It seems like a lot of the rich and famous spend a good amount of time and money collecting books, manuscripts and other library material, which they treasure during their life time and which later become great assets to libraries once they are bequeathed. A number of very prestigious libraries have started out by such generous donations.
Harvard’s libraries started when John Harvard donated his collection to the institution back in 1638. Later Eleanor Elkins Widener, gave another significant push when she carried out her sons wish to donate his collection to the university. Her son, Harry Elkin Widener, class of 1907, perished with the Titanic.
The John Carter Brown Library, affiliated with Brown University has also greatly benefited from the donation of personal libraries. John Carter Brown was an avid collector of Americana; his collection was further developed by his son John Nicholas Brown, who subsequently assigned the funds to house this collection. During more recent times whey had also received the Paul R. Dupee Jr. collection which focused on Mexican History. And in two different installment, rare book collector Maury Bromsen donated the vast majority of his collection to the John Carter Brown Library as well.
Significant library collections are also established by those who don’t specialize in books. Collections of letters, diaries, and pretty much anything else can eventually also make it into libraries, and are usually considered part of Special Collections. Morehouse College holds the larger portion of the Martin Luther King Jr. Collection. While the University of Texas at Austin, Benson Latin American Collection acquired the Gloria E. Anzaldua collection just a few years ago.
This week the NYT had an article on CEOs personal libraries, describing both some of the treasures that are to be found in them, as well as commenting on just how protective some of these people are about their books. It’s also interesting to learn that some of these collections have hardly anything in common with these people’s professions. For instance, Steven P. Jobs from Apple had a large collection on William Blake.
While as a librarian I’m initially a little uneasy with having such treasures in personal hands, I’m comforted to know that in the end many of these personal treasures do end up in libraries where they can be used and enjoyed by all.