Imagine you wake up one morning and discover that a mysterious benefactor left you a small fortune, stipulating that the funds be used to help others. How would you spend it? Now imagine that you have to make that decision with 293 other people without splitting the money. This is the task that the 24th Congress of the United States faced when it created the Smithsonian Institution.
Who was R. Buckminster Fuller? In Stanford University Library’s description of the R. Buckminster Fuller Collection, the description describes Fuller as a “20th century polymath,” while the Buckminster Fuller Institute describes the man as “a 20th century inventor and visionary who did not limit himself to one field but worked as a ‘comprehensive anticipatory design scientist’ to solve global problems.” He was, indeed, a person of many interests, many academic pursuits, and many talents. Fuller lived through most of the twentieth century and published novels and essays, wrote poetry, designed architectural geodesic domes and works of contemporary art, and built prototype cars of the future.
His books are highly collectible, and if you are interested in seeing and learning more, you can access the R. Buckminster Fuller Collection at Stanford’s Special Collections and University Archives.
The Library of Congress has been around nearly as long as the United States of America. Approve by President John Adams in 1800, the goal of the library was to solve a problem when the government moved from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. Namely, in Philadelphia, congressmen had access to the well-stocked Free Library of Philadelphia. Their concern was that the burgeoning new capital was still under development, and in D.C., members of Congress would lack access to books outside their own personal collection. The Act of Congress allocated $5,000 to stock the library, which today would be roughly $92,000. The books assembled, nearly 750 of them, were inspired by the classical education most of the founding fathers possessed and therefore included papers on theology, philosophy, government, history, and languages.
The Richard Wright Papers at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is an enormous collection. It’s one of the collections that’s actually stored on-site, so you don’t need to request access days in advance as you may find with certain other papers owned by the library. The papers contain 143 boxes, along with additional materials. Researchers have access to Wright’s manuscripts, correspondence, journals, travel documents, photographs, and even the novelist’s screen test for the film version of Native Son, his 1940 novel. We’ll tell you a little bit more about the collection.
Are you familiar with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture? If not, you should be. It’s a division of the New York Public Library (NYPL) system, located on Malcolm X Boulevard in Harlem. The Schomburg Center has a Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division that is open to researchers, in addition to divisions devoted to art and artifacts, moving images, recorded sound, and photographs, among others. There are a lot of good reasons to visit the Schomburg, but today we want to tell you about a recent addition: James Baldwin’s archive.
Are you interested in learning more about the life and works of Leslie Marmon Silko? Yale University Library owns her papers, which are available to researchers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Given the Beinecke’s extensive collection, many of the archives contained here are housed off-site. As such, researchers need to request them at least a few business days in advance of a visit. This is true of the Silko Papers, but it’s worth the wait. We visited the papers and were thrilled to see not only numerous pieces of correspondence, as well as drafts with Silko’s handwritten edits and comments, but also folders of Silko’s artwork.
Why should you be interested in looking into the life and work of Leslie Marmon Silko? We’ll tell you a little bit more about her before we get into a discussion about the Papers.
The international library system would be sorely lacking without universities. Where government and private interests (and resources) fail, academic ones pick up the slack, snapping up the archives of major authors and collecting volumes on specialized and specific topics. They prove vital assets to researchers and professors. They provide working space for students and writers (I happened upon Zadie Smith, headphones in her ears, in New York University’s Bobst Library one afternoon). They are essential to the health of literature and education. And they are often very beautiful.
Are you interested in learning more about the life and literary work of Ralph Ellison? If you find yourself in Washington, D.C., there are many reasons to plan a visit to the Library of Congress. One of those reasons, though, should certainly be to explore the Ralph Ellison papers, which include materials from 1890-2005. There are a total of 74,800 items in the collection, such as correspondence, drafts for essays, short stories, novels, lectures given by and about Ellison, a wide variety of resources documenting his literary career, and Ellison’s final unfinished novel, Juneteenth.
Everyone loves a beautiful, old library with oak desks, cozy chairs, and tall windows. Libraries built during the economic boom of the mid-20th century, however, were often used as a playground for architectural experimentation, particularly on college and university campuses. Sometimes the result was instantly regrettable; at other times, it was intriguing and other-worldly. The Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego falls in the latter category.