Inside a stark modern marble building, Yale University’s rare books are housed in an architecturally stunning, elevated, glassed-in, 6-story tower of book stacks.
The stacks hold the university’s extensive collection of medieval manuscripts, rare books, maps, and historic tracts and pamphlets as well as modern-day items such as artists’ books and rare limited editions. Built in 1962, the building is the largest in the world dedicated to the preservation and collection of rare books and manuscripts.
The oldest printed item in their collection is a Gutenberg Bible from approximately 1454 (one of only 48 known examples of its kind), but perhaps the most famous item is the mysterious Voynich Manuscript, also known by its call number, Beinecke MS 408.
The Voynich Manuscript is named for the book dealer who purchased it in 1912, and very little is known about its true origins. Written entirely in a mysterious and most likely fictional language, the manuscript is elaborately decorated with symbols and illustrations of fanciful plant life. The book was donated to Yale’s Beinecke Library in 1969, where it continues to attract the attention of scholars and code-breakers attempting to crack its riddles and solve its mysteries.
The Gutenberg Bible and John James Audubon’s Birds of America, are part of the library’s permanent exhibition, located on the mezzanine. The Voynich Manuscript is not on public display, but there is a facsimile of the manuscript by the front desk for curious vistors to peruse.
The library operates as a closed-stack system, with visitors given access to works only in a closely controlled subterranean reading room. The library is open to Yale students and faculty, as well as visiting researchers.
Also housed at Yale is the extraordinary Cushing Brain Collection.
Know Before You Go
The Beinecke Library on Yale University Campus is west of the intersection of Wall and College Streets near Woolsey Hall and Woodbridge Hall. The Library also offers free postcards (two designs, one featuring the exterior of the library and another featuring the glass tower of book stacks) for visitors to take as souvenirs. A handwritten sign does request for guests to please be considerate and just take one per visitor.