Home >  Dartmouth College Library Bulletin > November 2000 >

Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

The Growth of Special Collections

Philip N. Cronenwett

As it had in the previous decades, Special Collections under the leadership of Margaret Otto continued to consolidate and to add new functions. In 1983, several theatre collections that were housed in locations throughout the campus were consolidated and organized under the name of the Williams Watson Theatre Collection. Named for Henry B. Williams and E. Bradlee Watson, both major figures in the history of theatre at Dartmouth, the collection continues to flourish within the department.

Again in 1983, the Library had the opportunity of acquiring the photographic records of the College. Beginning in 1937, the College engaged a College Photographer to record campus life and campus events. The results of the work of Adrian Bouchard and his successors form an exceptionally rich body of photographic history. Responsibility for the collection was transferred to Special Collections as a welcome addition to its already rich photographic holdings.

A third major addition to the department was the very welcome transfer of responsibility for the College's Records Management program to the Library in 1999. Records Management, as a function of the institution, was organized in 1984 as a part of the Business Office. Because of the critical importance of a records management program both for the immediate needs of the institution and for the long-term historical importance of selected records, responsibility for the Records Management program was given to Special Collections.

For many decades, Special Collections was housed in the northwest corner of Baker Library. With public service centered in the Treasure Room, staff offices, work spaces, and stacks were scattered over four levels of the building. In 1984, additional stack space was dedicated to Special Collections materials, and climate control was installed in most, but not all, areas of the department. At the same time, the security system was greatly improved.

The improvements and increased size of the stacks in 1984 did not solve critical space issues for the department. As long ago as 1969, Walter Wright, then Chief of Special Collections, had proposed that new quarters be found for the department. For several decades, no movement to find a suitable venue for the collections was made. Early in the 1990s, however, it became apparent that Webster Hall-opened in 1907 as an auditorium and named for Daniel Webster 1801-was not being used to its optimum and was being considered for other uses. In her typical planning fashion, Margaret Otto prepared a request to the College for the building by having both an engineering and an architectural study done so that the proposal for the Library's use of the building would have not only a solid intellectual argument but also planning studies to support the request.

In 1990, the architectural firm of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates completed their feasibility study and, in 1992, prepared a revised report. In the following year, the design phase for the renovations was completed and set aside until fund raising could be completed. Funding for the project was accomplished in 1996, and work began on the building the following year. The department was moved in the fall of 1998 and opened to the public on 15 December. Formal dedication ceremonies were held in April of 1999[1] The result was new quarters in a very visible location on campus.

One of the major issues facing Special Collections during the tenure of Margaret Otto was that of acquisition funds. When she became Librarian, the department had several endowed funds-acquisitions in Special Collections have never been funded through the general Library acquisitions budget-that generated approximately $18,000 per year. This sum, plus the generous gifts of the Friends of the Library, were the department's resources. Since that time, the endowed funds have increased greatly. In 1984, through the will of Doris Benz, Special Collections received a major endowment. Miss Benz ordered her library of rare books and manuscripts sold at Christie's and the proceeds of that sale be given to the department as an endowment for acquisitions. The Benz Fund is now the largest of our acquisition endowments. Other gifts and funds have been given to the department and the acquisitions budget, based solely on endowed funds, is now over $200,000 per year.

Many acquisitions, of course, are not purchases but are gifts. In nearly every special collections library, gifts form the richest portion of acquisitions. In the decades under the leadership of Margaret Otto, gifts to the Library have played a significant role in the development of fine collections. Selecting a handful of interesting and important gifts to describe is difficult, but the following are representative of the many single gifts and collections that have been acquired in the last two decades.

Erskine Caldwell was a major figure in American literature for much of the twentieth century. In 1940, the Library began to develop a special collection relating to his work. The collection included first and later editions of his novels, short stories, and essays as well as a definitive collection of translations of his fiction in all languages. Through the good offices of Mr. Caldwell and Virginia Caldwell, the collection continued to grow. Included in the collection were a series of scrapbooks as well as galley and page proofs. In 1983, the Caldwells determined that Dartmouth was the most fitting institution to house the papers-manuscripts, correspondence, and documents-from his illustrious career as a writer. This collection is the premier collection of his work, both printed and manuscript.

The works of Sir Winston Churchill as an author have long been collected by the Library. First, limited, and signed editions of Churchill's many publications were given by Henry Embree 1930 and Ralph Samuel 1913. The collection was greatly enriched by the gift of Frederick Forsch 1937 in 1992. Mr. Forsch, an investment banker in New York City, began to collect Churchill almost from the time he was a student at Dartmouth. The result was a stunning collection of first editions, including some of the rarest early publications in pamphlet form. A decade after the Forsch gift, Lady Mary Soames, the daughter of Sir Winston, visited the collection and noted that there were publications in the collection that she was aware of but had never before seen.

Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain, is another major author well represented within Special Collections. Important first editions and first appearances have been given to the Library over the years. The donors include Perc S. Brown, Richard Mandel 1926, and Leland Powers 1910. In 1980, Dr. Joseph C. Placak 1930 presented a rich collection of Twain materials to the Library, making the collection one of great distinction. Dartmouth's connection with the work of Mark Twain is very strong. For many years, Edward J. Willi 1924 was a trustee of the Mark Twain Foundation. In 1994, the Library mounted an exhibition of Twain material in memory of Mr. Willi. This exhibition and the accompanying catalog form an important record of our holdings and memorialize the remarkable work of Mr. Willi as a steward of the Twain legacy.[2]

The poetry, prose, and essays of Richard Eberhart 1926 are to be found in a collection bearing his name. Richard Eberhart's career as a teacher and poet culminated at his alma mater where he was Class of 1935 Professor, Professor of English, and Poet in Residence for many years. Because of his stature as a teacher and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Richard Eberhart's work was collected for many years by the Library. The poet's own generosity made the collection particularly rich. In 1993, Mr. Eberhart and his family determined that his papers, too, should become a part of the collection, and this remarkable body of correspondence and manuscripts was added to our holdings. The letters are particularly interesting as Mr. Eberhart maintained a wide-ranging correspondence with poets in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

Lawrence Harvey was, for many years, a member of the faculty at Dartmouth. He is known for his role in the development of the Language Study Abroad program and for his administrative skills as Dean of the Faculty. Equally important was his early interest in the work of Samuel Beckett. This interest grew after his first meeting with Beckett and culminated in one of the first studies of the writer in 1970. As a result of the friendship between the writer and the critic, Beckett gave an important body of correspondence and manuscripts, many of which were unpublished, to Professor Harvey to be given to the Library. This gift was made in 1983. In addition to the Beckett material, Professor Harvey also presented his research papers on Beckett. The two collections form a major body of primary and critical studies of Beckett and his era.

As an author of enormously popular adventure stories, Jack London is best remembered for The Call of the Wild (1903) and his short story 'To Build a Fire' (1908). In 1984, Marvin Rauch 1935 presented the Library with a superb collection of first editions, first printings, and first appearances in both book and serial form. The collection also includes pictures, posters, and ephemera and is nearly complete.

Herman Melville is central to the canon of American literature. In 1941, George Matthew Adams 1931 presented more than two dozen first and early editions of Melville to the Library in memory of his father. In addition to these early editions, the gift included works of biographical and critical studies. The collection was greatly enriched by the 1991 gift of William S. Clark 1942 that totaled more than 200 American and foreign printings of Moby Dick. Since that time, Mr. Clark has added more materials to this remarkable gift.

Perhaps one of the best known American artists and illustrators, Maxfield Parrish made his home for many years in Cornish, New Hampshire, as a member of the Cornish Colony of artists and writers. Dartmouth's collection of publications and papers of the members of the Cornish Colony is well known, and we were anxious to acquire the Parrish papers as a result. Our discussions with Mr. Parrish and, later, his son, began shortly after World War II and were completed in 1985 with the gift of the Maxfield Parrish papers by the Parrish family. Included in this collection are notebooks, sketchbooks, drawings, correspondence, and a rich body of photographs taken by Parrish in preparation for his work.

The Presses Collection within the Library contains examples of, and, in some cases, the complete output of over 400 presses from the entire era of printing. One collection, that of the Pennyroyal Press and its proprietor Barry Moser, is an excellent example of the breadth and depth of the Presses Collection. From its founding in 1970 to the present day, the press has issued beautifully printed books that are wonderfully illustrated by Moser. Examples include Moby Dick (1979), the Pennyroyal Alice (1982), and the recent illustrated edition of the Bible (1999). In addition to the publications, Mr. Moser began presenting the Library with his papers, including the original blocks of the wood engravings pertaining to his work in 1982, and these gifts continue to this day.

The 1993 gift of a stunning 3,000 volume collection of nineteenth- and twentieth-century British illustrated books and 6,000 original illustrations for the volumes was quickly identified as the two-millionth acquisition of the Library. The collection was formed by Edward Sine 1951, whose passion for illustrated books and their original illustrations led to this gift. Mr. Sine's bequest has made Dartmouth a major focus for the study of British illustrated books.

As was stated above, this is a mere sampling of the many individual items and collections that have been given to the Library in the past two decades. Without the strong support of Margaret Otto and the generosity of the many friends of the Library, these collections could not have been acquired.

Acquiring important and relevant collections for the Library is only the first step in the process. If an institution holds fine collections and does not make these collections accessible and available, there is little reason for holding the materials. Under Margaret Otto's leadership, the availability of materials in Special Collections has been paramount. In many special collections or rare book libraries, access to the rich and varied holdings of the libraries is strictly limited to faculty and 'scholars,' an often ill-defined body of individuals to whom access is granted only after forms are completed and letters of introduction are provided. Margaret Otto took the lead in this area by making it clear, early on in her tenure, that if the material was held in Special Collections and there were no donor or agency restrictions on access, it was to be made available to everyone, particularly to Dartmouth students. This was an unusual step and one that was taken because of her strong support of access rather than by fiat. The Special Collections at Dartmouth were and remain one of the most open rare book and manuscript libraries in the nation. As the Dartmouth curriculum has moved toward original research by students in many courses, the decision made two decades ago has been ratified.

