The Museum Library

By: Cynthia Griffin

Originally Published in 1955

View PDF

When the Museum building was erected the library was established and named the Elkins Library (1898).

The Museum library, books lining the shelves, empty tables and a card catalog on the first floor.
The Elkins Library of the University Museum. (Photographs by Reuben Goldberg.)
Image Number: 61842

Some ask “Does anybody use the Museum Library?” It is used constantly by the Museum Staff, students and the general public. Since 1942 it has become a center for the graduate students in anthropology and archaeology; each year more and more students avail themselves of its excellent collections. In 1942, there were approximately 16,000 volumes, today there are over 30,000. Anyone may use the library for reading; borrowing, however, is limited to the Museum Staff, Museum Members, Faculty and Students of the University of Pennsylvania; and to students from neighboring colleges when they bear a letter of introduction. During the year 1942-1943, our total circulation was 1184, for 1953-1954 it was 4558. In 1942-1943 we had 770 readers, last year we totalled 2464.

Beside the main library room, we have an “annex,” the offices formerly used by Dr. Rainey. These were made into one room in 1953. Into this room we have moved as many books as the new shelving would comfortably accommodate, allowing only a small space for expansion. Also, in this “annex,” with its bright yellow walls, are the Human Relations Area Files, about which I will speak later. Besides these two rooms, the Library has collections of its books in four other places in the Museum. A small collection is in the Members’ Room where there are books of general interest which may be borrowed, and it is good to report that members do avail themselves of this privilege. Adjacent to the Mediterranean and Babylonian Section offices is the “Seminar” room. Some 1600 volumes from the library are housed here, mostly periodicals and very specialized monographs, dealing with the sections concerned. The largest departmental library is in the Egyptian Section where, two years ago, all the books dealing with Egyptian archaeology were placed together with many volumes on an indefinite loan from the University of Pennsylvania Library. This collection has approximately 1700 volumes. We also have a room in the basement, known as the “duplicate room.” However, besides duplicates, we have transferred here 725 volumes of little used titles. These books are always available, but lack of space in the library forced us to take these volumes downstairs.

The books in the Library deal primarily with those subjects in which the Museum specializes-archaeology, anthropology, and ethnology. We have one very special group within the above mentioned subjects or disciplines. This is the Brinton Collection of Americana (4098 volumes), consisting largely of works on native languages of America as well as on most phases of anthropology throughout the world as it was known by him. Among the collections he purchased were the papers and books of Carl H. Berendt. Daniel Garrison Brinton (1837-1899) presented his entire collection to the University of Pennsylvania a few months before his death, and the Museum agreed to house it and catalogue it. It is kept separate from the other books. It has been stated that in the field of American linguistics the Brinton Collection is one of the outstanding collections in America.

Several people at desks working, full bookcases behind them.
The “annex” and Human Relations Area Files. The walls are bright yellow, the files black and the shelves are gun metal gray.

A region which was greatly increased during World War II was Africa. Books and journals were purchased in large numbers through the aid of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. This has been kept up in a modest way and, through our system of exchange of publications, we now receive many of the journals on this basis which we formerly had to purchase.

The library has a unique and valuable collection of pamphlets. Unlike most pamphlet collections which are filed in drawers, our collection is completely catalogued and the pamphlets themselves are arranged by author and placed in specially made flat boxes. The collection is added to constantly. The nucleus was an old and valuable collection housed in the library in metal files. Pamphlets circulate as books and, to date, we have 2435 completely catalogued.

In any library reprints of magazine articles and small publications trickle in with amazing speed, also gifts of books. Frequently these prove to be duplicates and we have these in the “duplicate room.” These are for sale. Students especially like to buy items in their field of interest and, at the same time, it helps to augment our meager book funds. During the year 1953-1954, we received $386.00 from these sales.

The University Museum Library now houses and services a novel collection of research material, known as the Human Relations Area Files. In broad perspective these files were established “to promote cooperation among institutions engaged in integrated research on man and his behavior, to diffuse its organized source materials and to facilitate basic research and comparative study in the various sciences concerned with man’s behavior”-anthropology, psychology, sociology, history, geography, economics, political science, etc. Ultimately, these files will include classified information on the ways of life of several hundred peoples of the world. The cultures of more advanced peoples are included as well as information on aboriginal tribal groups in the Pacific, Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The actual material in the files is taken from hundreds of books, journals and sometimes unpublished field notes. No material on any group is included without previous evaluation by competent authorities. When the source is not in English, it has been translated. No abstracting is clone, the material included is always reproduced verbatim.

