The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) was born on 29 December 1932, three weeks after the present writer. For half our lives thereafter, we pursued different courses, and it was only in 1970 that our paths first crossed. At the beginning of that year I went on a pilgrimage that took me from the east to the west of North America and back again. In 31 days and 35 flights, I visited 70 campuses and libraries in places other than universities. Mohawk, Eastern, Piedmont, Delta, Braniff, PanAm, Ozark, and other forgotten names shimmered on what seemed always the same plane, as I sped from New York to New Haven, up to Syracuse and down to Washington, DC, plunged south to Raleigh and Atlanta, across to Baton Rouge and Austin, on to Los Angeles (stopping five times en route on what was then Continental’s only out-of-state flight), north to San Francisco and Vancouver, east to Chicago, deviating to Toronto, Urbana, and St. Louis, and finally to Boston and Providence.
It was the first and most intensive journey of many since that have taken me to, I think, 46 of the places where the Association of Research Libraries has member libraries. Although it was not the main reason for my journey in 1970, I visited all the special collections and rare book libraries I could on the way. In those days, there were fewer than there are now. The collections themselves were, it seemed to me then, less the result of deliberate acquisition, more often of accidental accumulation. Books acquired from older institutions, a seminary that had closed, from the private library of a deceased faculty member, an unsolicited gift from alumnus or neighbour, mixed with books simply segregated, on the grounds of age or worth, from the general stacks. There was not much pattern, still less an acquisitions policy, in evidence.
If some of the books were, so to speak, an odd lot, so too were some of the librarians. Many of them seemed to have drifted into position, rather than being appointed to it. Many of them had problems, some general (dilapidated stock, unsatisfactory accommodation, neglectful administration), some more personal, particularly that they too were neglected. But what united them all was a love of books, above all those in their care. It was impossible not to be moved by the passion that burst out on any provocation, and I did not find it hard to provoke or fail to be moved by its expression. I quickly grasped that one immediate cause of complaint was that they had few visitors of any kind, let alone one prepared to share their enthusiasms or woes.
Like many another innocent abroad, I was tempted to generalise, and, like most generalisations, mine was a gross caricature. There were already many exceptions—for example the still new Beinecke Library at Yale, the older Houghton and William Andrews Clark Libraries at Harvard and UCLA, with a well-defined sense of purpose and staff well able to meet it. But speculation thus induced could not be repressed, and over the years since I have continued to ponder the meaning and purpose of names like “Special Collections” and “Rare Book Library.”
The use and abuse of the word “rare” in the context of American libraries was the subject of a memorable enquiry by Gordon Ray, begun in 1965 and repeated in 1975, a decade of considerable change. The merits or otherwise of rarity had already had a long history. In 1691 a British auctioneer, crying up his wares, could write, “nothing more truely recommends any Collection of Books, to the Judicious Lovers of Learning, than that it contains not the Common and Obvious, but the Outer-Course and more obscure Authors.” But at the same time Jean Le Clerc, who had a temper as sharp as his common sense, was dismissive: “Some of the rarest books are, if you consider the matter candidly, the least useful, a fact you can deduce from their very rarity: what benefit can be got from what has been but rarely or never printed?” Off stage, behind both these statements, is the question of monetary value. Books are valuable for many more reasons than what they cost: why then do some cost more than others? In 1975, reflecting with Ray on a decade that had seen much change, I wrote in the Book Collector:
If rare books are rarer than they used to be, they will cost more and deserve closer examination. Equally, current financial stringencies will impose on libraries and universities and other places where rare books are studied a further need to define terms. It would be grand to be able to maintain the old nineteenth-century vision, panoptic and egalitarian, that all books deserve the same attention, but the books are too many and money too short for this to be possible: it is thus further necessary to define how and for what rare books are to be used. [emphasis added]
Creating a “rare book room” was, I thought, in itself a retrograde step. It was true that the books in them would probably be harder to replace now than they were when acquired, but the reason for these enclaves was not the difficulty but the cost of replacing the contents. An increasing tendency to measure utility in cash terms brought new needs to justify the existence of libraries.
Scholars ought not to need much explanation of the attractions of a library, but administrators, let alone the general public, have to be met more than halfway. In 1975 Ray noted the arrival of new demands and new ideas for libraries, the “museum function,” the duty “to instruct and amuse the general public in an informal way,” the uncomfortable arithmetic of user capitation counts, “community outreach” mediated through “Friends” groups—all these reflected the intrusion of costefficiency arithmetic into libraries. “Balancing the books”was to take on a wider connotation, and now, with increasingly pressing monetary preoccupations, it is harder than ever for a library to maintain its integrity. How to keep faith with scholarly users and the public, how, above all, to keep faith with benefactors who see their gifts as a memorial not to be wantonly destroyed by casual sales of “duplicates”—all this stretches “library resources” to the full. It is, in a changing world, an exhilarating prospect to be responsible for the preservation of the evidences of civilisation, but it is also an exacting one.
The desire to erect a monument to this sense of mission, and, at the same time, a repository for the books, might fit with the impulses that brought new schools, colleges, and universities into being, or with the other impulses that led to the foundation of the proprietary and circulating libraries. But the shape of the buildings reflected the institutions less than the veneration felt for the books themselves. Often literally built in the form of classical temples, they conveyed the iconic status of their contents. Surrounded by Ionic pillars, pediment surmounting the name of the library in Roman capitals, steps leading up to the bronze doors, they inspire awe appropriate to books that are, in mass, more valuable than the sum of their parts. If the physical form of the building offered a sense of security for the contents, it was not as consonant with new demands for access. A frame as well protected may inculcate respectful handling of its contents; it may, however, frighten off the casual or even the learned visitor. More insidiously, it may sow in the minds of the custodians a feeling that such visitors ought to be kept at arm’s length. If some of the special collections librarians that I met in 1970 were lonely, they were not always aware that what was familiar and comfortable to them had the opposite effect on those that they were anxious to help, with whom they might share the treasures in their care.
