Magazine article American Libraries

Care and Feeding of the Library Researcher

Magazine article American Libraries

Care and Feeding of the Library Researcher

Article excerpt

Care and feeding of the library researcher

Huntington Library readers fitno particular stereotype, though many share certain qualifications, interests, and goals. Here, for example, are two young researchers: one comes from Albuquerque (800 miles away) on an oral history project; he reads letters and other papers that help fill in his portrait of Aldous Huxley as remembered by acquaintances. The second is from Pasadena (just across the street from the Huntington) and uses the library for general background in his biography of Kingsley Amis. But he also helps the staff acquire Amis manuscripts and letters which will be important in his project.

Here are two older scholars. A pleasantmiddle-aged lawyer from southwestern Louisiana continues her untiring efforts to prove that William Shakespeare was a front for the Earl of Oxford. As octogenarian from Pasadena, the author of influential works on Elizabethan literature, writes witty book reviews over which graduate students who think themselves clever must eat their hearts out. He persists with the old-fashioned notion that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.

Here are some readers from overseas. AnIsraeli scholar investigates the doctrines of meaning and truth current in 17th-century England. He husband, a well known poet, writes Hebrew poems about the Huntington gardens. A Cambridge historian examines 15th- and 16th-century English legal documents; an Oxford don studies Middle English literary manuscripts.

Finally, here are two historians who livein Southern California. One from the University of California/Los Angeles drives across town to survey our holdings in the history and philosophy of early science and technology; another walks a mile from the California Institute of Technology to complete a book on mining in the early American West.

The research community

Last year more than 1,600 readers undertookresearch in the library; they joined seven Senior Research Associates, well known scholars in the humanities who are permanent members of the Huntington staff. On an average day 66 scholars are at work in the library. Some are supported by research grants from foundations or academic institutions; most are here at their own expense. A growing number of readers are retired academics whose new institutional affiliation is the Huntington.

Assisted by several foundations, theHuntington itself awards research grants covering 140 months of study each year. These go to competitors from all parts of the United States and abroad whose studies range over a variety of fields. A few grants are restricted: available only to young scholars, or only to scholars working on California history, for example. Some grantees remain at the Huntington for a full year, but most stay from one to four months.

Sheltering scholars

Many readers who live beyond commutingdistance bring their families with them. Because San Marino and most nearby cities are affluent residential suburbs of Los Angeles, affordable housing is not always easy to find. The library staff and many Friends of the Huntington look out for suitable accommodations. One member of the staff maintains a file of houses, apartments, and condominiums and sends prospective readers information about places that seem appropriate, but final rental agreements are between readers and landlords. For short-term scholars, the library suggests rooms at nearby motels or at the Athenaeum, the stately faculty club at Caltech which is open to visiting scholars at the Huntington and which offers both rooms and meals.

At times readers agree to perform certainhouse-sitting duties--mowing lawns and watering plants, for example--in order to reduce their rents. Such responsibilities have been known to take unexpected turns; perhaps a landlord has left behind a pet requiring exercise and feeding. Once, in fact, a reader discovered upon first entering his home-away-from-home that he must share the bath with a boa constrictor. …

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