The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Penn is one of the nation's oldest and most distinguished repositories of rare and unique historical materials. Over the course of its 250-year history, the University has acquired an extraordinary treasury of books, manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs, and other documents. Beginning with a copy of John Milton's Paradise Lost, given to the University by Lewis Evans in 1750, Penn's early library grew in important ways through gifts from friends near and far way, from Benjamin Franklin and his circle, as well as from King Louis XVI of France. Most of these early benefactions are still preserved in the Founders Collection, which is part of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
At present, the Library's holdings comprise nearly 200,000 volumes and more than six million manuscript items, documenting practically every aspect of Western history and culture from the middle ages to the contemporary world. Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, William Shakespeare, Robert Boyle, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestly, Theodore Dreiser, Lewis Mumford, James T. Farrell, and Marian Anderson, among many others, are well represented in the broad and rich collections at Penn. In addition, the Library maintains major manuscript holdings on the history, literature, and culture of India from the eighteenth through the twentieth centuries.
These valuable collections are not only a campus and regional resource; they are known and respected by the international community of scholars. Researchers from around the country and abroad regularly consult them. On campus, they play a significant role in the undergraduate and graduate curricula by awakening interest in the past and sparking student concern with scholarship and learning.
Stewardship of these irreplaceable materials is the responsibility of the Director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Director is charged with insuring their preservation, security, and good management, with their cataloging and access, and with their future growth and development. But even beyond that, there is the challenge of keeping these treasures of the past alive and visible -- active partners in the ongoing work of humanistic scholarship. This responsibility requires knowledge, judgment, and imagination, an ability to take the measure of the collections and relate them to current research and learning in the humanities. The Director must not only be a scholar and steward of collections but of people and programs as well: students, faculty, and others; exhibitions, publications, and conferences.
Endowing the Directorship will guarantee the future of this incomparable collection and continue the illustrious traditions of the Department's creators. Rare books and manuscript collections of the stature of Penn's deserve an endowed Directorship, a position which will attract the best and most able stewards to watch over and guide this treasury of scholarly materials. Endowed positions carry with them a potent symbolic affirmation of their importance and value to the Penn community; they acquire prestige and communicate eminence to the wider world. These affirmations are central to the ongoing vitality and well-being of Penn's very Rare Book and Manuscript Library and its role as a national center for research and learning in the humanities.