New Roles & Expanding Scope of Collections
The last 30 years have seen many changes that have altered such directly contradictory impulses as preservation and access. Far from lonely, the librarians and curators of today have put in place programs of exhibitions and seminars that have encouraged visitors to come to libraries with no fear that they will be subjected to some alarming questionnaire or test before they are allowed in. Outreach takes librarians and curators to meet schoolchildren, laying down a relationship of mutual trust and interest for the future. Writers and artists in residence have come to work within the library, and thus are encouraged to add creatively to the library’s resources. Closer links between library and faculty or community have encouraged both sides to interpret a mutual sense of shared purpose. Acquisitions have come to follow a much more specific pattern, reflecting the same shared purpose. More than anything else, the use of the Internet as an extension of all the library’s activities in every field, has increased its scope, and with it many more ways of engaging with different kinds of users, as likely to be remote as present.
The proper contents of a library have been a matter of study and scholarly interest since classical times. De Bure’s Bibliographie instructive and Brunet’s Manuel merely canonised, in their time, ways of dividing up the subject matter of books corresponding with categories that were far older. Theology, the classics, history, jurisprudence, literature, fine and applied art, architecture, civil and military, geography and voyages, natural history, science and technology, provided a structure to which every library, including its special collections, was supposed to conform, within whatever classification system had been adopted for them. Archives, whether internal or external, followed the same principles, adopting archival standards and cataloguing systems.
A glance at the list of contents of this volume will show how far the role and scope of the special collections or rare book library has moved on, since this Procrustean formula was devised. Here again the Internet and international databases have had a liberating effect on individual libraries, their contents, and how they are treated and used. Synergy, hitherto undreamed of, has grown up between libraries and researchers geographically distant. These links have born fruit in joint cataloguing and research projects, shared exhibitions, and other activities. Isolation is no longer an endemic problem.
Special Collections as Distinctive Signifiers of Excellence
The variety of the material covered in the profiles of their collections selected by 118 of ARL’s members for this volume is in itself remarkable, the more so if we reflect that this is in each case simply one part of a collection that contains much more. Each choice tells you something about the special collection that is its home. It also tells you how much the libraries’ expectations of special collections have changed: where once special collections were regarded as the top dressing on the solid cake of main library management, they are now regarded as distinctive signifiers, almost trademarks. Indeed, the choice of special collections as an appropriate subject with which to celebrate ARL’s 75th birthday, rather than intellectual property or preservation or diversity or networked information, tells you something about the way the research library world has changed over the last 30 years. ARL libraries want to be known for their distinctive collections, not by some characteristic shared with every other library.
This is itself not a new phenomenon. Each of these characteristics serves to distinguish its library from others. To be unique in some definable way, however recondite, makes it the object of an attention that it would not otherwise attract. In 1974, deputising for John Carter who was not well enough to come, I went to Indiana University at Bloomington to meet his old friend and colleague David Randall and speak at the opening of an exhibition on the theme of “Printing and the Mind of Man” at the Lilly Library. I was housed in the Faculty Center in a building that also housed the university bookstore. There I discovered a more than respectable stock of academic books on a wide variety of subjects, which, however, also contained a collection, not just respectable but (I could recognise) comprehensive, of books on and in the Tartar languages. Sitting that evening next to the Chancellor, Hermon Wells, who more than made up a lack of inches in energy and imagination, I commented on this. He was pleased:
“Yes,” he said, “when I came to IU it was just another state university; it needed something to make it different from the rest. So I looked around for a subject, and lit on Tartar languages. No one else specialised in that. Now we are the world center. People even come from Ulan Bator to use our collections.”
I could see the force of this, and others have followed this example as is demonstrated by the collection profiles selected for this commemorative volume.
At the same time, the old categories used by libraries since time immemorial have not dropped off the map; since, ultimately, it is books that determine how libraries dispose of their resources, and they in turn correspond with market expectation, it would be surprising if they had. But theology, once the staple of every library, is here recognisable in only four collections. Boston College, the largest Jesuit educational establishment in the country, celebrates the history of the Society of Jesus with a collection of Jesuit authors and materials about the society prior to its suppression in 1773. The University of California, Santa Barbara holds the American Religions collection of J. Gordon Melton, Methodist minister and author of the Encyclopaedia of American Religions, whose speciality has been “less documented religious groups,” the newer Asian religions, American Islam and New Age organizations, not to mention Wicca and Neo-Paganism and flying saucer religions. The Hamilton Family fonds at the University of Manitoba record one of the longest running experiments in the history of spiritualism, which made Winnipeg an automatic port of call for visiting spiritualists from 1913. More conventionally, the University of Chicago boasts the collection made by its professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, Edgar J. Goodspeed, of 65 manuscripts from the 7th to the 19th century, Greek, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, Arabic, and Latin. Believing, as he did, that “manuscripts are to research in the humanities what laboratories and laboratory materials are to the natural sciences,” he would be delighted to know that his collection is used by his successor for students to confront medium and message together.
Any collection with medieval manuscripts in it is special, but apart from specialists they are more often admired than used. At the University of Houston, however, 12 manuscript books and 7 leaves are made to work hard. Faculty interest ranges from art history to music, and “assignments are not uncommon.” One student constructed a fullsize scribe’s desk, another “a large folio detailing the Martha Stewart trial,” while the Gothic Voices ensemble sang chant from a 15th-century Italian service book. The University of Missouri–Columbia owns Fragmenta Manuscripta, 217 leaves, from the 8th–15th centuries, rescued from bindings in the dissolution of Archbishop Tenison’s Library in 1861 (I know it well, for I catalogued it before and after its sale in 1968); it is good to know that it is finding new use as one of the 29 participants in the Digital Scriptorium project. The University of Michigan shares in a similar project, APIS (Advanced Papyrological Information System), which makes its 12,000 papyrus fragments over two millennia from Karamis, excavated by the university in 1924 to 1935, accessible to the 25 partners who share comparable papyrus hoards.
