Saturday, May 17, 2008

Stephen Jay Gould's Library Donated To Stanford

From the press release:

During his career, Gould assembled what he believed was a definitive library of the history of early paleontology, said Rhonda Shearer, Gould's widow. Now, the collection of books, papers and artifacts that helped inform his writing and teaching is, for the most part, in the Stanford University Libraries, with the balance expected to arrive soon. It is an immense amount of material.

Gould owned approximately 1,500 rare, antiquarian books, some dating back to the late 1400s. His library of more contemporary books numbers roughly 8,000 volumes. Although the total number of papers has yet to be determined, the librarians working on the collection estimate they will stretch more than 500 linear feet—a good deal longer than a football field.

"It's a great acquisition," said University Librarian Michael Keller. "Steve Gould was a tremendous popularizer of science, and he was, more importantly, a deep scientist. He had a big, broad mind, working on lots of different interesting problems."

Perhaps even more surprising than the books he collected is what he did with them.

"He actually used them, and he annotated on many of them in pencil, in the margins," Trujillo said. "He didn't really treat them as artifacts, he treated them as a working research library, and it is clear that is what he did, even though they're really quite amazing rare books."

Keller said the plan is to digitize Gould's articles, as well as the sources from which he drew both inspiration and information, and cross-link the source materials to the endnotes and citations in his writing. The goal will be to make all of Gould's papers freely available over the Internet to anyone who wants to see them, whether schoolchildren or scholars.

Recreating the twists and turns that lead to Gould's different writings should be an interesting process, as the nature of his collection of artifacts suggests. Anyone who found inspiration in items as disparate as a small piece of wood riddled with termite holes or the eye lenses of a flying fish (still stuffed into a small black tube with a tissue stuffed in the open end) probably had an interesting way of looking at things.