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Howard University Libraries

Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Founders Library

Collection Profile

The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) is a special collection because it covers a specific subject—African and African-American materials; but it is also a special library because of the depth and scope of this coverage and because it operates independently. After Howard University was established in 1867, MSRC began as a collection of reference books for students. MSRC was formally established in 1914, and its collections now include over 200,000 books on the African diaspora. The center is named for two of its earliest mega-donors, Jesse E. Moorland and Arthur B. Spingarn, both well-known bibliophiles, who worked with the NAACP during its inception and development. The three directors of MSRC have all been historians, scholars, and bibliophiles: Dorothy Porter Wesley served from 1930 to 1973; Michael Winston served from 1973 to 1983; and Thomas C. Battle has served from 1986 to the present.

Seminal books for the MSRC came from the university's principal founder, Gen. O. O. Howard and others. However, the earliest sizeable donation was the bequest of abolitionist Lewis Tappan, who was instrumental in the story of the freedom-seeking Africans aboard the 1839 slave ship Amistad. These books, and other secondary source materials, such as newspapers, periodicals, dissertations, news clippings, and microforms, are housed in the center's Library Division, where there is also a special collection of rare books. The oldest book in the center's holdings, de Villegagnon's Caroli V Imperatioris Expeditio in African and Argieram (1542), is from Moorland's gift of 1,400 books in 1914, and the second oldest book in the center's holdings, Juan Latino's Ad Catholicum Pariter et Invictissimum Phillippum dei Gratia Hispaniarum Regum (1573), is from the purchase of 3,000 books from Spingarn in 1946. The Manuscript Division houses the center's primary source materials and original documents, such as oral history recordings and transcriptions, personal and organizational papers, photographs and other images, sheet music and recordings. The Howard University Archives houses the records and archives of the university, and the Howard University Museum houses the center's artifacts. A more detailed description of individual collections, materials, and artifacts appears in the recently published book about the center, Legacy: Treasures of Black History, edited by Thomas C. Battle and Donna M.Wells (2006).

The resources of the MSRC include materials in the humanities and social sciences primarily. Titles cataloged since 2003 appear in the Howard University Libraries' online catalog; however, the bulk of the book collection is not yet in this catalog. Many subject lists and finding aids are available, and the collection guides for manuscripts have been digitized and indexed. The MSRC's collection development policy is not limited in scope but generally excludes children's books and cookbooks, unless they are significant or contain a considerable amount of cultural or historical information. The center enjoys an international reputation and attracts an international clientele of students, faculty, novelists, poets, historians, playwrights, journalists, actors and directors, musicians, dancers, publishers, government officials, photographers, inventors, scholars, and knowledge-seeking groups and individuals. Users often report that they can locate material at MSRC that they cannot find elsewhere.

Collection Profile and Overview: Thomas C. Battle, PhD
Illustrations: Donna M. Wells

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