Princeton’s collection of 9,500 Islamic manuscripts, the major part given by Robert Garrett in 1942, is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind in America; work has begun on making the manuscripts digitally available. At Arizona State University they have 390 Sinhalese palm-leaf manuscripts, and at the University of Utah they have the Aziz Atiya collection of 1,700 Arabic papyrus and paper fragments from the 8th–16th centuries. The University of British Columbia boasts a collection of Japanese maps of the Tokugawa period. More recent events are commemorated in the Center for Research Libraries collection of Chinese pamphlets collected by a Far East news correspondent, real street literature, not “high-end” propaganda made for export; in the University of Maryland’s Prange collection of the entire printed output of Japan in the MacArthur era; and in the University of Washington collection on the evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans, “put together by members of the community for safe-keeping.” Yet more recent is the University of California, Irvine’s Southeast Asian Archive, charting the lives and works of immigrants since war ended in 1975, started only in 1987 by the lone figure of UCI librarian Anne Frank but now grown far beyond its first filing cabinet.
Collections of the papers of the famous have been a staple of libraries before special collections, as such, were distinguished. These collections make special demands of library staff, need special cataloguing, and present special preservation and storage problems. At Indiana University the Lilly Library has the papers of Orson Welles, documenting not only his films but also his stage and radio career; to this have been added the papers of his cameraman and attorney, and the Pauline Kael manuscripts add another perspective on the great man. The result of collecting in this depth has paid off: Simon Callow’s definitive biography could not have been written without these papers, and they are also used in the English, film studies, and telecommunications departments of the university. Only last year Welles’s love letters to his wife Rita Hayworth were acquired; they had been “preserved for years in her travelling cosmetics case.” The University of Oregon corralled the work of its alumnus James Ivory, filmmaker and founder of Merchant Ivory Productions, in 1999. The documentation of one of the most creative partnerships of the cinema, with Ismail Merchant as producer and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala as novelist-scriptwriter, brought to bear on the work of novelists from Henry James to Ishiguru, is already a much-used historic resource, to which Ivory is to add.
By contrast, Boston Public Library has the special privilege of looking after the books, 2,700 volumes in all, of President John Adams, deposited in 1894 and subsequently donated. Many of them are annotated, and this feature was the subject of an exhibition “John Adams Unbound,” now supplemented by complete digital copies of 33 books. Another famous political figure is commemorated at the University of Rochester in the Seward papers, presented to the university between 1945 and 1951; there are 160,000 items, principally those of William Henry Seward, Governor and later Senator of New York, later again Lincoln’s Secretary of State. In Canada, McMaster University has made itself world-famous as the home of the papers of the philosopher Bertrand Russell; it is also the center for the edition of Russell’s complete works.
The libraries and papers acquired by a family over time, including estate archives, often present the same or greater problems of sorting and classification than those of important single figures. In 1938, the University of Georgia acquired the Wymberly Jones De Renne collection, once housed at Wormsloe plantation near Savannah. The collection’s content goes back to the foundation of Georgia as a colony in 1732, including the 1861 Ordinance of Secession printed on silk, and the only known copy of The Death Song of the Cherokee Indian (1762). The New York State Library has the Van Rensselaer Manor papers, the documents of the first colonists sent out by the wealthy Amsterdam merchant Kiliaen van Rensselaer in 1634, and their descendants. Letters, contracts, accounts, maps, and ledgers trace the growth of the community in detail; there are barn plans and the blacksmith’s bill for making cowbells, and family letters and accounts of the colonists’ relations with the native peoples.
Native American peoples are also commemorated at the University of Alberta, thanks to the gift of 2,300 books on those of South and North America by Albert Javitch who, a Russian Jew, felt a natural affinity to the oppressed in his adopted country, while the books and papers of the splendidly named Lucullus Virgil McWhirter, preserver of the cultural history of the first peoples of the Columbia Plateau, are at Washington State University. Other relics of the West are preserved at Brigham Young University, in the L. Tom Perry collection on Western and Mormon history in the 19th century; at the University of Arizona, where the Harvey hotel and resort chain’s photographs and promotional material are in such demand as to spur aWeb site; at the University of New Mexico, where Tony Hillerman preserves, in person and print, the stories of the Southwest; and at Colorado State University, whose Water Resources Archive preserves the work of Delph Carpenter, architect of the Colorado River Compact, the first such water-sharing agreement, and his successors.
Further north, the North is similarly celebrated. At Dartmouth College there is the collection of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, explorer himself in 1913 to 1918, and subsequently a tireless propagandist for exploration. At the University of Laval, nordicité is a special subject, with a remarkable polar exploration library, films, and a collection of artefacts; while McGill boasts the Canadiana collection of Lawrence Lande, beginning with Thévet’s archetypal if oddly titled Les singularitez de la France antarctique, autrement nommé amérique (1558). From a more official point of view, the Library and Archives Canada’s Prime Ministers Collection documents the careers, and often the personal lives, of 20 of Canada’s prime ministers, beginning with Sir John A. Macdonald at the inception of the Canadian Confederation in 1867.
