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A Library with a Garden: The Arthur & Janet C. Ross Library at the American Academy in Rome

Sebastian Hierl

Si hortum in bibliotheca habes, nihil deerit—If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”—Marcus Tullius Cicero, in Epistulae ad familiares IX, 4. 


For 120 years, the American Academy in Rome has occupied a unique position in the American cultural landscape, playing a defining role in shaping the transnational modern history of the arts and humanities. The Academy’s library has been integral to making this possible. With over 155,000 volumes on 6,339 linear meters of shelves, close to 600 periodical subscriptions, and 2-3,000 volumes added every year, the Arthur and Janet C. Ross Library ranks among the premier research destinations for scholars in Classical Studies and beyond. The library maintains an excellent working collection in ancient Mediterranean art and archaeology, classical literature, ancient topography and related fields, such as epigraphy, numismatics, and papyrology. Not only does it rival larger research collections in the United States in its classical studies holdings, but it possesses unique archival resources on the history of the institution, the work of innumerable eminent AAR Fellows and Residents between 1895 and the present, and the history of the development of archaeology as a discipline, which includes the work of pioneering women archaeologists including Esther B. Van Deman (FASCSR 1909) and Lily Ross Taylor (FAAR’18). The Barbara Goldsmith Rare Book Room, designed by Michael Graves in 1996 to house the library’s most valuable manuscripts and rare volumes in climate controlled storage conditions, contains over 1,600 volumes dating from the 16th to 18th centuries and include imprints in classics, classical archaeology, and Italian art and architecture, as well as Roman guidebooks and early art treatises. Nearby, the Archaeological Study Collection contains 9,000 archaeological objects, ranging from inscriptions to ceramics and sculpture, donated during the early part of the Academy’s history. 

The Library’s Photographic Archive consists of over 70,000 images documenting the activities of master photographers, scholars, and artists from 1850 to the present, including the photographs and notebooks of Esther B. Van Deman that document her groundbreaking entry into a male-dominated world of scholarly inquiry at the beginning of the last century. The holdings of the Photographic Archive further include 30,000 images from the Fototeca Unione, founded by Ernest Nash (Ernst Nathan). Thanks to grants from the Samuel H. Kress and J. Paul Getty Foundations, nearly 25,000 images from the Photographic Archive have been digitized and are accessible to a broader public online via the Academy’s newly launched Digital Humanities Center ( With the DHC, the Academy aims to bring the entire collection into public view via a single platform. Recent years have seen the expansion of the Library's digital collections with the addition of thousands of ebooks, online journals, and electronic resources. The launch of an entirely new online catalog in 2013 and the reclassification of the collection according to the Library of Congress Classification system in 2014 and implementation of a new circulation system based upon RFID are among the library’s more recent updates. The Academy further has been a founding member of the new consortial URBiS catalog (, which unites the collections of Rome's foreign Academies, including the British School at Rome and the École Française de Rome.  The Arthur and Janet C. Ross Library remains a free and valuable resource, attracting scholars from around the world and welcoming up to 9,000 users a year. It also provides crucial educational support to attendees of the annual Classical Summer School and the National Endowment for the Arts Summer Seminars. 


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