicago's 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition. Koch also exploited the depressed book market of the 1930s. During his 22 years as university librarian, which ended with his unexpected death in 1941, Koch saw the trebling of the collection from 120,000 to 377,000 volumes.

The Greenleaf (Schulze)Collection, which was accessioned and numbered separately from the other collections, represents the first great gift to the University Library, and one of the library's most fortuitous acquisitions. Northwestern professor of Latin Language and Literature Daniel Bonbright happened to be in Europe in 1869, where he heard that the library of Johannes Schulze had come up for sale. Schulze was one of the top members of the Prussian Ministry of Public Instruction and a much-feared book collector. At the time of his death, his personal library held some 11,246 volumes, and about 9,000 unbound pamphlets. The latter are chiefly dissertations from the German universities. Schulze's collection was particularly strong in the Greek and Latin classics; indeed, the collection contains 126 first editions of Greek authors and 8 first editions of Latin authors. Schulze had died earlier that year, but his son proved more interested in equestrian pursuits than bibliographical ones, and accordingly put the collection up for purchase. Bonbright, after traveling to Berlin to inspect the collection, had a unique opportunity to purchase the 20,000 volume collection for $7,000. Luther Greenleaf, an important landowner in Chicago and Evanston and supporter of Northwestern, supplied the funds—fortunately the purchase was made before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which wiped out many of Greenleaf's holdings. The collection arrived at Northwestern in July, 1870, where it became one of the foundational collections of Northwestern's library.

Scope and Content

The Northwestern University Library Accession Records document the growth of the Library's collections over the course of sixty-three years, spanning the careers of seven librarians, and representing the holdings of four successive library spaces. The Accession Records contain lists of the books and other Library materials acquired between December, 1878 and July, 1941. Accessions are listed in chronological order, but especially towards the later ledger books, the chronology is inconsistent. General date spans have been provided for each volume or folder, but there is occasionally chronological variation within them.

Twenty-five custom ledger boxes contain individual bound volumes comprising the first official records of the library's acquisitions. They start with the first number assigned on December 1st, 1878: “Butler, History of the Commonwealth of Kentucky; Cincinnati, 1836” and end with accession number 130500. Marginal notes indicated that the listings were often consulted and were repeatedly updated with notes on the state of the original binding, re-binding, withdrawals, cost replacement, and in many cases, the general physical condition. Donors mentioned in the early volumes include many now well-known Northwestern names. Among the most familiar to the Northwestern community are William Deering, Orrington L. Lunt, Herbert F. Fisk, George Lunt, John Evans, the Hon. John Sherman (Secretary-Treasurer of the United States), Henry S. Noyes, R.S. Foster, and W.H. Rand.

The final three custom ledger cases contain the accession records of the Greenleaf Collection. The ledger books are similar in format to the preceding ledger books in the series; though they do differ in that they frequently detail accessioned books that were printed in the 1600s and include first editions of then promising young writers like Goethe and Hegel. The first volume also contains a handwritten history of the collection. Numbers 3401-4000 in the first volume were mistakenly omitted, so the numbering proceeds from 3400 straight to 4001, but after 5000 the missing 3401-4000 were added.

The six boxes contain unbound accession logs of a similar format to the bound editions, though somewhat abridged, lacking physical descriptions of the books' dimensions and bindings. The unbound logs also differ in that they are type-written, while the bound ledgers contain many examples of beautiful penmanship. The unbound volumes detail accession 130501 through the last number 377,200, which was entered on 25 July, 1941.