The history and plight of Africa is profiled in the collections of two libraries. Boston University’s African Studies Library is strong in the history of Uganda and Ethiopia, while Northwestern University’s Winterton collection of 7,610 photographs documents daily African life and culture throughout East Africa, 1860 to1960. African- American history is vividly recalled in Emory University’s archive of Carter G.Woodson, the “Father of Negro History,” the subject of a recent exhibition, while the University of Massachusetts Amherst has the archive of W.E.B. Du Bois, the first African-American to receive a doctorate from Harvard. Howard University boasts the Moorland- Spingarn Research Center Collection of books, manuscripts, newspapers, oral history recordings, photographs, and a myriad of other resources, one of the nation’s most extensive collections on the African-American experience. At the University of Alabama they have an unexpected treasure in the Lupton collection of African-American cookbooks, visited by researchers from afar. One was encountered by a local reporter who exclaimed, “You’ve come all the way from New York to see these?”, a cry familiar in other forms to most rare book librarians, not least, perhaps, at Waterloo University, where they have, thanks to Seagram, “the world’s finest collection on the beverage alcohol industry.”
Another oppressed but articulate minority is that of the Chicanos. The University of California, Berkeley began to document the Third World Liberation Front from the late 1960s, and has in its Chicano Studies Collection the best collection of contemporary and older Chicano literature. It is now part of the Ethnic Studies Library, where the Chicano Database is based, controlling access to the Chicano Thesaurus of “specific cultural terms…politically sensitive to the Chicano experience.” At the University of Texas at Austin they look further south, thanks to the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American collection. The link began when representatives of the university, in Mexico for the inauguration of President Obregon, picked up a copy of Bernal Diaz’s 1632 history of the conquest of New Spain. Over many years the collection was built up by Carlos Castañeda, adding the entire Icazbalceta library and the best collection of the works of Sor Juana, and has grown from 30,000 books in 1943 to 960,000 now. Nearer the US-Mexico border, the University of California, San Diego has the remarkable Southworth collection on the Spanish Civil War.
Other links with the Europe from which so much of America’s past has sprung are celebrated at the University of California, Los Angeles. Thanks to the generous prescience of UCLA Chancellor, Franklin D. Murphy, whose spiritual home was in Italy, the vast archive of the famous Orsini family was acquired in 1964; another donation has enabled the creation of a digital finding aid that makes it possible to reunite the archive with the residue, still in Rome, a remarkable example of modern technology creating a complete “virtual archive.” At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is the collection of Italian History and Culture formed by a former professor of physics, Jack Fry. Anticipating Clifford Geertz and Carlo Ginsburg, Fry was fascinated by “micro-history,” how the broader sweep of time and space could be studied in the smallest events, and accumulated manuscripts, documents, and printed ephemera illustrating this from 1500 onwards, notably in the fascist period. Still in Europe, a dramatic epoch of French history is well illustrated through Florida State’s Napoleon and French Revolution Collection, which has nourished no fewer than 100 graduate degrees since its foundation in 1961.
Literary collections are one of the traditional staples of the special collections library, none more so than the Houghton Library at Harvard. Characteristically, the “Dickinson Room” there was the gift of an alumnus, Gilbert H. Montague, a remote cousin of Emily Dickinson, who bought her manuscripts and letters from a descendant of the poet’s niece. With her manuscripts and letters have come her books, her “famous bureau,” the bedside table on which she wrote, pictures and other objects, her herbarium and family photographs. This is no static shrine, but the core from which the standard editions of her poems and letters, the “variorum edition” of 1998, and now an electronic edition, have grown. Dickinson’s whole life was spent at Amherst, Massachusetts. At the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, they celebrate Willa Cather, who grew up there and was deeply influenced by the place and by the expansion of the West. The author’s niece gave the university the manuscripts of 12 of her novels, photographs, and letters.
At Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, they have incomparably the best collection of Canadian literature. Lorne Pierce, minister and editor of the Ryerson Press, was all in all to the Canadian writers of his time. Beginning in 1928, he gave the university their works, established a fund to buy more, and bequeathed his own collection and papers. He knew Bliss Carman, Charles Roberts, and Major John Richardson, whose manuscripts as well as books joined his. The libraries of Mazo de la Roche and George Whalley are among the supporting collections.
A common theme links the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Both have important Shakespeare teaching collections: at Penn the Horace Howard Furness collection made by the editor of the great “New Variorum,” which concentrates on performance, with promptbooks and even Yorick’s skull signed by several Hamlets; at Urbana-Champaign, it is the collection of T.W. Baldwin, author of William Shakespere’s Small Latine & Lesse Greeke, and appropriately concentrating on his reading and contemporary pedagogy. At the University of Kentucky they have the wonderful collection of W. Hugh Peal, whose literary interests were kindled by the gift of a copy of Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, given to him “to keep him occupied and away from horses.” From this grew a collection, notably strong in the Romantics, made by Peal, by then a New York lawyer, who gave it to the library in 1982.
At the University of Virginia is the collection of Clifton Waller Barrett, incomparably rich in first editions of American authors, amplified by manuscripts, among them those of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The University of Delaware has the Ezra Pound collection of Robert A.Wilson, proprietor of the Phoenix Bookstore, acquired by gift and purchase in 2004. The farther shores of literature are explored at the University of California, Riverside, which houses the collection of J. Lloyd Eaton, one of the earliest to take science fiction seriously. Eaton’s 7,500 volumes were bought for Riverside by an equally farsighted if sadly short-lived librarian, Donald Wilson. The University of Florida has the Ruth Baldwin collection of children’s books, specializing in those read by children, rather than chosen by adults for them to read. Begun in her spare time as a professor at Louisiana State University, Florida persuaded Baldwin to come as curator of the collection that they bought in 1977, an imaginative stroke of developments.
But the most remarkable and, in its time, innovative literary collection is that started in 1937 by Charles D. Abbott, then Librarian at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His object was to collect all first editions of poetry in English printed since 1900, not at the time an expensive undertaking. But he also wrote to as many living poets as he could, asking for the contents of their wastepaper baskets, discarded drafts of letters, anything. Flattered, a surprising number responded generously. Two generous donations added James Joyce manuscripts, the second of Sylvia Beach’s Joyce archive. From this has grown a catholic collection of British and American poets, in print and manuscript. The records of poetry magazines have also been acquired. This achievement would be remarkable anywhere; to have come about in a state university without special funding is little short of a miracle.