The Museum library catalogues.
One end of the Library, showing the Catalogue, Reference Books and Pamphlet Collection (in the flat boxes).
Image Number: 61843

Each distinctive culture or subculture has its own separate file and within each file the paper slips (5 x 8 inches), arranged in metal filing cabinets, are classified according to the categories to be found in the Outline of Cultural Materials (Behavior Science Outlines, Volume I, New Haven: Human Relations Area Files Inc., 1950). “This outline serves as a numerical key to the sequence of categories, about 800 in number, by which the data on man, his behavior and his environment are systematically filed.” Keeping the material filed as it is received is quite a task. A student assistant works approximately 18 hours a week during the academic year, the material accumulating during vacations.

A very important part of the Museum library is its collection of journals. We receive these from all over the world, from such countries as U.S.S.R., Afghanistan, India, Madagascar and Mozambique, and in many languages. Because the Museum has published so extensively, starting in 1897, we are able to offer our publications in exchange for journals which we would otherwise have to purchase. The Museum Monographs and the University Museum Bulletin, for example, are sent on an exchange basis to 150 and 216 institutions, respectively, in this country and abroad. Some of the outstanding institutions with which we have established exchange relations during the past five years are as follows:

University of Alaska; British Columbia Provincial Museum; Státní Archeologicky Ustav, Prague; Slovenska Akademija Znanosti in Umetnosti, Ljubljana, Jugoslavia; Museum für Völkerkunde, Hamburg; Polskie Towarzystwo, Archeologiczne, Warsaw; Instituto Colombiano de Anthropologia, Bogota; Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; Edinburgh University, Scotland; Universita di Istituto di Geologia e Mineralogia, Ferrara, Italy; Institut d’Etudes Centrafricaines, Brazzaville, French Equatorial Africa; Académie Polonaise des Sciences, Warsaw; Department of Antiquities of Jordan, Amman, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan; Montana State University, Missoula; N. Y. State Archaeological Association; Frobenius Institut, Frankfurt A. M., Germany; Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, England; Museum Archeologiczne, Poznań, Poland; Service des Antiquités de l’Algérie, Alger; St. Paul Institute, Science Museum, St. Paul, Minnesota; Museu Paulista, Sao Paulo, Brazil; Sarawak Museum, Kuching, Sarawak; Société Suisse des Américanistes, Geneva; South Dakota State Archaeological Commission; National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan, China; University of Utah, Salt Lake City; University College, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Historical Society, Kabul, Afghanistan; Fundamental ‘nai a Biblioteka, Akademiia Nauk, Moscow, U.S.S.R. (8 journals through this exchange).

Any institution is enriched by gifts, and this library has been the beneficiary in the last ten years of four generous and outstanding bequests. In 1946 The George Clapp Vaillant Library Fund was established by Mrs. Vaillant in memory of her husband, with a gift of $1500.00. (Dr. Vaillant was Director of the Museum, 1941-1945.) Much of this was used to purchase titles from his library. It has also been used to purchase shelving in the “annex.” Since then, from time to time, we have received generous additions to this fund from Miss Marion Vaillant, Dr. Vaillant’s sister.

In 1950, a bequest of 29 books and 50 pamphlets devoted to the Minoan language was received from the estate of Alice E. Kober (1906-1950).

In 1952, we received $2100.00 from the estate of Helen B. Chapin, a distinguished orientalist who left this money for the development of the oriental collections of the library. This is known as the Helen Burwell Chapin Memorial Fund.

In 1953, Abbé Leon Legrain (Curator of the Babylonian section, 1920-1948) gave the University Museum his entire library, consisting of over 700 titles, with the generous provision that any duplicates might be sold and the proceeds used for new books.

Cite This Article

Griffin, Cynthia. "The Museum Library." Museum Bulletin XIX, no. 2 (June, 1955): 23-27. Accessed July 23, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to