AAR Completes NEH Challenge Grant Match for Library Annex

Architectural rendering of the inside of a library, with low and tall closed shelves for books and a couple of roman sculptural busts
Architectural rendering of interior of the Library Annex by AeV Architetti

The American Academy in Rome has successfully matched the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) “Challenge Grant” of nearly half a million dollars toward the construction of a new Library Annex in the Villa Chiaraviglio, Rome, Italy. The annex project was born out of necessity when it became clear that the Library would run out of space to house its growing collections.

In April 2023, the NEH issued a Challenge Grant of $472,850 for this project with a three-to-one match. Thanks to the generosity of Katharine J. Rayner (Trustee), and Elizabeth Bartman (1983 Fellow, 2009 Resident, Trustee Emerita) and Andrew P. Solomon, the Academy has raised the required funds, and the NEH awarded the full grant. It is a testament to the leadership and vision of these patrons that this challenge grant has been met within a year, over three years ahead of the deadline.

The Academy’s Arthur & Janet C. Ross Library, which boasts 9,000 visitors a year, is one of the most cherished resources to both Fellows and the scholars of Rome. Its open stacks are a rarity among libraries in the city, and Fellows, Residents, and Affiliated Scholars and Artists have access to the Library’s rich collections twenty-four hours a day. Yet with the Library acquiring about 2,500 volumes (about 75 linear meters) annually, we are set to reach full capacity in three years.

Architectural rendering of the entrance to a library, with stone walls and shrubs on either side of a stone pathway leading to glass doors of a building
Architectural rendering of the entrance to the Library Annex by AeV Architetti

Especially acute is the need for more dedicated rare book storage. The Barbara Goldsmith Rare Book Room has already reached capacity, leading to some rare books being stored on open shelves, where they can be at risk of damage or theft. The Library is central to the Academy’s mission and to the creation of new scholarship, art, literature, music, and design by Fellows. To remain vibrant and relevant to the community, the Library’s collections must continue to grow.

So the need was clear, but, from the start, Drue Heinz Librarian Sebastian Hierl knew that he did not want to settle for offsite storage or other Band-Aid solutions. Relying on offsite storage would not only be costly in the long run, it would undermine the Library’s unique level of access to Fellows, Residents, and Library readers. More simply, a world-class library deserved a world-class expansion. “We thoroughly investigated all options, but it quickly became clear that only an expansion of the footprint of the Library would respond to our imperatives, namely to find a financially and ecologically sustainable, long-term solution for access to new space,” said Hierl.

The answer came in the form of the lower level of the Villa Chiaraviglio—which is located immediately facing the Academy’s main building, on the north side of via Angelo Masina. For years, the lower level housed countless finds from affiliated archaeological projects. But with these objects being returned to the relevant soprintendenza, the lower level of the villa could be repurposed as a new study space and books storage, complete with its own dedicated entrance and 24/7 access for the AAR community.

The project will add an estimated five hundred meters of fire-resistant compactable bookshelves, as well as one hundred meters of insulated fixed shelves, with dedicated space to provide for the housing of rare and semirare materials. A new humidity control system, fire suppression system, and other upgrades—along with new furniture, doors and windows—will make the new Library Annex a worthy complement to the main Arthur & Janet C. Ross Library. 

The project, expected to be completed in 2025, will be directed by senior Academy leadership as well as the Board of Trustees’ Plant, Planning, and Planning Committee.

Color photo of a red-walled two-story villa in Rome, surrounded by trees and bushes
Villa Chiaraviglio, Rome, Italy

The Villa Chiaraviglio, with its distinctive red façade, was built on land purchased in 1902 by Mario Chiaraviglio, an engineer and son-in-law of Giovanni Giolitti (who served as prime minister of Italy five times between 1892 and 1921). J. P. Morgan acquired the house and garden for the Academy on January 2, 1912, as Katherine A. Geffcken (1955 Fellow, Trustee Emerita) recounts in “The American and Its Neighbors: Real Estate and Social Life in the Diary of Gorham Phillips Stevens” published in Studi Germanici in 2006. The upper levels contain apartments where Residents frequently stay. The windows of the spacious lower level, which features high ceilings and distinctive vaulting, directly overlook the villa’s impressive garden, with fruit trees and lawns stretching all the way to the back of the Acqua Paola.

Thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Rayner, Ms. Bartman and Mr. Solomon, and the NEH, the project will break ground this summer and the Arthur & Janet C. Ross Library can continue to meet the needs of generations of scholars to come.

Help keep the momentum going by making a gift to the American Academy in Rome’s Annual Fund.

The Library Annex project has been made been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Press inquiries

Andrew Mitchell

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Rome Press Officer

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