Not surprisingly, the records and documents of industry, technology, and commerce, as well as the books relating to them, are a common theme in special collections all over the country. The Trade Literature Collection of the Smithsonian Institution is one of international as well as national importance. Trade catalogues normally have a short life expectancy, and here, with over 500,000 catalogues in every field of human endeavour, from heavy engineering to seed and nursery catalogues, there is a record of incomparable importance, used by many more than industrial historians. Local patriotism, the need to catch the documents of invention and the tools of trade before they are forgotten or destroyed, has played its part.
At Auburn University (where I once helped open a new library building, beside the football coach who had raised most of the money for it), they have the corporate records of Eastern Air Lines with the personal papers of Eddie Rickenbacker, founder of the airline, but before that the air-ace hero of World War I, and after that racing car driver; the records of his equally heroic struggle for survival in the Pacific in World War II are the stuff of legend, a film, and a biography. At Case Western Reserve University they celebrate a different hero, Charles F. Brush Sr., who anticipated Edison in producing the first commercially viable system for outdoor electric lighting and invented the windmill for generating electric power. A lifetime of exploring and developing the practical use of electricity and electromagnetic phenomena is documented in a multiple archive.
At Georgia Tech they have the records of the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills, rescued from neglect in the basement of the defunct business. The history of packaging and its attendant labor disputes can be read here (the mill has been converted into “a mixed-income community of 182 loft apartments”). The University of Guelph, Ontario, is home to the extensive archive of the Massey-Harris-Ferguson agricultural machinery business. The settlement of Upper Canada was an open field for mechanical aids to cultivation, and the original Massey and Harris founded their businesses, specialising in farm implements and iron foundry in the mid-19th century. The two joined in 1891, the company growing to become an international giant. Its records, annual reports, posters, trade catalogues and repair and maintenance manuals, photographs, even 16mm film, form a matchless record from 1847 to 1986. At the University of Hawaii at Manoa they have the records of the Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association, a representative body for the industry as a whole, which, in addition, providently collected the records of individual plantations, and gave them to the university in 1995.
The University of Louisville has preserved the records of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad from 1836, some 255 linear archival feet and 600 photographs. Those studying the general, e.g., the industrialization of the New South, or the particular, e.g., “the shape of the inner bolt on the wheel assembly of a particular freight car,” find this a gold mine; it is particularly useful for the legion of historical conservators of surviving railroad stock. Best of all, Louisville enjoys the support of a former official of the railroad, a man so eminent that he has a stretch of existing track named after him, who is a living oracle, capable of interpreting for library staff and many users what the records meant to those who used them. Pennsylvania State University also keeps the archives of a local institution of more than local importance, the records of the United Steelworkers of America. From the 1940s the union held its annual Summer Labor Institutes and Leadership Academies on the campus, and the link was consolidated by the union’s gift of its records to the university, which has devoted a Steelworkers’ Room to deploy them. In 1928 Purdue University gave a home to the collection of a former Dean of the Engineering School,William Freeman Myrick Goss, 900 volumes mostly on locomotives and railroads. Over time, this collection has grown and spread to include civil, electrical, and hydraulic engineering; metallurgy; and branches of science less directly connected with engineering. This was celebrated in an exhibition in 2004, “Voices that Changed the World.”
In 2006, Ohio State University received as a gift from its owner the historic fonds of the Curtiss Show Print business, a unique resource that forms a bridge between industrial records and those of show business. Curtiss Show Print started in 1905 at Kalida, soon moving to Continental, Ohio, where it was on the railroad. This proved a crucial asset in establishing a reputation for quick delivery. Posters, heralds, tickets, and letterheads went expeditiously to the various travelling vaudeville companies, minstrel shows, and numerous circuses. Playbills have, since their earliest days, been a showcase for brightly coloured lettering and blocks, and the Curtiss collection contains no less than 1,200 printing blocks, as well as photographs, correspondence, job tickets, and ledgers, together with file copies of what was printed. The donor, Nyle Stateler, still keeps the business going, but its earlier relics have become invaluable to the Ohio Center for Book Arts as demonstration material for handpress printing. It has made a lively Web site, and the collection and the donor starred in a 2005 film, Continental, Ohio.
The University of Cincinnati preserves an equally important and unique dramatic record in the 99 notebooks of William Lawrence, who devoted his energies to researching the history of the Dublin stage from 1630 onwards in local newspapers, parish registers, and other public records. All this went in his neat handwriting into the notebooks, amplified with portraits from programmes and press cuttings. After his death his notebooks drifted into the book trade, whence the majority were acquired by William S. Clark II, professor of English at Cincinnati, on whose death they were acquired by the university; another 20 are in the University of Bristol theatre collection, a useful opportunity for collaboration. Cincinnati has added the printed texts of Dublin plays to round out its collection.
Joseph Urban was one of the most creative stage designers of the first half of the 20th century, first at Vienna, then Boston and New York. His Nachlass at Columbia University reveals his work, not only for the stage, but also as an architect and designer for films, exhibitions, interiors, automobiles, furniture, store windows, roof gardens, and ballrooms. The collection presents special conservation problems, and in 2002 the National Endowment for the Humanities provided a grant for the preservation of the models and to create a digital archive of the collection. Urban was “director of light” for the 1933 to 1934 Century of Progress exposition at Chicago, celebrating the city’s incorporation a century earlier. This was a landmark fair, not only in the thoroughness with which it covered every aspect of Chicago’s growth and progress, but in the innovative techniques used to display them. In 1968 the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) acquired the papers of Lenox Riley Lohr, the fair’s general manager, now used by city historians and schools as a result of UIC’s outreach programs.
