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History of the Linda Hall Library: The Collections

Core Collecting Strengths

  • Engineering & Technology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Research journals
  • Cyrillic & Eastern European serials
  • Archival engineering specifications
  • At-risk, infrequently-held serials
  • Academic & scholarly society publications

Major Collection Acquisitions

American Academy of Arts and Sciences Library

The Library's first major purchase in May 1946 was the library of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded in May 1780 by John Adams, John Hancock and James Bowdoin. The AAAS collection provided a strong foundation of rare books and distinguished journals, forming the nucleus of the Linda Hall Library’s History of Science Collection and the general collection. It also provided an international publication exchange program with foreign academies and societies.

Franklin Institute Library

In 1985, the LHL collection was enhanced by the purchase of selected library materials of the Franklin Institute, founded in 1824 in Philadelphia to honor Benjamin Franklin. Nearly 600 serial titles were added to the Linda Hall Library, adding new titles and increasing existing holdings.

Engineering Societies Library

In 1995, the Engineering Societies Library (ESL), then the largest engineering library in the world, was transferred from New York City to the Linda Hall. The collection, acquired by gift, is equal in significance to the Academy collection and greater in the number of volumes received, requiring eighteen 18-wheel trucks to transport the collection. The ESL collection added depth to journal and monograph collections, especially in pre-1950 materials. The LHL collection is now nearly comprehensive in publications of the ESL founding societies:

American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)

American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE)

American Institute of Mining, Metallurgical and Petroleum Engineers (AIME)

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

Eric N. DeLony Engineering & Bridge Collection

Central Park Bridge 28, New York City. Photograph by Jet Lowe. 

Many years ago Eric N. DeLony inscribed a copy of his book, American Landmark Bridges, “It is with extreme honor that I donate a copy of my book to the Linda Hall Library, one of the most significant engineering and history of technology repositories in the nation.” Mr. DeLony, a prominent industrial archaeologist with a distinguished career in the history of engineering and an international reputation in the history of bridges, had a long career of innovation and leadership in the Historic American Engineering Record Program (HAER) of the National Park Service (NPS). The HAER was formed by the NPS, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Library of Congress. Mr. DeLony developed a splendid collection of materials on industrial archeology and significant works in the engineering, construction, architecture, and history of bridges.

In 2013, the Linda Hall Library was honored to be selected to receive the generous gift of the “Eric N. DeLony Engineering and Bridge Collection.” The DeLony Collection ranges in date from the 1800s into the twenty-first century and contains a treasure trove of materials, including rare books, contemporary volumes, and technical reports, complementing our special collections in history of science, engineering and technology. The collection contains a wealth of documents and images for research and future scholarship in multiple disciplines.

International Exchange Program

The acquisition of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences collection in 1946 included an extensive array of publication exchange partnerships with foreign academies and societies. Seven decades later, the Linda Hall maintains the exchange program, sending the Academy's distinguished journal, Daedalus, and their Annual Report in exchange for scholarly publications in science and technology that emanate from partner institutions.

Recognizing the great importance of access to research reports being produced worldwide, the Linda Hall expanded the exchange program during the 1960s & 1970s to include countries of the former Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and Japan. These exchanges thrived throughout the political challenges of the Cold War, building a nationally and internationally distinguished collection of hard-to-find materials.  

A nation-wide survey conducted by the Center for Research Libraries revealed that CRL and the Linda Hall hold the two strongest collections of Cyrillic publications in the fields of science and technology in the US. Many of these are rare, at-risk materials, often held by ten or fewer libraries worldwide. For some items, the Linda Hall may have the only copy.

While many university libraries have reduced or abandoned their exchange programs, the Linda Hall has maintained hundreds of partnerships, adding esoteric titles and enhancing collection depth. The Library’s collection is often noted for providing rarely-held articles from its long runs of foreign language publications. Exchanges with prestigious academies, societies, libraries, and research institutions worldwide have built collections of important, infrequently-held items that are core to research in contemporary studies and history of science.

The Linda Hall is a nationally-recognized, reliable repository for these materials. Our commitment the exchange program ensures ongoing collection, retention, and preservation, so that at least one North American library holds these items for future scholarship.

Collection Overview

Collection Development Policy Synopsis

The Linda Hall Library has collected in all areas of technology, the physical sciences, and the life sciences, except for clinical and surgical medicine. The collection emphasizes serials, featuring long runs of materials published in the U.S. and internationally. Research monographs, conference proceedings, and engineering specifications and standards are extensively collected. The Library is a Patent and Trademark Resource Center. Gifts-in-kind to the collection are added on an active, selective basis.


