James Baldwin Library

MacDowell's Library from a distance. A dirt path leads to the building. A lush meadow on the left, large deciduous trees on the right.

James Baldwin Library by Ngoc Minh Ngo (Ngoc Minh Ngo photo)

The James Baldwin Library was dedicated on November 4, 2019 to celebrate the author, poet, and cultural icon’s extraordinary cultural legacy. Baldwin, who called MacDowell his “favorite sanctuary for writing,” first arrived in Peterborough in August of 1954 and spent his 30th birthday here having published his first novel the year before. He would return two more times, in 1957 and 1960. His residencies helped bring into being some of his most seminal works, including Notes of a Native Son, Giovanni’s Room, and Another Country. You can watch video of the dedication here.

Housing more than 16,000 books, recordings, musical scores, films, and visual works created by MacDowell Fellows, the James Baldwin Library is an extraordinary resource and connects artists across MacDowell’s 113-year history. The original one-room library, called the Eugene Coleman Savidge Library, was built in 1927. From 2012 to 2013, the Library underwent an expansion designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien Architects to meet the needs of contemporary artists-in-residence. The elegant modern glass and granite expansion quadrupled the total square footage of the library to 4,500 square feet, while incorporating the original historic structure and expanding its essential function as a space where artists conduct research and gather to share evening presentations of creative work.

James Baldwin Library Dedication

When the expanded complex opened in 2013, the stately 1,000-square-foot original reading room was freed from computer work tables and other equipment and resumed its traditional function as a reading room and the designated space for artists’ after-dinner presentations. By contrast, the new space offers a computer friendly alternative to the secluded studios.

Technological advances allow Fellows to interact with and draw inspiration from a digital archive of visual arts, audio recordings, and musical scores. In addition to a variety of comfortable spaces for reading and working, the space includes two small study rooms and a viewing room designed for watching movies without disturbing others. With more than 700 feet of new shelf space and a dedicated electronic catalog, the library offers easy access to all MacDowell Fellows’ work in every discipline and in various media including written works, film/video, sound recordings, and music scores.

Library staff: Colette Lucas, head librarian; Donna Crane, circulation assistant.