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The library is named after Harold F. Johnson, an Amherst College alumnus and financier who gave $6 million in 1965 to found Hampshire College. He wanted to do something constructive with money he had made on the stock market, and decided that education--in particular education that would nurture more future leaders--was the most useful thing he could fund. He had read The New College Plan: a Proposal for a Major Departure in Higher Education, which had been written by a Four College (Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith and UMass) committee in 1958, and was impressed with its emphasis on student initiative, faculty inter-disciplinary collaboration, and its discarding of traditional (and, he agreed, outmoded) ideas such as tenure and varsity sports. He asked the president of Amherst College whether there was still interest in establishing a new college in the Valley. The answer, clearly, was yes! And so Hampshire College was on its way to becoming a reality. The New College Plan remains one of the founding documents of Hampshire College.
Johnson resolutely opposed having the new college named after him, but according to Toby Dakin, the trustees gave him "the bum's rush", and named the library after him instead. He was the first chairman of the Board of Trustees, and held the title "Trustee Emeritus" until his death in 1981. A tree planted on the occasion of a memorial service for him can be found in the southwest corner of the library quad (near the NS Greenhouse), and a short granite pillar with a plaque that reads, "This tree was planted in memory of Harold F. Johnson, whose generosity helped to found and sustain Hampshire College. October 11, 1981".
A portrait of Harold F. Johnson hangs over the reference desk in the library. Known affectionately as "Harold", the librarians like to think that he would be pleased with the work done by his college in educating future generations of leaders.