Corporate Name

Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.). Library--Catalogs

Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.). Library--History


Academic libraries--Illinois--Evanston

Container List / Contents

  • Custom Ledger Cases
    • 1-5691, 1878-1890Box 1, Ledger 1
    • 5695-10600, 1890-1893Box 2, Ledger 1
    • 10601-15600Box 3, Ledger 1
    • 15601-20600, 1893-1897Box 4, Ledger 1
    • 20601-25440, 1897-1898Box 5, Ledger 1
    • 25441-30400, 1898-1900Box 6, Ledger 1
    • 30401-35400, 1900-1902Box 7, Ledger 1
    • 35401-40400, 1902-1903Box 8, Ledger 1
    • 40401-45400, 1903-1905Box 9, Ledger 1
    • 45401-50500, 1905-1906Box 10, Ledger 1
    • 50501-55500, 1906-1907Box 11, Ledger 1
    • 55501-60500, 1908-1909Box 12, Ledger 1
    • 60501-65500, 1908-1910Box 13, Ledger 1
    • 65501-70500, 1910-1911Box 14, Ledger 1
    • 70501-75500, 1911-1912Box 15, Ledger 1
    • 75501-80500, 1912-1913Box 16, Folder 1
    • 80501-85500, 1913-1914Box 17, Ledger 1
    • 85501-90500, 1914-1915Box 18, Ledger 1
    • 90501-95500, 1915-1916Box 19, Ledger 1
    • 95501-100500, 1916-1917Box 20, Ledger 1
    • 105501-110500, 1917-1918Box 21, Ledger 1
    • 110501-115500, 1918-1920Box 22, Ledger 1
    • 115501-120500, 1920-1921Box 23, Ledger 1
    • 120501-125500, 1919-1921Box 24, Ledger 1
    • 125501-130500, 1921-1922Box 25, Ledger 1
  • Greenleaf (Schulze) Collection Custom Ledger Cases
    • 1-5000Box 26, Ledger 1
    • 5001-10000Box 27, Ledger 1
    • 10001-12040Box 28, Ledger 1
  • Boxes
    • 130501-137700, 05/29/1922-07/17/1923Box 1, Folder 1
    • 137701-144400, 07/18/1923-07/11/1924Box 1, Folder 2
    • 144401-151150, 07/14/1924-07/17/1925Box 1, Folder 3
    • 151151-158650, 07/17/1925-06/04/1926Box 1, Folder 4
    • 158451-165350, 07/02/1926-06/28/1927Box 1, Folder 5
    • 165351-172900, 06/29/1927-05/11/1928Box 1, Folder 6
    • 172901-180100, 05/11/1928-03/05/1929Box 2, Folder 1
    • 180101-187900, 03/09/1929-12/16/1929Box 2, Folder 2
    • 187901-194900, 12/16/1929-09/23/1930Box 2, Folder 3
    • 194901-202400, 09/24/1930-04/08/1931Box 2, Folder 4
    • 202401-209351, 04/09/1931-09/25/1931Box 2, Folder 5
    • 209351-215700, 09/25/1931-02/16/1932Box 2, Folder 6
    • 215701-223000, 02/16/1932-07/09/1932Box 3, Folder 1
    • 223001-229300, 07/13/1932-12/06/1932Box 3, Folder 2
    • 229301-236550, 12/07/1932-04/04/1933Box 3, Folder 3
    • 236551-242900, 04/05/1933-08/03/1933Box 3, Folder 4
    • 242901-249100, 08/03/1933-12/05/1933Box 3, Folder 5
    • 249201-255400, 12/05/1933-04/09/1934Box 3, Folder 6
    • 2555401-261650, 04/10/1934-09/25/1934Box 4, Folder 1
    • 261651-268250, 09/25/1934-02/14/1935Box 4, Folder 2
    • 268251-275050, 02/14/1935-07/19/1935Box 4, Folder 3
    • 275051-281450, 07/19/1935-11/30/1935Box 4, Folder 4
    • 281451-288400, 11/30/1935-04/22/1936Box 4, Folder 5
    • 288401-294900, 04/23/1936-09/30/1936Box 4, Folder 6
    • 295901-301800, 10/01/1936-03/02/1937Box 5, Folder 1
    • 301801-308600, 03/02/1937-08/30/1937Box 5, Folder 2
    • 308601-316350, 09/07/1937-03/04/1938Box 5, Folder 3
    • 316350-323250, 03/04/1938-07/13/1938Box 5, Folder 4
    • 323251-340950, 07/14/1938-02/13/1939Box 5, Folder 5
    • 340951-347900, 02/14/1939-07/13/1939Box 5, Folder 6
    • 347901-354700, 07/14/1939-02/02/1940Box 6, Folder 1
    • 354701-361250, 02/08/1940-07/10/1940Box 6, Folder 2
    • 361251-367750, 07/10/1940-01/03/1941Box 6, Folder 3
    • 367751-374550, 01/03/1941-06/12/1941Box 6, Folder 4
    • 374551-377200, 06/13/1941-07/25/1941Box 6, Folder 5