The library's collection exists to support the college program. The general collection consists of over 102,000 books, sound recordings of faculty lectures, videos of classic films, and print and electronic periodicals. The major part of the collection consists of primary texts. Selected critical works on the program authors also are acquired and placed in the collection. Additionally, the library has carefully selected periodicals and journals to augment the program needs. Electronic and print resources are both available. The library has archives and special collections consisting of college records, personal papers, rare books, and realia. Arrangements and permission to use the archives and special collections are made during the regular week schedule with the college librarian.
The St. John's College library is located on the southwest corner of the campus, and is housed in the renovated building once known as the Maryland Hall of Records. The architectural conversion to the college library was begun in 1994 and completed in 1996. Blending a post-modern style with historic preservation, the Baltimore based architect, Travis Price, added several major enhancements. He created an underground annex topped by a landscaped plaza, replaced the seven storied central core with a three story atrium and a large skylight, and restored the perimeter rooms. The new library was named the Greenfield Library in recognition of the generosity of donor Stewart Greenfield (class of 1953), and his wife Constance. The building now has a beautiful reading room housing the main reference collection, a New Program room where the current program books may be found, and various comfortable reading areas overlooking the patio or town, in addition to carrels and a general study area in the basement.
The music library is housed in Mellon Hall, a separate building from the Greenfield Library. Its collection consists of more than 7,000 compact discs and vinyl records. The bulk of the recordings are classical, or art-music. Soundproof practice rooms are available in the basement of Mellon Hall. There are pianos open for use in the music classrooms (132, 133, 134). The music librarian is Eric Stoltzfus, and arrangements for the use of the harpsichord or organ should be made with the music library.
The St. John's College library grew out of two 17th century efforts to instruct and educate. These two efforts eventually converged. The first effort was the founding of the King William's School by Maryland colonists for the purpose of educating their sons. The second was the effort of the Rev. Thomas Bray, an Anglican clergyman, to establish libraries in the colonies for the enrichment of the parishioners who were living in rural and isolated areas, and who were often without regular clergy visits.
During a patronage visit to Denmark, Bray successfully solicited the future Queen Anne for support, and received it in the amount of 40 guineas. Upon receipt of this generous gift, the Rev. Bray decided to present Annapolis with a collection of the finest books available in the colonies, numbering 1,095 volumes and valued at 350 pounds. Each volume had stamped upon its front and back covers respectively, "Sub auspicious Wilhelmni" and "Bibliotheca Annopolita."
What may have been the first American legislation on public libraries was passed on September 24, 1696, when the Assembly decided that the Bray books would be housed in the new State House. The State House burned in 1704, and the books were moved into King William's School nearby. St. John's College acquired the Bray Collection when it became part of the school in 1785. Most of the volumes have now been lost. Some remain at the college library, and others have been transferred to the Maryland State Archives where they reside in a climate controlled environment.
Among the volumes are two indicating that Bray may have given some consideration to balancing the collection's content. One was a 1670 copy of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan. The other, a book published six years later, was Lord Edward Hyde Clarendon's answer: A brief View and Survey to the dangerous and pernicious errors to church and state in Mr. Hobbe's book, entitled "Leviathan."
Once St. John's College was chartered in 1784 and classes started, the college began discussing the "purchase of a proper library." In 1791, plans were made for preparing the Octagon, the room in the cupola above the fourth floor of McDowell Hall, and it opened in 1793. There are no indications how this floor was heated during frigid weather. For Francis Scott Key, who graduated in 1796, and for other students, going to the library must have been an adventure.
In 1837 the library was moved to a more accessible room in Humphreys Hall, where it remained until 1900, when it was moved to the newly opened Woodward Hall, sharing the building with the chemistry and physics laboratories and the armory (St. John's offered a military program at the time). Woodward Hall was renovated twice, once in 1932 when the King William Room was added and again in 1968 when a fourth and lower level was created and a wing added. After the 1932 renovation, the library occupied the entire building.
Today the library is housed in the old Maryland Hall of Records. This building was constructed in 1934 on land deeded to the state for $10, and designed by Baltimore architect Lawrence Hall Fowler. It belongs to the Georgian Revival Style, and in its original form contained a core of seven stories and perimeter rooms that had reflected different periods of architectural details based on Maryland history. It was totally renovated in 1996.