Giving to Yale

Opening "Locked Treasures" at the Library

Students explore treasures in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Charles Lindbergh kept everything—letters, diaries, photographs, and miscellany ranging from a receipt for six cents’ worth of Christmas tinsel to an accounting of the clothes he would wear on his legendary transatlantic flight. To process his family’s massive collection, donated to Yale over thirty years beginning in 1940, the University has relied on skilled library scientists and experts on Lindbergh himself—specialists equipped to transform his meticulous, massive collection into a usable scholarly resource.

Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh set a transcontinental speed record in their Lockheed Sirius in 1930. This image is one of many held by Yale.

Acquisitions like the Lindbergh collection have made the Yale University Library a worldclass institution. Until they are cataloged, though, faculty and students cannot take full advantage of them. Since 2008, tighter budgets have caused some inevitable delays in the cataloging of new acquisitions. “Basically, we have lots of locked treasures at the moment,” said University Librarian Susan Gibbons, who was appointed in July 2011. “Sustaining our cataloging and manuscript processing operations is a priority for the Library, and we are energized by the commitment within the Yale community to provide the much-needed resources to propel us forward.”

The Class of 1977 rallies for an important cause

In 2010, John Block ’77 made a leadership commitment to the continued processing of the Lindbergh collection. Now, to mark their 35th reunion, a number of Block’s classmates have followed suit to support immediate needs in cataloging at the library, led by Christopher di Bonaventura, David Leiwant, and William Reese. Among the recent acquisitions in need of processing are the records of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)—which illuminate the contemporary environmental movement—as well as the papers of National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr. ’50 and Stephen Genden, a prominent AIDS activist.

Cataloging and processing may not seem as glamorous as the acquisitions themselves, but these wonderful holdings would be unusable without them.

The University Library is known to house one of the world’s greatest collections of rare books,  manuscripts, and recordings as well as special holdings ranging from mountaineering to Yiddish. Among those who have entrusted their archives to Yale are James Fenimore Cooper, Edith Wharton, and Gertrude Stein.

When new collections are acquired, librarians are tasked with translating, handling, and organizing items as well as integrating them into the physical shelves and virtual catalogs—no simple feat in a system of eighteen libraries and 12.7 million volumes.

Furthermore, these tasks often require very particular expertise; to process the newly acquired papers of Dr. Henry Kissinger, for example, the Library hired an expert with a Ph.D. in American diplomatic history who had previously worked at the Nixon Presidential Library, where he led the Nixon tapes project. “Thanks to these generous gifts, we will now be able to recruit the people with the expertise to make these wonderful new collections available and usable,” Gibbons said.

Making new acquisitions available to all

Instrumental in encouraging his classmates to give was William Reese, a New Haven-based rare book and manuscript dealer with longtime ties to the Library as a donor, curator, and expert in collections handling. “The Library is central to campus life and the foundation of scholarship at Yale,” he said. Di Bonaventura, the executive vice president of Fidelity Family Office Services in Boston who serves with Reese on the University Library Council, added, “Cataloging and processing may not seem as glamorous as the acquisitions themselves, but these wonderful holdings would be unusable without them. We are very glad to support the Library at this important moment.”

“We all took advantage of the Library’s incredible resources as students here,” said David Leiwant, a former district attorney who resided with Reese in Silliman College. “We want to be sure that its magnificent holdings are as available as they can possibly be to current and future scholars.”