Friday, September 5, 2014

"Not expected they will be useful for either study or reference"

In 1871, General Sylvanus Thayer gave a large gift of books from his personal library to Dartmouth to support the work of the Thayer School for Civil Engineering. The list is an impressive one, with major works in architecture, mathematics, and engineering.  But what caught our attention was a note he had added to the catalog of the gift regarding the volumes on military history. "Note: These works are given, as part of the library, more for safe-keeping and careful preservation than for use. It is not expected they will be useful either for study or reference."

Thayer expands on his reasons for giving the books in his cover letter accompanying the gift. After reiterating that they books have no connection to the research or curriculum of Dartmouth, he goes on to say, "There may come a crisis in our national affairs where the value of such a military library cannot be too highly estimated."

It is hard to imagine accepting a gift under these circumstances today, though we have respected Thayer's request that we maintain the collection. As far as we know, the books were never needed for a national crisis.

To see the catalog and Thayer's cover letter, ask for the Thayer School Record, DA-4, Box 2231.

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