 Collection Development Priorities

1. Build collections in the Library’s major strengths of engineering, chemistry, and physics. 

2. Build on the Library’s existing strength in infrequently-held materials.

3. Fill significant retrospective gaps in areas of specialization. 

4. Develop holdings to support a focus on History of Science, History of Technology, and History of Engineering.

Engineering / Technology

• The Linda Hall engineering collection ranks first among a comparison group of nationally distinguished libraries.  

• Engineering disciplines fall within Technology classifications and represent a large group of related subjects that comprise the strongest subject set in the Library. The collection offers a particularly strong, historical foundation for research in engineering.

• Broad subject strengths include mechanical, chemical, civil, aeronautical, automotive, electrical, and mining engineering. The collections are especially strong in standards and specifications, patents, applied mechanics, soil mechanics, pressure vessels, welding, bridge engineering, and environmental engineering. 

• Engineering is a core focus. The Library collects extensively in current serials and monographs; widely-available, infrequently-held, and retrospective materials are actively collected.  Works on the history of technology are strongly represented.


 • The chemistry collection has been systematically augmented since the early years. Most areas of chemistry have been collected comprehensively. Spectroscopy, chromatography, organic chemistry, polymers and macromolecules, and physical and theoretical chemistry are all particularly strong sub-categories.

• Chemistry is currently and retrospectively well-represented in the Library. The collection includes complete or long runs of the most important journals in many languages, monographs, collected works, and conference proceedings. Some titles are rarely held, including Japanese journals in chemistry.

• Chemistry is the Library’s strongest science subject collection, second only to the Library’s strength in engineering.

• Chemistry is a core focus. The Library collects extensively in current serials and monographs; widely-available, infrequently-held, and retrospective materials are collected.


• The physics collection covers all branches of physics, with emphasis on the history and philosophy of physics, heat, spectroscopy, relativity, quantum theory, and nuclear physics. The Library owns a nearly-exhaustive historical collection in applied mechanics.

• Physics is the third strongest major subject collection in the Library.  

• Physics is a core focus. The Library collects extensively in current serials and monographs; widely-available, infrequently-held, and retrospective materials are collected. 

• Historically, the Library collected extensively in meteorology, gaining early recognition for holdings in this subject.

Life Sciences

• Natural history, entomology, botany, origins of life, general biology, microscopy, ecology, and phytochemistry are strong subjects and have major relevance to History of Science research and public programming. 

• In recent years a focus has developed on the molecular biology of the cell and its genetic regulation. Relevant subject areas include biochemistry, developmental biology, biophysics, and biotechnology. 

• The Library collects widely, but selectively, according to sub-discipline, in current serials and monographs, including widely-available, infrequently-held, and retrospective materials.


• Astronomy, closely related to physics, is prominent in the collection. The Library has complete sets or long runs of publications of many of the world’s observatories and astronomical societies, as well as an extensive collection of star maps, atlases, and catalogs dating to the early 16th century. Astronomy has significance to History of Science research and public programming interests. 

• The Library collects widely, but selectively in current serials and monographs, including widely-available, infrequently-held, and retrospective materials.


• Mathematics, the basis for most other scientific and technical endeavors, has been collected extensively, including the history and philosophy of mathematics, theory of probability, geometry, algebra, set theory, analysis, combinatorics, topology, and the mathematical basis and underlying theories of computers. 

• The Library collects very selectively in current serials and monographs, including infrequently-held and retrospective materials.

Geology / Earth Sciences

• The Library collects very selectively in current serials and monographs, including infrequently-held and retrospective materials.

Out of Scope Subjects

While the Linda Hall Library once collected in nearly all subject classifications within Science (Q) and Technology (T), except clinical and surgical medicine, that policy has evolved continually over the decades. 

• Political, social, economic, managerial concerns, and study and teaching aspects are generally out of scope. 

• Pharmacy, nursing, psychology, farming/applied agriculture, veterinary science, human anatomy, home economics, physical and cultural anthropology, archaeology, accounting, and insurance are no longer collected, recognizing the collecting strength of regional university collections in these subjects.

• Agricultural research within the disciplines of engineering, chemistry, and physics continues to be collected selectively. Pharmacology continues to be collected selectively, due to its close relationship to chemical research.

• Physiology, microbiology, military science, photography, and operations research are collected selectively. Trade journals also are collected selectively.

• Collecting activity in mathematics, geology, and geography has been reduced, recognizing the reliable availability of materials in these disciplines in other prominent collections.

• The Library generally does not collect cover-to-cover translations, dissertations, textbooks, or popular works.