Learning to look backward with reverence and to benefit from the successes and failures of the past should enable the engineer to build better today and tomorrow.
—A.A. Potter, Dean of Engineering, Purdue University, 1947
In 1928 Purdue University received the personal library of former Dean of Engineering William F. M. Goss. The Goss Library comprised approximately 900 volumes related primarily to the history of engineering, with particular emphasis placed on Goss's research on locomotives and the railroads. Soon, the library received an addition of approximately 200 volumes from the collection of former Purdue Professor Michael J. Golden. With the combined libraries of these two former colleagues and friends, the university began to focus on building a major resource on the history of engineering.
In 1930, Mrs. William Goss established an endowment for the Goss Library that ensured its permanence and provided ongoing funds for purchases over time. The Goss Library has also benefited from substantial contributions of books from Purdue alumni, engineers, and friends of the university. By the late 1940s, the collection had grown to 3,500 volumes.
Reflecting the land grant nature of Purdue University, the Goss Library's strengths lie in documenting the history of science, engineering, and technology. From the beginning, emphasis was placed on acquiring items that students and faculty would use to complement the university's curricular interests. The purpose of the Goss Library remains much the same today—to promote a broader interest in the progressive engineering sciences by preserving their early history and present development. The history of transportation is well documented in the collection, particularly the history of railroads, but also canal navigation, hot air balloons, and aviation. Electrical engineering, hydraulics, bridges, metallurgy, mathematics, chemistry, physics, and scientific inventions represent additional subject strengths in the Goss Library.
Items from the collection were featured in the 2004 Purdue exhibition, "Voices That Changed the World." University of Arizona chemistry professor Wayne E. Wesolowski has used the Goss Library for various publications over the years, including several videos for PBS on model railroading. Professor John H. Lienhard has also published using the Goss Collection; his Engines of Our Ingenuity (2000) offers an engineer's perspective on technology and culture. Graduate-level English courses at Purdue have studied volumes in the collection, working to translate 16th- to early 20th-century texts in Spanish, Latin, and English, and striving to clarify the relationships between engineering and the liberal arts.
The Goss Library is fully cataloged and can be searched within the Purdue University Libraries online catalog. The collection has been featured in newsletters and brochures, and will be included in an upcoming series of note cards highlighting treasures of the Purdue University Libraries. Select highlights of the Goss Library include: Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Caelestium (1617); Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1714); Descartes' Geometria (1659–1661); Euclid's Opera [Megarensis] (1509); Agricola's De Re Metallica (1556); Hero of Alexandria's Spiritali di Herone Alessandrino (1592); and Agostino Ramelli's Le Diverse et Artificiose Machine del Capitano Agostino Ramelli (1588).
Collection Profile and Overview: Sammie L. Morris
Illustrations: Richard Myers-Walls