Vol. XXXIV No. 11 — November 1956

Five Great Libraries

A majority of the grand lodges of the United States maintain libraries of various sizes and degrees of usefulness. Four of these, and the Library of the Supreme Council, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite for the Southern Jurisdiction of the United States, are not only nationally but internationally famous.

Libraries have existed from the beginning of written records; ancient Egypt had libraries of stone and clay tablets. In libraries are to be found the cumulative learning of man on every subject; if large, the library is at once the storehouse and the well-spring of all previous written record of any art, science, craft or other branch of knowledge.

The special library is a modern growth; a thousand subjects are now benefiting from special libraries — law, medicine, engineering, chemistry, electricity, etc.; libraries that are usually more complete in their special references than even the great national libraries — Library of Congress, the British Museum, the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, etc.

Libraries, whether great or special, are of use and value according to the time and care that has been spent upon the classification of the books and their cataloging. Without classification and cataloging, a library is just a collection of books of little use and value. With careful and painstaking classification and cataloging any inquirer can obtain without difficulty more references to his subject than he can use.

The great Masonic libraries of the country contain also in their museum sections, the rarities that are the arcana of the Craft; the objects, craftsmanship, manufacturings of the brethren of the past, which show much of their lives, their thoughts, their ambitions and their hopes.

In these five greatest Masonic libraries of this country is housed the spirit of the Craft; its soul may here be searched by him who will approach his task with meek and praying heart. In these institutions, in printed pages and ancient manuscripts, are the thoughts and the hopes of all the thousands of craftsmen who have either chronicled the doings of their fellows or recorded their visions of new paths on which they might adventure.

No few pages such as these can possibly do justice to these great institutions, but at least they can mark the reverent respect in which they are held by all who know that the library of a subject is its very life source. The grand lodges and the Rite that have spent large sums to make these institutions possible and that maintain them and make them useful to students, researchers and craftsmen in general, deserve and should receive the gratitude of all who are proud to be of the Ancient Craft.

These five libraries are described here in alphabetical order; each is supreme in its field.

Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction

This library was first formed by Albert Pike and included his private collection of books and manuscripts. As Grand Commander, in 1888, he directed that the Library should be open to the general public as a free library. At that time, the now-famous Library of Congress occupied limited space in the Capitol building and was not then organized for public use.

Except for the existence of “reading clubs” and the restricted collections in educational institutions, there was not at that time any free public library in the National Capital. The Library of the Supreme Council may therefore be said to have been the first public library in Washington, D.C., and it has been continuously maintained as such.

Today the library contains in excess of 100,000 volumes and occupies portions of three floors in the House of the Temple, one of the Capital’s monumental buildings, located at 16th and S Streets, Northwest. It is open whenever the House of the Temple is open for business. Under the usual public library restrictions, volumes may be borrowed by any responsible person. Photostats and microfilm copies are obtainable at the standard commercial rates. Study rooms are available for the use of those doing extended research. Inquiries by mail or phone are handled daily. Two guides are on duty to show visitors through the library, museum, and other portions of the building.

The collections on Freemasonry, comprising about one-third of the library, are classified by a special system devised by the late William L. Boyden (Librarian, 1893-1939), based on the Dewey Decimal System by which the remainder of the Library is classified, and the whole completely cataloged by American Library Association rules utilizing Library of Congress printed cards.

The collections on Freemasonry are supplemented by fine collections in such related fields as history, biography, philosophy, religion, and general literature. A specialty is the library’s general reference collection. The library includes a number of separate collections housed in different rooms — The William R. Smith Burnsiana Collection, one of the most complete collections on Robert Burns, Poet Laureate of Freemasonry; the Carman Collection of Lincolniana; The Claudy Collection of Goethe editions and 18th-19th century German literature; The Albert Pike Collection; and The John H. Cowles Collection.

The Museum includes many rare books, old Masonic aprons, documents, woodwork, glassware, and art. (See M.S.A. Digest, June 15,1954, A Selection of Masonic Treasures at “The House of the Temple"; and, November 15,1955, A Selection of the Rare Books of Freemasonry.)


At its second annual communication, held January 6, 1845, at Iowa City, the then Grand Lodge of Iowa (Territory) appropriated five dollars to begin a Masonic library. The proposer of the motion was Theodore S. Parvin, grand secretary, who became Grand Librarian and held that position until he died in 1901.

In June 1955, Iowa Masons dedicated a million dollar building adequate to house the Iowa Masonic Library, Museum, and Administration Offices.

This great institution has had four Librarians: Theodore S. Parvin, founder; his son, Newton R. Parvin, 1901 to 1925; Charles Clyde Hunt, 1925 until his retirement in 1945; Earl B. Delzell from that date to the present.

