About Butler Library

Butler Library houses two million volumes comprising the University's collections in the humanities, with particular strengths in history (including government documents and social science materials published before 1974), literature, philosophy and religion, as well as one of the country's most extensive collections of materials pertinent to the study of Greco-Roman antiquity. The book stacks are located in the center of the building, and the entrance to the main stack is at the third floor Circulation Desk. 

Butler Library History


Butler Library opened in 1934 as South Hall, replacing the grand but obsolete Low Memorial Library. It cost four million (depresion-era) dollars, donated by Standard Oil executive Edward S. Harkness (L.L.D. 1928), and was designed by James Gamble Rogers, who also was responsible for the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale. There is another Yale connection, as the entry way mural, Athena defeating the two devils of malevolent influence and disorder, was created by Eugene Savage of the Yale School of Fine Arts.


In 1946, South Hall was renamed Butler Library, in honor of Nicholas Murray Butler, the president of Columbia from 1902 to 1945. In fact, he had already put his stamp on the library, as he had selected the names carved along the porticos and on the panels, and had selected the quotations gracing the main rooms.

When it opened, the collection included the central stacks as well as a number of specialized libraries, including the Business Library, the Brander Matthews Dramatic Library, and the Library School Library. Currently there are approximately two million books in the central stacks, and several other collections, including the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, the Periodicals and Microforms collection, and the Milstein Undergraduate Library.

Name Title catalog  Butler Library

The Columbia University Libraries union card catalog was housed in Butler Library 310 from 1934 –2013 and held catalog cards from all of the Columbia University libraries. The card catalog was closed in 1981 and replaced with the Libraries online catalog, CLIO. The card catalog has not been updated since 1985.

In 2013, the Subject catalog at the north end of the room and the Name/Title catalog in the center of the south end of the room were removed to make way for patron seating.

The remaining catalog drawers on the east and west walls of the south end of Butler 310 contain the following pre-1985 cards only:

  • East wall, A-H only, all cards, all collections
  • West wall, H-Z only, cards only for Dewey call numbers beginning with 0, 3, 4, 8, & 9 – and only for the Butler stacks
  • West wall, A-Z, the complete Serials Catalog

The card catalogs in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML), Butler 606, and the Periodicals and Microform Reading Room (PMRR), Butler 401, should be consulted for items in these collections not yet in CLIO.