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French and Italian Studies

Collegial Collection Building: A Curator Remembers

Mary Jane Parrine, Curator from 1979 to 2001

We are all successors and predecessors in a continuum of time and effort. While French and Italian studies collections had traditionally been a major part of Stanford’s library holdings, their development was formalized in 1963 when the curatorship including those fields was established. The first Curator for Romance Languages was Paul J. Kann, who had received his Ph.D. at Yale, served in the Department of State as vice-consul in Turkey in the 1940s, then taught French for several years. From 1963 through 1978 Dr. Kann set sound foundations for the collections, drawing on initiatives implemented by the first two Directors of Collection Development in the Stanford Libraries, Elmer Grieder and Paul Mosher. Their innovations were actively supported by the Library’s Director, David Weber, whose views of collection expansion and management coincided with theories developed at other institutions, notably UCLA. There, Library Directors Lawrence Clark Powell and Robert Vosper, encouraged by UCLA’s scholar-president Franklin Murphy, laid similar foundations for a group of bibliographers who in 1973 gave a freshly-minted Ph.D in European history the chance to begin a career that led eventually to Stanford’s curators’ group. When I came to Stanford after six years as Western European Bibliographer at UCLA, Paul Kann had already retired, but his work had been continued in the interim by my colleague John Rawlings, who kept the Romance Languages office going at full speed. So I benefited from over 15 years of intensive collection development that was itself built on fine holdings of basic resources acquired since the University began 1891. After Paul Mosher left for the University of Pennsylvania and David Weber retired, the curators group had the continued good fortune to work with subsequent library directors (Robert Street for a short time, then Michael Keller as University Librarian since 1993) and in collection development, Michael Ryan, Tony Angiletta, Roberto Trujillo, and the current Associate University Librarian for Collection Development, Assunta Pisani, who have added their own successive innovations to the traditions begun in the 1960s.

Our collections’ strengths reflect the varied academic programs they support, indicating in their relative growth over time the ebb and flow of trends in scholarship, the arrival or departures of faculty, and the beginnings or endings of special projects. Among the major influences on collection policy have been scholars in several disciplines, including faculty, visiting and affiliated scholars, and students, especially the graduate students in my yearly course on research methods taught since 1981. It would be impossible to name all those with whom I, Paul Kann, and John Rawlings consulted regularly, but for the record, here are a few of the scholars whose advice has helped shape our collections: In French history, Gordon Wright, Carolyn Lougee Chappell, Keith Baker, Karen Offen, Mary Louise Roberts, Gabrielle Hecht, Dena Goodman, Aron Rodrigue, and Philippe Buc; in French literature, and French studies in general, John Lapp, Alphonse Juilland, Pierre Saint-Amand, Marc Bertrand, Jean-Marie Apostolidès, Brigitte Cazelles, James Winchell, Robert Greer Cohen, René Girard, Michel Serres, Elisabeth Boyi, Joshua Landy, and Derek Schilling; in Italian literature: John Ahern, John Freccero, Beverly Allen, Carolyn Springer, Robert Harrison, and Jeffrey Schnapp, and in Italian history, Judith Brown and Paula Findlen. A wide range of scholars in Comparative Literature, English, Political Science, Communication (Film studies) and in other departments and research centers have provided valuable insight from the perspective of frequent users of French and Italian resources. And through the years when the curator’s position also involved selection in associated humanities fields, primarily Philosophy, Classics, and Religious Studies (1980-91), our holdings in French and Italian studies could never have been as extensive without the collaboration of scholars in those related fields, especially Lewis Spitz and his students in Reformation history.

No specialized resources can be acquired or made available to scholars without the help of our curatorial assistants or the support of other library departments working closely with collection development. For well over 30 years, in the various configurations of our curators’ group, the work of highly skilled library specialists has been a major factor in the growth of French and Italian collections. Staff members with the longest tenure have been a trio of outstanding staff: above all, Jane Vaden (1967-1992; now in Acquisitions), whose full-time work for in the Romance Languages and Humanties office was a mainstay for bibliographic research, instruction, and office management. The two longest term half-time library specialists, Josephine Lee (1967-1991; now retired), and Eve Citron (1982-2000; now in Acquisitions), also contributed greatly to both the acquisition and interpretation of new material. For shorter terms, other half-time staff included Peter Hirtle, Mireille Meyers Chauveinc, and Colyn Wohlmut, adding to a stellar legacy for Nathalie Auerbach, who continues the fine tradition set by her predecessors. A series of interns, international stagiaires, and student assistants, among them Alison Cornish, Aikwakwel Ibino, Françoise Schenk, Kurt de Belder, Clare Hills-Nova, John Bennett Shank, Lara Moore, and Sarah Sussman, have provided valuable assistance with collection evaluations, exhibitions, and compilation of finding guides. I am indebted as well to mentors and colleagues within the Curators Group, affiliated resource groups, Special Collections, and throughout the various divisions of the public and technical services departments. Mentioning them all would practically re-write the library directory. Colleagues in the Hoover Institution, especially Agnes Peterson and Helen Solanum, have been instrumental in collaborative projects over the years, both with me and with Paul Kann.

The generosity of donors has regularly supplemented library funding for both routine and extraordinary acquisitions, and in some cases actually allowed us to purchase collections we would never have been able to acquire otherwise. This is especially true in French studies, where the Andrew B. Hammond Fund (established by Andrew H. Burnett) has been an integral part of each year’s achievement in collection development. We have relied greatly on other gifts as well, including the strong support of Jean-Paul Gimon, and major endowments provided by the Perrette, Johnson, Skinner, Rosenberg, Moulton, Offen, Kay, and Thompson funds.

It would have been impossible to maintain close connections with faculty and students without the kind assistance of administrative staff in key departments and research centers, especially in the French and Italian Department where I was a Lecturer since 1981. They consistently provided information for our periodic program reviews and helped coordinate the many co-sponsored visits, lectures, and projects involving the library and French and Italian studies programs over the years. Several mainstays of the department deserve special recognition for their work in various time spans within the 1979-2001 period: Brix Eakin, Patricia de Castries, Margaret Tompkins, Louise Freeman, Sylvia Wohlmut, Courtney Quaintance, and Kellie Smith.

Since its focus is mainly on people, this brief retrospective glance does not trace the history of our French and Italian collections themselves. But at least the descriptive texts in the Web site, along with the many exhibitions, evaluations, and, most of all, the continuous use of these resources will be a lasting witness to the work achieved since this curator’s position was founded in 1963.



Last modified: August 22, 2008

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