The growth of this great Masonic library is a romance and a curiosity: — just why and how the craftsmen of this great farming state should have become so interested in Masonic literature is a question none can answer but the evidence is plain, in the emphasis always placed in that great grand lodge on Masonic education, books, reading, speeches. The result is one of the greatest Masonic centers of learning in all the world.

Sixty-five thousand volumes are in the library. Probably the most precious is one of two known copies in the world of Robert’s Constitutions of 1722, although the Iowa fire-proof vault holds many other rare and priceless volumes.

The library has an enormous clipping bureau, fully indexed. The Masonic books include practically everything ever printed upon Freemasonry. The Proceedings collection is as complete as time, research, and money can make it, an historical well of unknown depth and priceless value for historians of the future. The same can be said of the library’s collection of Masonic journals.

The library possesses a general reference section of notable size and, in several bypaths that touch upon Freemasonry only incidentally, has collections of real importance, notably those that include poetry and those shelves devoted to religious matters, especially church history.

The library is not only a tool of Masonic education in the skilled hands of its grand lodge, for the benefit of Iowa craftsmen, but has generously, even eagerly, put its enormous resources at the use of Masonic students and researchers the world over.

With the exception of certain rarities, too precious to trust to the possible dangers of transportation, and certain volumes that for other reasons are not loaned, the entire Library can be called upon for loans by mail and/or express by anyone, and the library pays the transportation one way.

Students come from all over the world to consult its resources and find a cordial welcome from the Librarian and his staff and every facility is given the researcher for his labors.

The library, of course, is completely and adequately cataloged and is a growing, not a static institution, as indicated by the new and magnificent building given to it by the Masons of the “state where the tall corn grows.”


The beginnings of the Library of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, rich in history and tradition, and progressive in outlook, go back nearly a century and a half when the first grand chaplain, R.W. Thaddeus Mason Harris, who was recording grand secretary at the time, submitted a letter under date of December 12, 1814, recommending the formation of a library. Early the following year grand lodge purchased Brother Harris’ small personal collection of Masonic books.

Little interest seems to have been shown in the development of the library during the next 30 years or so, but on June 12, 1850, a permanent library committee was authorized to appoint a librarian, to purchase books, and library to attend to all matters pertaining to the library.

Through the efforts of such men as M.W. Winslow Lewis and M.W. Sereno D. Nickerson, the library has continued to grow. Gifts of value and size have been made by prominent Masonic scholars and book collectors, and many private collections have become a part of the Grand Lodge Library, the most outstanding of which is the bequest of Past Grand Master Samuel Crocker Lawrence, who died in 1911. This collection includes the Enoch T. Carson Masonic Library and other Masonic libraries that Brother Lawrence had acquired. This gift placed Massachusetts among the five leading Masonic libraries in the United States. Thus the small collection of books that was purchased from R.W Brother Harris early in 1815 has expanded into a library of approximately 50,000 volumes.

The principal part of the library is situated on the third floor of the Masonic Temple in Boston in quarters adjacent to the grand master’s offices. In addition to the thousands of books that are shelved in the main stacks, there are as many more in the sub-basement of the temple. Only a few books are not permitted out of the building. These include rare books, reference works such as Proceedings and periodicals, and other books that cannot be replaced.

Material on all phases of Masonry and volumes dealing with related subjects may be found in the library. To assist the newly-made Mason and the older members of the Craft who are not familiar with Masonic literature, grand lodge has published a booklet under the title, “A Short List of Books on Freemasonry,” which lists appropriate books for Masonic reading. It is the responsibility of every lodge secretary to see that one of these is presented to each candidate as part of the program of the Department of Education after he has completed his third degree. Its purpose is to acquaint the candidate with the library and to suggest worthwhile reading on Masonic subjects.

One of the most active sources of information, and a part of the library that is referred to constantly, is the Clipping Bureau, containing thousands of pamphlets and clippings on Masonry and allied subjects.

The library is open daily Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and a trained librarian, Mrs. Muriel D. Taylor, who is directly responsible to a committee of three appointed annually by the grand master, is in charge.

Books and other items are loaned to individual members in good standing for a period of three weeks and may be renewed upon request for a similar period if no one is waiting for them. Traveling libraries containing an assortment of 20 volumes are furnished upon request to a lodge, a group of lodges, or a district for a three month’s period. This is another means by which the Library is able to serve the members, particularly those living outside the limits of greater Boston. In order to make known what books are available for traveling library loan, grand lodge has issued a booklet entitled, "Selected List of Books for Traveling Libraries." When books are sent out from the library, transportation is paid one way. Borrowers are expected to return the books by insured parcel post or prepaid express. Library service is by no means limited to the Craft in Boston and vicinity, or even to Massachusetts, for requests for information on Masonic matters and requests for books have been received from all parts of the world: Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Japan, Korea, and South America, to mention a few.

