THE BEINECKE LIBRARY OF YALE UNIVERSITY Edited by Stephen Parks, New Haven. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Yale University (distributed by University Press of New England). 237pp ISBN 0-8457-3150-5. $US50.
TREASURES OF THE STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA By Bev Roberts, Sydney, Focus Publishing. 176pp ISBN 1-920683-10-0 $49.95
TWO MAJOR libraries, perhaps as physically apart globally as one could get, have issued sumptuous commemorative volumes. The Beinecke Library of Yale University, one of the world’s leading rare book and manuscript libraries, commemorates forty years of residence in that famously striking building, while the State Library of Victoria, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2004.
The Beinecke, located in the heart of the Yale campus, is renowned as being one of the most significant collections of literary and historic material of any private university in the Americas. It is supported wholly from endowments, which reminds non-Americans of the philanthropic largesse that exists in that country. Barbara Shailor, the former Director of the Beinecke, indicates that the idea for a rare book library probably originated with Professor Chauncey Brewster Tinker and his 1924 statement that Yale must collect “strange books … out-of-the-way books, rare books and expensive books” to advance scholarship. Since that time the range and depth of collecting has been phenomenal. The Beinecke has become a centre of humanistic scholarship through the collections and the Visiting Fellow programs.
Richard Parks has brought together a number of his distinguished Yale colleagues to contribute chapters which cover the main specific subject collections, such as early manuscripts and books, the American literature collection, music and the Osborn Collection of English manuscripts. The text is complemented by a number of stunning photographs in colour, not only of the bibliographic treasures, but also of the internal and external architecture. The whole, designed by Greer Allen, is both academically authoritative and aesthetically pleasing.
The State Library of Victoria in Melbourne combines a major research library with that of general public access library. Opened in 1854 as the Melbourne Public Library at the height of the Victorian Gold Rush era, it was the first free public library in Australia. According to current Victorian
Premier Steve Bracks “it had only two rules of entry: library users must be of good character and have clean hands”! The publication of the anniversary volume Treasures of the State Library of Victoria coincided with the end of a ten year $200 million redevelopment that saw the famous domed reading room (in the style of the former British Museum Library Reading Room) brought back to life as the heart of the State Library. Treasures examines the changing face and nature of life in Victoria since the time of first contact between Aboriginal and European cultures. Subjects including the book through the ages, the discovery of gold, the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly, the arts in Melbourne and sport. The text is supplemented by over two hundred black and white and colour illustrations, encompassing photographs, prints, publications, letters, maps and memorabilia. Treasures of the State Library of Victoria comprehensively symbolises the cultural and historical richness of Victoria in general and the State Library in particular.