History of Denison Library

Exterior view of Denison Library

The Ella Strong Denison Library is the oldest and many would say the most beautiful library at The Claremont Colleges. A desire by the library’s donor and namesake to place a stained-glass window on the Scripps College campus led to the construction of the Ella Strong Denison Library, which opened in 1931. The library’s prominent Gutenberg window depicting the evolution of the written word dedicated “to the greater wisdom of women” was created by artist Nicola D’Ascenzo. Designed by architect Gordon Kaufmann (1888-1949) in the cruciform shape of a chapel featuring stylistic elements from Spanish Colonial Revival style and ecclesiastical architecture, Denison Library was the second academic building to be built on the Scripps campus and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Today, Scripps is the only one of The Claremont Colleges with its own library. Denison Library now functions as a non-circulating special collections library with comfortable and quiet spaces for study and research, including the Holbein Room with its gothic fireplace and the smaller Ellen Browning Scripps Room. The library’s beautiful hand-carved wood interiors create an environment encouraging learning and reflection, and it is open in the evenings during the academic year to provide spaces in which students may study. Faculty collaborate with library staff to host classes in Denison Library so that students may engage with the library’s unique collections in a hands-on learning environment, and the Holbein Room is also a popular space on campus for meetings or special events like poetry readings, receptions, and lectures.

Denison Library represents the symbolic beginning and completion of a student’s education at Scripps through two events that traditionally begin at its doors: Matriculation and Commencement. The college’s annual Matriculation Ceremony occurs in the first few days of orientation at the start of the new academic year, when incoming students process into the building through the library’s intricately carved pair of east doors and sign their names in a special handmade book. A few years later, graduating seniors exit the library through this same pair of doors as part of the Commencement procession, signifying the end of their educational journey at Scripps College.