A Masonic museum is maintained on the second floor of the Temple, and is open to visitors from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. daily Monday through Friday. It is attended by two curators, who are directly responsible to a committee of three annually appointed by the grand master.

New York

The need for a Masonic library was felt in the Grand Lodge of New York as early as 1825. The need was not filled immediately, but as the Fraternity grew in membership and the value of Masonic education and study became more widely recognized, the Library and later the Museum began to grow.

There was a library in the office of the grand secretary before 1846, and on June 7th, 1855, grand lodge adopted a resolution, “That the first five grand officers be a standing committee, and styled a Library Committee. . . .” From 1871 to 1927, a succession of grand librarians preserved and added to the library collection, and from 1884 to 1927, a library and reading room committee (later a committee on antiquities) built up the museum collection. In 1927 the board of general activities, subsequently the committee on Masonic education and lodge service, took over the library and museum and greatly extended its use by lodge and grand lodge officers and members.

The library and museum reference collection consists principally of 30,000 books and pamphlets, 38 filing cabinets of clippings, photographs and typewritten material, and several thousand museum items. A most important part of the collection is the lodge history file, in which one or more folders are maintained for every lodge in the jurisdiction.

The greatest part of the museum collection, except pictures, is displayed in 43 floor cases of various sizes, and four sets of 40 swinging frames. Available wall space in the library and museum rooms is filled with pictures, and some of the latter are displayed in other parts of the 23rd and 24th Street buildings.

The circulating collection consists of all the books and pamphlets in the reference collection that can be safely spared for loan, and most of the clippings and typewritten material. The books that circulate most widely are those made available by the reading courses.

Many Masons, especially newly raised brethren and junior officers, are anxious to learn something definite about their Fraternity but do not know exactly how or where to begin. Others like to read Masonic books but do not have the time or the opportunity to choose and order just the book they want. The reading courses, a unique Masonic service of the library takes care of such needs.

The library and museum is on the 17th floor of the 23rd Street Masonic Hall, and except Saturday and Sunday, it is open until eight o’clock evenings as well as during the day. More than 5,000 use it at various times each year, borrowing about 23,000 books and reference items and having 4,000 information requests answered.


The library hall is one of the greatest storehouses of Masonic lore, and in the paneled ceilings the age and universality of the Masonic Fraternity are prominently indicated. In each of the middle coffers is one of the signs derived from the works of the ancient stonecutters, and in the two outer ones next to the north and south walls are placed elaborate designs taken from the coat-of-arms, ancient and modern, of various Masonic bodies.

It had been the desire of the brethren since the latter part of the 18th century that the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania should possess a Masonic library that would reflect credit upon the Fraternity. This aspiration was first brought to the attention of the grand lodge officers as early as March 26, 1787, and subsequently on October 7, 1816, and March 17, 1817. It was not until June 7, 1871, that a resolution was passed in grand lodge authorizing the establishment of a Library. On June 7, 1956, the library reached the age of 85 years. During these passing years much thought and labor have been given to this special department, and every effort is being made by the present committee on culture to continue the good work of its predecessors in making the library more helpful to the members of the Craft.

The great difficulties to be encountered in maintaining a special Masonic library, will at once be apparent to anyone familiar with the necessary qualifications. The collecting of preferable books for a library of this nature is quite different from securing literature for a public library, and care must be taken in the purchasing of proper pubheations and material interesting to the members of the Fraternity. Masonic writings have been invaluable to the Masonic student. Many authors can now be found in the field of Masonic literature, and it is surprising to learn of the vast number of books and pamphlets that has been written on Freemasonry that is available in various Masonic libraries throughout the United States.

From the number of inquiries constantly received asking for information concerning the symbolism of Freemasonry, its early history and facts relating to individuals connected therewith, the library proves a serviceable agency in the work of the grand lodge.

The grand lodge library acquisitions consist largely of manuscripts, historical papers, books, and pamphlets of rare value, and the work performed is largely of a research character.

Noted manuscripts and books are preserved in the Library:

The library is situated on the first floor of the Masonic Temple, and is 65 ft. long, 45 ft. wide, and 30 ft. high, and has approximately 45,000 volumes that include, beside the many rare volumes on Freemasonry, histories of numerous Masonic bodies, bound volumes of Masonic magazines from all parts of the world, Proceedings of various grand lodges, and articles of a Masonic nature.

The library is open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. except on Saturdays when it is closed at 12 o’clock noon.

The first brother appointed September 27, 1871, was known as the president of the committee on library. The first librarian was appointed May 1,1899, and since that date the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania has had a permanent librarian.

The Masonic Service Association of North America