When the Curtis library opened in 1926, two years after the school’s founding, its reading room was the room now known as the Bok Room, with its ceiling murals reminiscent of the Library of Congress. 

Below this room the library comprised eight staffed rooms filled with books, music scores, and state-of-the-art equipment.

Since then, the library has evolved with the school. This exhibit provides an overview of the changing face of the Curtis library, from its establishment in the main building in 1926 to the recent renovation of today’s Rock Resource Center at 1720 Locust Street.

The library in the Bok Room, 1926–74 

When Mary Louise Curtis Bok bought George and Mary Drexel’s mansion on 1726 Locust Street to house the Curtis Institute of Music in 1924, she might have pictured the Drexels’ living room as the perfect reading room for a future library. The ceiling murals—with references to fields of study, virtues, publishing, and the arts—were painted by Philadelphia artist Edwin H. Blashfield in 1898, two years after he finished the ceiling murals under the dome in the Jefferson building’s main reading room at the Library of Congress.

In 1926 Mrs. Bok converted this room to serve as the library’s reading room, with a spiral staircase in the back leading to the basement, which housed the rest of the library. According to an Overtones description in 1930, these rooms included the Orchestra Room, the Academic Room, the Music Room, the Opera Room, the Cataloguing Department, and the Chamber Music Department. There were also a Phonograph Room and a Duo-Art Room. These were home to the Victrola and Duo-Art reproducing piano that were purchased in 1929, along with records and piano rolls. Curtis’s founder lavished the library with gifts, including rare music manuscripts and editions. (Many of the materials described in 1974 have since been sold.)

During the Great Depression the library’s budget was greatly reduced, after which the library remained underfunded for decades. From 1935 to 1975 the library purchased fewer than 100 items per year; a 1980 survey found that 42 percent of its collection was purchased before 1931.

Knapp Hall, 1975–2000

On January 5, 1975, the library moved to 1720 Locust Street, and was known as Knapp Hall (named after Mary Louise Curtis Bok’s mother, Louisa Knapp). The building had housed the Department of Stringed Instruments and Theory from 1925 to 1943, when it was sold to the Elizabeth Arden Institute to be used as a beauty parlor. Curtis repurchased the building in 1969.

By the time of the move the library held approximately 50,000 volumes, of which 35,000 were for music performance and study. Its record collection included 1,800 78-rpm records, nearly 2,000 LPs, as well as tape recordings of Curtis performances from 1968. Initially, the library (from 1985 the “John de Lancie Library” in recognition of John de Lancie, Curtis director from 1977 to 1985) occupied only the second and third floor. In 1991, however, it expanded to fill all four floors of Knapp Hall to accommodate increased holdings. Under the direction of longtime head librarian Elizabeth Walker, the library kept up with rapid technological changes in the recording of music and performances. Information storage and retrieval changed dramatically as well with the arrival of the first library computers in 1991 (read an interview with Walker, 2002).

Rock Resource Center, 2000 to present

On March 8, 2000, Knapp Hall was dedicated as the Milton L. Rock Resource Center, in recognition of Curtis Board Chairman Milton L. Rock’s long-standing involvement with and generosity to the school. His $1 million gift enabled the library to meet the challenges of the new millennium. In the fall of 2002, the Rock Online Catalogue (ROC) was established, allowing students to search the library’s holdings from any computer. Two cataloging librarians were appointed for a three-year conversion project to enter all library holdings into the new database. The print card catalog was retired in 2008.

Elizabeth Walker retired from the library at the end of 2012 after a 35-year tenure, in which she had transitioned the library into a new age. Its holdings had multiplied and the library staff increased from two to six, including an archivist. In the summer of 2013, the renovation of the Rock Resource Center, which had started in the summer of 2011, was completed, ensuring appropriate climate control, better use of space and resources, and a welcoming atmosphere.

The Library is open!

The reading room or lounge is redesigned to be relaxing and inviting, while the second floor, which includes an education room and houses the audio-visual holdings and archives, provides better accommodation for students and researchers.

The new and more open space in the library reflects current developments in the library world. The library has added numerous online databases to its holdings and made the Rock Online Catalog (ROC) more user-friendly and available to the general public. In addition, it has expanded access to digital media and created a new web presence for both the library and the archives to ensure better access to its holdings. Upper floors offer quiet study spaces and a group study room, accommodating different learning styles and needs. For members of the Curtis community, the library is (even more) open!

DISCLAIMER: The images and documents in this exhibit are made available for purposes of education and research. The Curtis Archives has made every attempt to determine the copyright status of materials displayed, but due to the nature of archival materials we are not always able to identify this information. We are eager to hear from any rights owners, so that we may obtain accurate information. Upon request, we will remove material from public view while we address a rights issue.