At Ohio University is the equally important dance collection of Alwin Nicolais, the “father of multimedia theatre,” and Murray Louis. They choreographed over 250 works, developing in the process a joint theory of dance and a means of teaching it. Their manuscripts, scores, dance notation, photographs, video, and audio records are sampled on the university’s Web site, and 16 dances are viewable in “streaming video” on the site as well. Even more remarkable is the donation by Katherine Dunham to Southern Illinois University Carbondale of her material in the same media, covering all the various phases of her life, as dancer, choreographer, and African-American anthropologist. Her correspondents included Josephine Baker, Harry Belafonte,W. C. Handy, and Butterfly McQueen. Her field recordings preserve folk music from Haiti. As the record of the woman who introduced African and Caribbean dance to a North American public, it is an archive of unique importance.
The collection of Gilbert Sigaux has given Vanderbilt University an unrivalled resource for the study of French theatre in the 20th century. A man of enormous energy, Sigaux participated in almost every aspect of the theatre in his lifetime, not merely in Paris but in the provinces. A very different kind of theatre is represented at the University of Iowa in the Redpath Chautauqua Records, 1890 to 1944. The Chautauqua “circuits” represent a uniquely American way of combining instruction and entertainment. Originally founded to provide better training for Sunday school teachers, the Chautauqua movement quickly increased in popularity and scope. The supply of performers and demand were unbalanced, and Keith Vawter, a Cedar Rapids manager for the Redpath Lyceum Bureau, solved the problem by organising a system of booking for 15 Iowa towns. This spread to become a national organisation. Chautauqua to Theodore Roosevelt was “the most American thing in America.” It dwindled with the Depression, movies, and radio, but the record preserved by Vawter remains its monument. A detailed inventory is on the library’s Web site, with a related Web site, “Travelling Culture,” that displays almost 800 publicity brochures for Chautauqua events.
Music features in quite a number of special collections, and the four represented here illustrate very clearly what makes them “special,” as they would be even if they formed part of a mainline music library. At Johns Hopkins they have the Lester S. Levy collection of sheet music. Levy was a wealthy man, who was not deterred by cost, nor interested in bulk (too easily amassed) but in the capacity of what he bought to illustrate or record historically important trends or events. He made this policy clear in his Grace Notes in American History: Popular Sheet Music 1820–1900 (1967): “the song after the event has been the reporter and interpreter of history.” As well as major events, trends and fashions could be reflected in pictorial covers and song titles. By 1976 when Levy began to donate the collection to his alma mater, the collection amounted to 29,000 pieces, not large, but it is no surprise to learn that it is one of the most visited parts of the Johns Hopkins collection, both actually and virtually through scanned images online. The Peabody Conservatory student who wrote and produced an opera based on one song in the collection was using special collections material as it should be used. Mr. Levy would have been delighted.
Rutgers University has taken a different, almost complementary line in embarking on a Jazz Oral History project, encouraged by the National Endowment for the Arts. Between 1972 and 1983, 120 artists were recorded, among them Count Basie, Charlie Mingus, and other famous figures. Of the 120, only 2 are still alive, a very striking example of the need to take time by the forelock where oral history is concerned. At Tulane University, they have the William Ransom Hogan Archive of New Orleans Jazz, named after its inventor, head of the History Department, “who wrote the initial grant proposal” (a novel kind of immortality). Beginning in 1958, the archive has had a start before Rutgers, if with a more limited focus. With 2,000 reels of taped interviews, supported by books, photographs, recordings, 55,000 pieces of sheet music, 225 linear feet of vertical files, phonograph cylinders, and even historic instruments, this is a very serious historic resource.
At the other end of the musical scale is the University of Western Ontario’s Mahler collection. This was originally put together by the composer’s sister, who married the violinist Arnold Rosé; their descendants managed to preserve what was a joint family archive. It is the best source for the composer’s early life, and of his gifted brotherin- law; it also records the life of his niece Alma, also gifted, whose life ended tragically at Auschwitz. Alma Rosé’s life is known to students of the Holocaust, and two other special collections featured here hold materials devoted to the record of the Jews and others who perished and those who escaped only in exile. The University of Southern California is host to the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, established by Steven Spielberg in the wake of the success of Schindler’s List. The foundation’s collection now contains 52,000 videotape interviews conducted in 56 countries and 32 languages. These interviews were contemporaneously indexed so that users can search a million names and 50,000 keywords, thus making them instantly historically useful. Over 30 years ago, John M. Spalek, professor of German at the State University of New York at Albany, began an oral history project to record the experience of Germanspeaking academics who fled Europe in the 1930s. Many of them came to New York, where a “University in Exile” was founded in 1933. To their recorded voices, a number of former members of the university added their papers, to be preserved at Albany.
Both these collections exemplify a theme that runs through all these essays, the need for libraries to catch material in time, as does the acquisition by the George Washington University of the Westwood Mutual Broadcasting System (MBS) Records at the point when MBS ceased operation in 1998. As a result, 65 years of American history and popular culture were preserved for posterity. Like Charles Abbott at Buffalo, Richard Schimmelpfeng, Head of Special Collections at the University of Connecticut, saw the need to preserve what was not then called the “alternative press.” With Richard Akeroyd, a student and later Librarian of the University, he collected first local relics of student protest, then, finding himself providentially at San Francisco for the American Library Association meeting in 1967, he added posters and other print picked up in Haight-Ashbury. If the bulk of the collection still concerns the era of Vietnam protest, it now goes back to 1800 and forward to the protest movements of today, especially the liberation and civil rights movements. Cornell too has its Human Sexuality Collection, founded with gifts from the founders of liberation movements, notably the Human Rights Campaign. Duke University points out that its holdings on women and their rights were, until the foundation of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture in 1999, “for the most part collected along with the papers of fathers, husbands, or other male relatives.” This has now been put right, and the center ranges from Victorian etiquette books to “the papers of cyberpunk novelist Kathy Acker.” There is a proper emphasis on the documents of the suffragettes and the women’s liberation movement. Symposia are a regular part of the new center’s mission. Virginia Tech has built up a remarkable International Archive of Women in Architecture, begun in 1985. It now holds 1,200 cubic feet of primary sources on over 300 women, and has a biographical database that lists 650 women from 51 countries. The Zaha Hadid archive would add the capstone to an already remarkable edifice.
