request for aid in saving an important library resource!

Fri, 5 Aug 1994 13:26:09 -0400

Dear members of the list:

This message originally comes from Renee Bush who was chief librarian of the
Buffalo Museum of Science Library and is now Head of the Science and
Engineering Library at SUNY/Buffalo. The museum of science library collections
include many early anthropological and archaeological monographs as well
as the ones she lists. Many of these are also under threat of sale,
if not immediately then in the not to distant future.

Any help would be greatly appreciated - particularly writing.
Ms. Bush has suggested two addresses to which you may write.

Personally, I find reprehensible the general principle of selling off
permanent museum gifts which were given in good faith to be held in
trust by the museum. However, even more important these books are
both part of the intellectual history of our civilization and are valuable
for ongoing scholarship. They belong in a locus where the public may
have access- not dispersed in numerous private collections where they will
only benefit a few. They also provide a rich cultural tradition
which enriches our community.

Please read Ms. Bush's message.

Thank you,

Ezra Zubrow

----------------------------Original message----------------------------

Dear Natural History Caucus members:

Can you help save an endangered collection?

As former Chief Librarian of the Buffalo (N.Y.) Museum of Science, I was
appalled to read in the July 17 BUFFALO NEWS of the Museum Board's decision
to put much of the library's special collections up for auction. The Board's
decision was reached in closed session, without input from the Museum's
current librarian, its membership, the scholarly community, or citizens of the
city. While the Museum is a private, not-for-profit organization, much of
its operating support comes from public (county) funds.

Included in the auction plan is the well-known "Milestones of Science"
collection: 200 first-editions in which major scientific discoveries were
first announced. Works by Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Darwin,
Linnaeus, etc. are represented. The collection is fully documented in the
A. Sparrow (Buffalo Museum of Science, 1972). The Milestones were assembled
in the 1930s, after exhaustive research involving nearly 100 specialists around
the globe. The volumes were acquired through gifts and with funds contributed
by ordinary citizens, including various ethnic groups of the community.

Also up for auction are many rare and beautifully illustrated natural history
and archaeology books, such as John Gould's MONOGRAPH OF THE HUMMINGBIRDS,
DE L'EGYPTE. Sadly, most were the gifts of Museum benefactors of the 19th and
early 20th Centuries, who expected their donations to be held in trust by the

The NEWS quotes Museum Director Ernst E. Both as saying the Milestones are "not
really part of the collection," and that early scientific books "aren't that
important to us, in terms of science." Ominously, he added that the Board
"is looking at the entire library, and whether it serves our purpose."

The Museum's 38,000 volume library has been the regions's leading resource for
research in botany, zoology, geology, and anthropology. Founded in 1861, its
holdings include complete runs of early scientific journals and foreign
monographic series unique in New York State, and scarce on this continent.
Its rich special collections have been displayed on several occasions, and were
the centerpiece of a major exhibition in 1983 titled "Ex Libris: 122 Years of
Gifts from the Community." [For a profile of the Library, see ASC Newsletter,
Vol. 14, No. 6, December 1986, p. 65]

Proceedings of the sale have been pledged to a restricted endowment to
"preserve the rest [i.e. non-library] of the Museum's collections, pay for
work by curators, and fund interpretive exhibits." Yet despite several
major auctions in recent years (including an Audubon BIRDS OF AMERICA folio in
1987), the Museum still lacks a professional conservator and has not announced
a single major new acquisition. That the library will reap no benefit from the
cannibalizing of its own collections seems to me a breach of professional
standards of conduct.

If you feel you can help, please write to the Museum officials below and express
your professional opinions on:

- the importance of a strong research library in a natural history museum
- the relevance of early scientific books to current natural history research
- the responsibility of the Museum to keep the "Milestones of Science" an
intact collection, even if it means depositing it with another institution
which can better care for it

You may wish to add your support to the call from the Editor of the BUFFALO
NEWS (July 26, 1994) that the Milestones of Science be withdrawn from auction
and deposited at the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, which "already
has rare books and knows how to care for and display them."

Please address your concerns to:

George F. Goodyear, Chair
Executive Committee, Board of Managers
Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences
1020 Humboldt Parkway
Buffalo, NY 14211

Ernst E. Both, Director
Buffalo Museum of Science
1020 Humboldt Parkway
Buffalo, NY 14211


posted by:
Ezra Zubrow
Professor, Department of Anthropology
Member, National Center of Geographic
Information Analysis
University at Buffalo email apyezra@ubvms.bitnet
Millard Fillmore 380
University at Buffalo voice 716-645-2414 (sec)
Buffalo, New York 716-645-2369 (ans. mac.)
14261 fax 716-645-3808