Granting access to collections is only one part of providing accessible collections. The second, and more difficult, is to provide information regarding the collections and their contents to the Dartmouth community and to the larger research community. Special Collections became involved in the development of online access to its holdings at the very outset of the Library's commitment to an on-line catalog. As a result, records of our holdings were added in 1981 and have been added ever since. Retrospective conversion of both manual catalogs began immediately; the manual manuscript catalog was closed in 1984 and the book catalog in 1988. While the records for the book collections have all been converted, there remains a small quantity of individually cataloged manuscripts that do not yet appear in the online catalog.

Processing, cataloging, and providing access to special collections materials is a very time-consuming and costly process. With the support of Margaret Otto, the department has applied for and received a number of grants that have made the transition much easier. In 1981, the department was awarded a large National Endowment for the Humanities grant for processing papers relating to the Cornish Colony. These collections included the papers of the MacKaye family, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and other members of the famous colony of artists and writers. Shortly thereafter, a grant was awarded under Title II-C of the Department of Education for a complete reprocessing of the manuscripts held in the internationally-recognized Stefansson Collection on Polar Exploration as well as supporting conservation work on the books held in the collection.

A second Title II-C grant supported processing and cataloging of the theatre collections and resulted in creation of three important on-line files: Thespis (theatre clipping files), G Major (popular sheet music), and Playbill (for both nineteenth- and twentieth-century playbills). A second National Endowment for the Humanities grant supported our work in the national effort to catalog and microfilm early New Hampshire newspapers. The New Hampshire Newspaper Project provides very important information regarding the location and availability of every known newspaper printed in the state as well as microfilm copies of many of these newspapers.

Several projects that improved access to our holdings were undertaken jointly with other members of the Research Libraries Group. These included the Great Collections Microfilming Project that supported the microfilming of selected portions of our rare book collection and the Archives and Manuscripts Control retrospective conversion project that allowed us to prepare electronic versions of manuscript collection records for inclusion in the online catalog. A final RLG project was supported by the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and permitted the tagging of a selected number of finding aids to manuscript collections so that they could be made accessible in electronic format. The Delmas Foundation has also generously supported the creation of an electronic index to the rich collection of photographic images taken during the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918.

There are also two ongoing projects within the department. The first is the Hanover Town Records project that is jointly sponsored by the Town of Hanover and the College to ensure that town records of enduring historical importance are preserved and made available to researchers. Because of the very close historical ties of the town to the College, this project benefits both parties as well as interested researchers. The Oral History Project, building on a similar project several decades ago, is working to document the history of the College through taped interviews with faculty, administrators, and other individuals who served during the presidencies of John Kemeny and David T. McLaughlin.[3] Initiated in 1996, the current Oral History Project promises to provide important insights into the recent history of the College.

The Book Arts Workshop, the rebirth of Ray Nash's Graphic Arts Workshop that he conducted from the mid-1930's until his retirement in 1970,[4] was opened in Baker Library in 1989 to provide Dartmouth students with an opportunity to learn letter press printing. The workshop is open to any student, and instructors are available several evenings a week to assist students in learning the craft. In addition to printing, students also have the opportunity to learn book binding. As a result of the early success of the Book Arts Workshop, the Library began offering an intensive course each summer. The Book Arts Summer Workshop, organized annually around the work of a noted printer, affords Dartmouth students and students from around the world the opportunity to learn the art of printing as well as to hear noted speakers on a variety of aspects of the history of printing. The support of Margaret Otto in these projects has been critical to their success.

The success of a special collections program within a research library, and particularly one in a college library, depends primarily on the direction and leadership of the senior library officer. Without clear, visible support from the director, a special collections cannot provide needed research materials and the strong sense of public service critical to success. From the outset, Margaret Otto perceived the Special Collections in the Library as a peer component of a unified Library system. That direction and leadership have permitted our Special Collections to flourish.

[1] See 'The Transformation of Webster Hall,' Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, n.s., 38:2 (April 1998), 87-96; 'Moving a Library,' Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, n. s., 39:2 (April 1999), 97-104; and 'Farewell to the TR,' Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, n.s., 39:1 (November 1998), 61-63.

[2]The Legacy of Mark Twain (Hanover: Dartmouth College Library, 1994).

[3] The earlier project, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, was directed by Professor Jere Daniell and focused on the presidencies of Ernest M. Hopkins and John Sloan Dickey. See Jere R. Daniell, 'The Dartmouth College Oral History Project,' Dartmouth College Library Bulletin, n.s., 25:2 (April 1985), 107-109.

[4] See Ray Nash and the Graphic Arts Workshop at Dartmouth College (Hanover: Friends of the Dartmouth Library, 1987).