The First Library & Edward Hall

Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall on the old campus, where the first library resided. Memorial Hall was the first monument to Civil War dead constructed on a college campus in the North. It was dedicated in 1869.


In the first hundred-plus years of Colby’s history (that is, through the 1920s), administrative support for the college’s library waxed and waned. There were instances of serious investment. For instance, in 1826, only six years after the first students arrived, and facing financial debt, the Board of Trustees allocated the then-significant sum of $600 to expand the library’s holdings. But, there were also times of pulling back, reducing allocations and disregarding librarian requests for adequate budgets. In 1902, the Trustees considered dissolution of the college librarian position altogether as a cost-saving measure (prevented by alumni/ae outcry). Typical of most college libraries, Colby’s early library depended primarily upon gifts from faculty, alumni and other supporters in order to build its collection of books, periodicals and other printed materials.


A key figure in building the library’s collection in the 19th century, and ensuring its use into the 20th century, was Edward Hall, Class of 1862. Hall worked for the War Department during the Civil War, then returned to Colby in 1866 as Professor of Modern Languages. He commenced his position as part-time college librarian in 1873 (while still teaching a full course load) and was appointed full-time librarian in 1891. Hall retired in 1910 (the year of his death), having dedicated his efforts to the library for a remarkable 36 years.

Old Library and E W Hall

Professor and Librarian Edward H Hall presiding over operations in the old library. The bust of Milton on the pedestal behind Hall is now located in the Chapman Room of Special Collections.

Hall’s long tenure as college librarian was marked by advocacy, vision and passion. Early on, he persuaded the Trustees to establish a permanent library fund that would come to benefit acquisition efforts for decades to come. He expanded the library’s hours and opened the stacks for general perusal, despite fears of vandalism and theft. And, he broadened the library’s holdings with zeal, complementing these efforts with the library’s first classification systems, which greatly enhanced access to the materials.