The Library of Congress, itself a remarkable edifice, is the repository of the Historic American Buildings Survey, Engineering Record, and Landscapes Survey Collections, which grew out of a scheme to employ out-of-work architects during the Great Depression. These are among the library’s most heavily used collections, not surprisingly, since, with more than 35,000 surveys, 60,000 measured drawings, and 250,000 photographs, they are incomparably the fullest record of America’s built and inherited landscape, much of it available online. The Great Depression produced a similar initiative in the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection, now at Louisiana State University (LSU). The Works Progress Administration’s Louisiana Historical Records Survey employed Edwin Davis, an instructor at LSU. He in turn persuaded the university to house the survey’s archive in a separate department, which he headed from 1935 to 1946. In addition to this primary source, the archive now has 120,000 books, 200,000 photographs, as well as maps and newspaper holdings.
The Downtown Collection at New York University is more sociological than architectural, but it is perhaps unique in preserving the physical traces of a society and its members. Its focus is indicated in the 2006 exhibition “The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene 1974–1984,” brought to life in flyers and art-show programmes, and papers of major participants such as Richard Hell, the man for whom the term “punk rock”was invented. In so far as a library can capture anything so evanescent as a zeitgeist, NYU’s Fales Library has done it.
Imagery of all sorts is a common denominator of many special collections, the more so as exhibitions become an increasing part of their work. At the University of Colorado at Boulder there is a remarkable collection of photo-illustrated books, begun in 1991 when the Tippit collection was bought. At the University of Kansas, there are 30,000 glass plate negatives, the archive of Joseph J. Pennell, a commercial photographer at Junction City from 1890 to the 1920s. At Texas A&M University an innovative experiment in “textual iconography” has brought together 1,200 illustrated editions of Cervantes and 15,000 independent engravings and drawings, from 1573 to a Chinese translation of Don Quixote (2001). The Fisher Library at the University of Toronto has one of the most remarkable collections of graphic art in any library, with that made by Sidney Fisher of the engraved work of Wenceslaus Hollar, complete and in almost every known state.
Maps and cartography are another staple, at the University of Minnesota’s James Ford Bell collection, begun in 1953 with 600 items on European westward expansion, now with 30,000 on exploration worldwide, and at Yale, whose collection of 11,000 pre-1850 maps is, despite recent thefts (a sad and salutary warning that the simple monetary value of “special collections” brings hazards as well as advantages), paramount in America, and also, through its link to geographic information systems (GIS) and the Global Positioning System (GPS), capable of comparison with the latest satellite-based surveys.
Kent State University houses the Borowitz True Crime Collection, made by a corporate (not criminal) lawyer, whose spare-time occupation it was. By 1983 he had more than 12,000 books, including a fine set of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, so much truer to life than reality. With the collection comes the collector’s own manual of the subject, Blood and Ink (2002). The collection is a valued source of loans, notably by the National Library of Medicine, who borrowed books for a forensic medicine exhibition. The National Library of Medicine itself, less sensationally, has built up a remarkable bank of public health films, drawn from many sources, including the Public Health Service. Almost all of them were made for propaganda purposes, especially during World War II, but they are also invaluable sociological records of changing habits and attitudes. The Rosen Collection at the University of Saskatchewan, acquired in 2004, is a notable assemblage of books on veterinary science, with 500 books, journal titles and ephemera, the earliest the 1528 Scriptores de re rustica; it has a special strength in veterinary education.
Natural history is reflected in the National Agricultural Library’s Pomological Watercolor Collection. Painting the different types of apple accurately is a specially fascinating branch of horticultural draftsmanship. The year after the Department of Agriculture set up its Division of Pomology in 1886, it appointed an artist,William Henry Prestele, to document new species and grafts, and over the next 40 years he and other artists who joined him built up a collection of some 7,700 different drawings. The National Agricultural Library has had the drawings indexed, and has developed an online database from which every variety, grower, and place can be retrieved. North Carolina State University has a world-class collection on entomology, originally created by Zeno Payne Metcalf, professor at the university 1912 to 1950, to which Eugène Séguy’s fine folio prints have recently been added. The University of South Carolina can boast possession of the copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, originally bought by the state on December 17, 1831 (by a narrow vote, 51/50), when barely a quarter of the drawings were available.
The more abstruse realms of science can be found, not surprisingly, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), whose DSpace@MIT archive exists as “an open source digital repository platform…to capture, store, index, preserve, and redistribute digital assets” of the research and teaching output of MIT. The archive already holds 24,000 items ranging from a scientific technical report or thesis to complex objects such as multi-file Web sites. The Stony Brook University provides a home for the AIDC 100 Archives. “Automatic identification and data capture” (AIDC) is the name given to a remarkable digital enterprise that aims to record the way that scientists and businesses are developing the means of automatic information retrieval. Founded by two pioneers, George and Teddy Goldberg, the archive has now enlisted 100 professionals in the field whose records form the basis of the collection. It is growing at the rate of 100 cubic feet per annum; its progress can be charted in SCAN Newsletter, founded by the Goldbergs in 1977.
