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Special Collections

History of Special Collections

The first gift of rare books to the USC University Libraries dates to 1911 making the University of Southern California the earliest institutional collection of rare books in Los Angeles. Gifts have continued to be received steadily over the years. Systematic buying and opportunity purchases have added to our holdings, which now number to 130,000 volumes, and include rare book collections formerly maintained at the Hoose Library of Philosophy, Villa Aurora, and the Hancock Library of Biology and Oceanography.

The USC Department of Special Collections was first organized in 1963 in the Doheny Memorial Library, room 209. To date, four individuals have headed the department:

Special Collections gathered up the rare book and manuscript collections that had previously resided throughout the Doheny Memorial Library.  These collections included the large American Literature Collection, a Cinema collection (including screenplays), maps, World War posters, and an oral history collection.  The stated function of Special Collections was "to maintain, conserve, acquire and preserve materials of research value which cannot be served adequately or circulated, with full and firm control, through usual library routines."  

Upon Dr. Knutson's retirement in 1987, the Department of Special Collections and the Cinema-TV Library were split administratively. In 2000, Specialized Libraries & Archival Collections was formed with the melding of Boeckmann Center for Latin American and Iberian Studies, the East Asian Library and the Department of Special Collections. In 2007, SLAC was reorganized as Special Collections, and the East Asian Library moved to the Doheny Library with services provided from the Doheny main desk.

Headquartered on the second floor of the Doheny Memorial Library, Special Collections occupies a distinguished suite of rooms created in 1995 by the Los Angeles firm of Fields & Devereaux in collaboration with USC University Architects.

American Literature Collection

The American Literature Collection dates back to 1949. To date, there have been five curators:

The collecting philosophies of the various curators differed. Some favored a comprehensive approach, others more of a high-spot approach. Some favored only fine first editions; others favored any edition to no edition. Loss Glazier focused on the acquisition of poetry manuscripts and small press poetry books.  

Feuchtwanger Memorial Library

The Feuchtwanger Memorial Library was given to the University of Southern California by Marta Feuchtwanger, the widow of the German exile writer, Lion Feuchtwanger. In all, the Library contains nearly 30,000 volumes. Some 8,000 of the rarest books are housed on the USC campus, while 20,000 volumes remain on long-term loan at the Feuchtwanger's former residence, Villa Aurora, in Pacific Palisades.

Lion Feuchtwanger (1884-1958) fled Europe during World War II and lived in Los Angeles from 1941 until his death in 1958. He began his literary career as a theater critic and turned his talent to writing plays in the 1910s and 1920s. He first became internationally known, however, for his historical novel Jud Süss published in 1925. During his seventeen years in Southern California, he wrote primarily historical fiction including: Waffen für Amerika also called Die Füchse im Weinberg (1947-48; Proud Destiny), Goya oder Der arge Weg der Erkenntnis (1951; This is the Hour, a Novel about Goya), Spanische Ballade also called Die Jüdin von Toledo (1955; Raquel, the Jewess of Toledo), and Jefta und seine Tochter (1957; Jephta and his Daughter). Feuchtwanger's library reflects his interests in different historical periods and contains several noteworthy smaller collections of primary and secondary sources focusing on such subjects as Greek and Latin classics, Jewish and biblical history, the Enlightenment, French Revolution, German literature, and exile literature.

Boeckmann Center

Unique on the West Coast, the Boeckmann Center was established in 1985 with generous support from Mr. and Mrs. Herbert F. Boeckmann II and encouragement from faculty with related instructional and research interests. The Boeckmann Center serves as a link between the library's collections and services and the scholarly activities of faculty and students in the areas of Iberian, Latin American and Chicano/Latino studies. The Center's materials include an 80,000 volume donation from Mr. and Mrs. Boeckmann  and several smaller distinguished collections, including the Luis Andres Murillo Cervantes Collection and the Radell and Lorente Cuban and Cuban Exiles Studies Collections.

East Asian Library and Korean Heritage Library

The East Asian Library and Korean Heritage Library is based on the University’s Chinese, Japanese, and Korean collections built over the last 60 years. The collections have grown largely along the lines of faculty research interests, supplemented by some signal donations over the years. Notable among these have been the Peter Suski “Oriental Culture Nucleus,” composed of more than 1,600 volumes of books on ancient forms of Chinese characters, and the Theodore H.E. Chen Collection.  The Chen Collection grew out of Chen’s personal library of materials relating to Chinese education and politics gathered during his years (1938-1972) at USC as a professor of education and chairman of the department of Asian studies.  In 1986, the Korean Heritage Library was formally established as a component of the East Asian Collection, signaling the university’s intent to build the preeminent library for the study of Korean culture and society in North America.  The Library moved into its present home in 1999.

Hancock Natural History Collection

Hancock Natural History Collection consists of approximately 78,000 volumes of books and periodicals published between 1525 and 1944. Originally part of the Hancock Library (established with the opening of the Hancock Foundation Building in January 1941), the Collection and the Hancock Foundation Archives were transferred to Special Collections in 1998. Much of this collection came to USC with the purchase of the Boston Society of Natural History's library by Captain G. Allan Hancock in 1944. It has been overseen by Melinda Hayes since 1985. Over the years, the Hancock Library was headed by five librarians:

Regional History Collection

The Regional History Collection was created by Emeritus Professor of History Doyce Nunis in 1977 to provide primary materials in the study of Los Angeles and its environs. Originally located in a storage facility a short walk for the University Park campus, its services are now housed in Special Collections in the Doheny Memorial Library. It has been headed by three curators since its inception:

University Archives

The USC University Archives was begun in the fall of 1938 by reference librarian Myrtle G. Hart in a caged area of the Doheny Memorial Library stacks. The first University Archivist, Jack Beahan, served in that position in a part-time capacity from 1973 to 1976. He was succeeded in 1977 by Paul Christopher, who became USC's first full-time University Archivist in 1984 and supervised the collection's physical relocation to a facility of his design in the East Library Building in 1988 before his retirement in 1996.