University of Delaware Library


Special Collections Department


FOUR DECADES OF LIBRARY SUPPORT

A Note on the University of Delaware Library
Special Collections Department

The work of the University of Delaware Library Associates has had a profound impact on the growth of all areas of the University of Delaware Library over the past four decades, but perhaps the organization's most enduring contribution has been the support it has provided for the University of Delaware Library's Special Collections Department. From the very outset, the Library Associates identified the development of the Library's research collections as a top priority. In particular, the Library Associates sought to enrich the Library's research holdings in some of the fundamental disciplines of the humanities, notably English and American literature, music, art, history, languages and literature, and economics.

The breadth of this collecting focus is remarkably ambitious, and became even more so when the Library Associates determined not to limit the Library's collecting simply to books and journals, but to encompass rare books and manuscripts, and the world of multimedia, including microfilm, sound recordings, and films. Indeed, the first official acquisition of the Library Associates was the microfilm edition of The New York Times, which remains today, along with its electronic version, one of the Library's most heavily-used resources.

Prior to the founding of the Library Associates, the University of Delaware Library had built a small collection of rare books and manuscripts which included a number of very significant collections, notably the library and papers of the Delaware author and historian Christopher Ward, the papers of the diplomat George S. Messersmith, the Archive of the Delaware Federal Writers Project, the papers of the Latimer Family, a prominent Delaware family, and a rapidly-growing collection on Delaware history. With the mandate of the Library Associates to build strong collections of primary research materials, Special Collections's holdings grew quickly in all of the areas identified as collecting priorities. Major collections in American, British, and Irish literature were formed, as were collections on the history of chemistry and the history of horticulture and landscape design. Manuscript holdings grew as well, in particular collections of manuscripts and papers relating to Delaware and the surrounding region, and in the field of contemporary literature.

By 1991, the year the University of Delaware Library celebrated the acquisition of its two millionth volume, Special Collection housed well over 100,000 individual titles for rare books and other printed materials. Special Collection currently holds close to 150,000 volumes and more than 1,000,000 manuscripts. The support of the University of Delaware Library Associates has been a major factor in this remarkable growth.

The exhibition, "Forty Years of Library Support," and its accompanying catalog provide a selective overview to the magnificent research collections the University of Delaware Library Associates have helped develop over the past four decades. The Library staff who have had the opportunity to work with these collections have strived to remain true to the original goal of the Library Associates to acquire primary research material in a broad range of humanities disciplines and make it available to the faculty and students of the University of Delaware and to the world-wide scholarly community.

"Forty Years of Library Support" provides testimony to the success of these efforts, which in today's rapidly-changing electronic environment remain even more important. The dramatic developments in scholarly communication over the past two decades have allowed scholars and educators to rely increasingly on electronic access to information and there is a growing demand to make primary research materials available electronically. During the past several years alone, an astonishing range of projects have been launched in which original sources are being digitized to preserve them for use by future generations, as well as to make them accessible to the worldwide community of scholars. At the same time, however, the past two decades have seen an increase in the use of primary research materials in their original format by scholars and educators. New curriculum requirements which mandate course work using primary research materials, such as diaries and land records, are being developed, even at the elementary and secondary school levels. The emergence of new academic programs focusing on topics such as material culture, gender studies, and vernacular architecture have also helped foster an increased use of Special Collections by students and scholars alike.

The support of the University of Delaware Library Associates will continue to be important as the University of Delaware Library's Special Collections Department strives to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse body of students and scholars who want electronic access to information and the availability of primary research materials in all formats. Footer


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Last modified: 12/21/10
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