Special Collections

Special Collections History

The University of Southern Maine’s Special Collections is composed of three units: Rare Books and Manuscripts, the University Archives, and the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. The history of each collection differs but they share a common theme; creation of the collections predated formation of a program to manage them. With the opening of the expanded Albert Brenner Glickman Family Library in 2004, the three elements needed for a successful special collections were finally achieved: appropriate physical space, administrative structure/program, and collections.

2004 construction

Construction of new facility in 2004.

USM traces its roots back to the Gorham Normal School and several colleges in Portland. Books from the libraries of these institutions formed the beginning of the Rare Books Collection. These books were grouped together and stored in various, often unsecured areas in the libraries in Bailey Hall, Gorham, and Luther Bonney Hall, Portland, but there was no administrative unit charged with their management. The lack of a true special collections department is underlined by the fact that these collections were moved 5-6 times over several decades. In the 1960s, two gifts from outside the University really “established” the rare books collection. Dr. E. Grosvenor Plowman gave an eclectic collection of mostly European and American works from the 17th and 18th centuries. School books were extracted from Plowman’s gift and became the basis for the Textbook Collection, pre 20th-century works, mostly published in New England, and from internal evidence, used in Maine school rooms. At about the same time, Edward F. Dana, secretary of the Anthoensen Press (a Portland firm) gave the press’ copies of its publications to the Library. He continued to donate copies of Anthoensen Press publications throughout the 1970s and 1980s. This growing collection of rare books pushed the Library to name Albert Howard (the library’s cataloger) Special Collections Librarian. Cataloging reports for October 1976 indicates that Howard was managing the collection by shelf-reading, re-shelving, and creating a catalog. This was the beginning of a special collections program. The second component of the present day Special Collections is the University Archives created in the late 1970s. 1978 was USM’s centennial and, like many institutions facing an anniversary, the Archives was established to document the history of the institution. An archives is the records of an institution arranged to reflect the institution’s organization. The Library’s Annual Report for 1977-78, mentions the Archivist and the great activity in the Archives as records were gathered from offices across the Portland and Gorham campuses. The University Archives not only holds the records of USM, it also has the records of all the institutions that preceeded USM. Originally the Archives was located in the Alumni House, but it was moved into the Library in Luther Bonney Hall sometime before 1982. Around 1982, the Archives absorbed the rare books collection. There is no other mention of a special collections or rare books in any further Library reports or reports by the University Archivist. In fact, the rare books collection virtually disappeared, to the point that the department was known simply as “Archives.” Although there was now an administrative unit to manage the collections, its program was focused on the archival collections, and its physical space was still unsecured. In 1993, the University completed renovation of the old bakery building on Forest Avenue as a library. Even though this meant a major increase in space for the Library, it still fell short of the Library’s needs and the Archives/Special Collections unit was slated to remain in Luther Bonney Hall. Therefore, no special collections facility was planned during the building renovation. University space needs forced the move of Archives/Special Collections into the new library, and the unit did occupy its first “locked” space.

By the 1990s, Archives/Special Collections was a unified department. The rare books stored on the Gorham campus were brought down to the new library building in Portland. Everything was in one place and the unit had the status of a department, even if its programs ignored the rare books collection and the few manuscript collections that had been acquired over time. The next decade would see an explosion in the department; the last component of Special Collections would be created, forcing the unit to develop a program to manage and care for all of its collections. Once again, collections preceeded an administrative structure. In 1995, Gerald E. Talbot donated his collection of books, magazines, photographs, posters, and objects documenting African-Americans in the United States. This collection formed the basis of a new African American Collection of Maine, to be administered by Archives/Special Collections, but housed, out of necessity, in the Gorham campus library. At the same time, faculty, students, and staff at USM, interested in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender studies, were working to create a collection of primary materials documenting this community in Maine. Under the leadership of then USM Provost Mark Lapping, these two collections and a proposed Judaica Collection, were brought together as the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. The University of Maine System Board of Trustees approved the new Center in 1997 and it was placed within Archives/Special Collections. In the following year, the Rare Books Collection received its first major gift since the 1960s. Bernard and Shirley S. Kazon signed an agreement to donate their collection of over 900 titles to USM. Composed chiefly of pamphlets, books, and handbills, the Kazon collection focuses on American political history and slavery as a social and political issue. In 1999, Susanna Adams, following the wishes of her mother, Barbara Winn Adams, the collector, donated the Edith C. Rice Children’s Literature Collection. This collection, approximately 2200 titles, is named for a librarian who nurtured Mrs. Adam's love of reading. The acquisition of these two collections demonstrated the Libraries commitment to a rare books program. By 1998, all three units of Archives/Special Collections were in place, but the department still did not have an adequate facility or a full-fledged special collections program. The Libraries addressed these problems by hiring a special collections librarian in 1999 to head the department, assigned the Libraries Rare Book Cataloger to work on the department’s book collections, and designed a special collections facility as part of the expansion of the Glickman Library. The department changed its name to Special Collections emphasizing the importance of all the materials and all the collections managed by the department. As of 2006, Special Collections has a state-of-the-art facility, a staff who are developing policies to manage the collections, and exciting new acquisitions. On the verge of moving into its new facility in 2004, Special Collections welcomed the donation of the Albert A. Howard Book History Collection; a collection formed around the concept of the printed book as a social and cultural instrument in Europe and the Americas.