The Chester H. Kirk Collection
on Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous
In 1995, Chester H. Kirk, in a generous contribution to the Brown University Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, established the Chester H. Kirk Collection on Alcoholism and Alcoholics Anonymous. Chester H. Kirk was the CEO of AmTrol, Inc. and Founder of Edgehill Newport. The initial vision for the collection, initiated by then Founder and Center Director David C. Lewis, MD and Brown University President Vartan Gregorian, included substantial funds for the Brown University Libraries and funds for fellowships to facilitate study of the collection.
The 15,000 items purchased initially with Chester Kirk's gift were amassed over two decades by Charles Bishop, an antiquarian bookseller and author of several research tools on Alcoholics Anonymous and related groups. Acquisition of this collection, one of the largest of its kind in the country, immediately brought the University attention as a center for the study of addiction to alcohol and other substances and to the history of attempts to treat or prevent such addictions
Chronologically, the collection ranged from a leaf from the 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle depicting a drunken Noah to late 20th century studies. The formats were equally diverse: in addition to printed books, pamphlets there were periodicals, newspapers, dealers' catalogues, posters, audiovisual materials, photographs, 18th century engravings and 19th and 20th century sheet music. American in emphasis, the collection provided rich resources for the study of the temperance and prohibitions movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, hospital-based treatment of addictive behavior, and the 20th century evolution of self-help programs under the leadership of Alcoholics Anonymous. The collection includes a copy of the first book published in British-speaking North America on alcoholism, Anthony Benezet's The Mighty Destroyer Displayed (1774) as well as current issues of The Union Signal, the periodical of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Related materials ranged widely, from those bearing on drinking customs (bartenders' guides and drinking vessels) to anti-drunk driving campaigns and studies of other widespread addictions such as tobacco and narcotic drugs.
All but a few hundred of the items in the Kirk Collection are now represented in Josiah, the Library's online catalog (see Finding Aids below). A digital project to create online access to Anti-Saloon League pamphlets is underway. Kirk Collection materials are housed in three on-campus libraries and in an off-site storage facility. Rare, fragile and archival materials are at the John Hay Library, the special collections arm of the Library system while those dealing with scientific research and treatment are housed at the Sciences Library and modern books of more general interest at the Rockefeller Library. Because of overcrowding in the on-campus libraries some materials are housed in off-site storage and require prior notice for retrieval. The John Hay Library is open to all researchers; for access to the Rockefeller and Sciences libraries see: Circulation Services for non-Brown University Patrons. Members of the Brown community may use an online paging form to request materials with the location 'Hay' or 'Annex Hay'.
The acquisition of the Kirk Collection builds on a strong base of materials acquired and catalogued at Brown decades before Chester Kirk's generous gift. Alcoholism, its prevention and its cure were a well established part of American popular concern and popular culture by 1850. Thus the Harris Collections of American Poetry and Plays contains thousands of temperance plays, temperance verse, and temperance songsters. Similarly, Collections in the history of American medicine provided Brown with a core research collection in the causes and treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction.
In the years since the acquisition of the Kirk Collection the Library, in collaboration with the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, has continued to acquire, by donation and purchase such important collections as The Robert Holbrook Smith Collection, the Rutgers-Anti-Saloon League Collection of Temperance and Addiction Studies Periodicals, the Marty Mann NCADD Archives, the Ernest Kurtz Library of Alcoholics Anonymous Alcoholism Literature, and the Clarence Snyder A.A. Collection. In addition to such discrete, "named" collections the University Library uses special funds to ensure that purchases of current literature will remain up to date.
Thanks to a grant from the Stepping Stones Foundation and a separate bequest from Chester Kirk, the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies has maintained funds to award fellowships to scholars to encourage use of Brown's alcohol and addiction research
- Summary catalog record
(subject search for "kirk collection")
cataloged titles (author search for "kirk collection") (2,452
records as of 5/03)
- Guide to Alcoholism and Alcohol-Related
Topics on Josiah, the Brown
University Library online catalog (in pdf format)
Compiled by the Library's cataloging staff, this guide lists Library of Congress call numbers and Library of Congress subject headings that will lead to resources represented in Kirk and related collections. Where possible direct links to Josiah searches have been included.
- Charles H. Bishop's sale catalogue of the entire collection is available in the John Hay Library, currently only as a printout from the original ProCite database in two loose-leaf binders (v.1: monographs; v.2: non-book formats). Many entries include summary notes or other background information not incorporated into the Library's catalog records.
Kirk Collection Publications/Exhibits:
the history of Alcoholics Anonymous", South Carolina DAODAS, July
- October 1997
- "Of the Poison Brand",
Two Centuries of Sources for The Study of Alcohol and Alcoholism,
Library Exhibit, 1997
H. Kirk Collection", Bibliofile, Number 26, Spring 1996
Kirk donates collection on Alcoholism & Alcoholics Anonymous",
Among Friends, Volume 11, Number 2, Winter, 1996
- "University receives gift to establish Alcoholics Anonymous archives", George Street Journal, October 23, 1995
Alcohol, Temperance and Prohibition, A Brown University Library Digital Collection.
The Eleventh Tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous states: "Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films.
To assure that the anonymity of members of Alcoholics Anonymous, and other 12-Step groups, both alive and deceased, is strictly maintained, you are respectfully asked to refer only by first name and last name initial to anyone who is identified as a member of AA, even where full names of writers and correspondents appear in the materials of the Brown University Library’s Alcohol and Addiction Collections."
In the fall of 1999, with support from the Stepping Stones Foundation, the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies began offering fellowships to use the Kirk Collection. Contact information for the Center is available at the link above. Kirk fellows to date are: James Swan Tuite, Jared Lobdell, Trysh Travis, Maria Swora.
For information about the Library's collections e-mail Holly Snyder at Holly_Snyder@brown.edu or call 401-863-1515.
All images from the Alcohol, Temperance & Prohibition Digital Collection