On more familiar ground, the University of Oklahoma has its Galileo collection. Begun with the loan, later converted into a gift, of 129 books by Everette DeGolyer, the collection was spurred on by the discovery (attested by the Galileo scholar, Stillman Drake) that the copy of Galileo’s Dialogo (1632) was corrected in the author’s hand. As remarkable, in a different field, is the collection at Washington University in St. Louis made by Philip Mills Arnold, an engineer with Philips Petroleum, who became fascinated by semiotics. He built up a collection on the symbols used to convey meaning, excluding Braille and shorthand whose symbols have no meaning, but including early works such as the first edition of Rabanus Maurus De Laudibus Sancte Crucis Opus (1503), with its Christological diagrams, and Blaise de Vigénère’s pioneering work on ciphers.
Georgetown University has the Russell J. Bowen collection on espionage. The collector, formerly a colonel in the CIA, after amassing 14,000 books on the subject, has encouraged successive directors of the CIA, latterly Richard Helms, to deposit their papers, apparently without breaching national security. Brown University’s Anne S. K. Brown collection of militaria extends from every work on warfare to an unrivalled army of model soldiers. It is one of the most used parts of the library, and has recently produced a digitised version of a Japanese scroll of Admiral Perry’s expedition, which fascinates schoolchildren. Notre Dame has a comprehensive collection on sport, in all its forms, begun by buying the entire stock of a dealer in sports literature, with books, the earliest Mercuriale De arte gymnastica (1573), journals and 18,000 college, and 3,500 professional, football programs. It was a prescient move since it anticipated the 1980s boom in the market for such material, and with it the growing academic application of “scholarly methodologies to the study of sport.” Michigan State University, equally prescient, invested in comic art, beginning in the 1960s with a donation of 6,000 comic books by two students. Syracuse University specialises in cartoons and cartoonists, with 20,000 original items by 173 artists, beginning with Bud Fisher, originator of Mutt and Jeff (1907) and spanning the 20th century. Searchable online finding aids are available for the work of 70 artists, and are used increasingly by social historians.
I have left until last three collections that share common features, but features so uncommon elsewhere as to stand out in this brief survey. All three concern the environment, not a subject found other than peripherally in other special collections. All three were built by people who lived to a very great old age. All three donors saw the environment as the product of the interaction of human and natural factors, which they strove to support equally. At Oklahoma State University are the papers of Angie Debo (1890–1988), whose long lifetime was devoted to the study and preservation of the Southwest. Pioneering ethno-history with a prize-winning study of the Choctaw Republic in 1934, she could not get a job until, in 1947, she became curator of maps in the Oklahoma State University Library. A “scholar warrior,” she set up a national network to preserve nature and the needs of native peoples to preserve it. Michael Harrison (1897–2005) spent an even longer life, first in the National Park Service at the Grand Canyon, then in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, studying and preserving tribal ways. He also collected over 21,000 books (including the great Curtis North American Indian portfolio of photographs), analysing the contents of each book by his own “Harrison Peculiar System,” whose 700,000 cards are a comprehensive guide to his work; all this is now at the University of California, Davis. Margery Stoneman Douglas (1890–1998) came to Miami in 1915 as a journalist, joining the University of Miami the year after it was founded. She campaigned to preserve the unique ecosystem of Southern Florida, and the Everglades became a National Park in 1947, the year that The Everglades: River of Grass, first of her many books, was published. She founded the Friends of the Library in 1960 and gave the library her papers in 1987, documents of a long life spent fighting for an area of unique beauty.
Developing North America’s Cultural Assets
The record of all the special collections in this book covers an astonishing variety of matter, and a pattern of equally various and growing use of these collections. If most of it is American in content, that is as it should be. But the non-American holdings are no less remarkable, and it should be remembered that all the holdings described here are but one collection in libraries and institutions with larger and wider coverage. This compilation is a snapshot of work spread over a century, sometimes two centuries, among libraries that have grown in number as well as size over that time. I have enjoyed reading this account of them, as I have enjoyed visiting those I have seen and worked in. I am only sorry that there has not been more space to mention more of the librarians as well as the donors who put the collections together. I think of Bill Jackson at Harvard and Fritz Liebert at Yale, Karl Gay at Buffalo and Larry Powell at Los Angeles, among a host of other librarians, no longer the lonely figures of 40 years ago but a community. I also remember the booksellers, often vital intermediaries in the gift as well as purchase of collections, like bees carrying pollen: at Seven Gables, Mike Papantonio, friend to many; and John Kohn, co-architect of Waller Barrett’s collection; Dave Magee, a notable builder at Brigham Young; and Jake Zeitlin, all in all to the libraries of Southern California and beyond.
Over all these decades the Association of Research Libraries has served as a forum where the leadership of these North American research libraries convened to address the key issues facing their institutions and the diverse communities of users they serve. Through ARL, research libraries identified and pursued strategies to increase the visibility of special collections, and this, in turn, has opened the door to all the different kinds of new uses that its members now provide. Those who founded ARL just after Christmas 1932 set on foot something that has enabled their successors to grow and develop local assets into a whole that is one of North America’s greatest cultural assets.
About the Author
Nicolas Barker is editor of the Book Collector, “the leading English-language journal on book collecting, and the only one that bridges the worlds of the scholar, the librarian, the bookseller, and the private collector.” He has written many books, among them Stanley Morison (1972), Bibliotheca Lindesiana (1977), and Aldus Manutius and the Development of Greek Script and Type in the 15th Century (2nd ed. 1992). He is the editor of John Carter’s classic ABC for Book Collectors and in recent editions its author.
Nicolas Barker was the first head of conservation at the British Library, and in 1986–87 William Andrews Clark Visiting Professor at UCLA; he is a faculty member at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, and is a familiar figure in North America, having been a regular visitor at special collections here from coast to coast.