In the thirty-five years since the design of the previous University Library, attitudes towards libraries had changed considerably, as seen here. Classicism superseded Gothic, and spatial organization finally recognized the exponential increase in book publication. The calm classicism of Shepley, Rutlan & Coolidge’s contained white-marble mass, mindful, of course, of the seminal Boston Public Library, specifically draws on eighteenth-century English sources, a nice complement to the Colonial English forms seen across the street at University Hall. The main block contains large reading rooms and offices, while the stacks, in the rear, house expandable metal-and-glass shelving. Much of the funding for this library came from Andrew Carnegie, who specified that the library be named for the recently deceased Hay (1838-1905, Brown Class of 1858), personal secretary to Abraham Lincoln (around whom centers a collection herein housed) and secretary of state under McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. This benefaction seems curious, especially since Carnegie is so strongly associated with public libraries, yet Rhode Island is one of a handful of states without a Carnegie-endowed public library. The Hay now houses the university’s rare books, archives, and special collections.
– 2003 Guide to Providence Architecture