Lamont Library was the first university library building in the United States specifically planned for undergraduates. Lamont was the idea of Keyes D. Metcalf, Librarian of Harvard College and Director of the Harvard University Library from 1937 to 1955. Metcalf actively participated in planning the building with the Boston architect Henry Shepley as early as 1938. At the end of World War II, through the generosity of the major donor, Thomas W. Lamont, Harvard Class of 1892, the Harvard Undergraduate Library became a reality. Lamont opened in January 1949.
Lamont began with 80,000 volumes, which were transferred from the Widener Library, the Boylston Hall reserve-book collections, and the Harvard Union Reading Room. The library included an easy-to-use card catalog of library materials and a modified version of the Dewey classification scheme, with the open-shelf arrangement of books in alcoves thought to be useful for browsing, study, and research by undergraduates. The large reading rooms on three levels were complemented by the alcove seating and by a supply of comfortable armchairs for extended sessions of reading in the great books. Lighting, heating, and ventilation were advertised to be state of the art for institutional buildings. The Penthouse housed classrooms desperately needed by the expanding Harvard College. At the time of Lamont’s opening, the library became the home of the Henry Weston Farnsworth collection, supporting non-curricular reading, and of the George Edward Woodberry Poetry Room.
Much of the salutary thinking that shaped Lamont's early appearance and development has undergone revision, and increased demand for space in the library has brought about some significant rearrangements.
Since 1975, all reserves materials have been located at the Circulation and Reserves Desk on the First Floor. In 1978, the Center for students with Disabilities was installed in the former Reserves Desk Area on the B level. With the progressive mainstreaming of library and web access for students with disabilities, the center closed in spring 2007.
From 1992 through June 2007, Government Documents and Microforms, a division of the HCL Social Sciences Program, occupied much of Level B, in addition to one of the basement levels.
In 1994, The Larsen Room, an interactive electronic teaching/learning room dedicated to end-user instruction, was opened on the First Floor, and in 1999 an electronic learning facility dedicated to the training of Harvard College Library staff made its appearance on the Third Floor.
In 1997, the Language Resource Center moved to the Fourth Floor, displacing the classrooms, and in September 2004, the Morse Music Library moved to Lamont’s Level A from the Hilles Library. It is now named Morse Music & Media, to acknowledge the growth in collecting of the non-book formats for undergraduate study.
Two of Lamont's reading rooms have been renovated and have been dedicated to the donors who made the work possible. The Ginsberg Reading Room (1999) is located on the First Floor and the Donatelli Room (2004) on the Third Floor. Both offer a variety of study spaces to accommodate a range of undergraduate preferences.
From 1975 to 2005, Lamont was administered jointly with Hilles, formerly the library of Radcliffe College. The Hilles Library closed in June of 2005. The main-floor Quad Library opened in the Hilles Building fall 2005 and was administered as a unit of Lamont. The Quad Library closed at the end of the spring 2009 term.
In September 2005, Lamont initiated 24/5 service for library users, and in September 2006, the library sponsored the opening of the Lamont Library Café, right inside the main entrance.
In September of 2007, following the closing of the Littauer Library, Lamont became the home library for HCL’s former Social Sciences Program. Four units of the Social Sciences Program—Documents Services, Microform Services, Numeric Data Services, and Environmental Information Services—combined with Lamont Reference Services to form a new service point on Level B—Research Services at Lamont. Research Services is an ideal place to start for information in the fields of the Social Sciences and the Humanities, and it houses the College Library’s major research collections in government documents and microform collections across all disciplines.