Renovation of the John Hay Library began in January, 1980, and was completed by September of 1981. The stimulus for the renovation was the library’s successful application to the National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant Program. Matching funds were obtained from private foundations, notably the Kresge Foundation, and from donations from alumni/ae, parents and friends. In addition to restoring historic public spaces, the renovation included installation of air conditioning and environmental controls, fire alarms and security systems, and the establishment of a fine bindery and a paper conservation laboratory. The completed project transformed the John Hay into one of the most sophisticated special collections facilities in the country. To celebrate the John Hay renovation/restoration, a copy of the rare 1544 Paris edition of Vidus Vidius’s Chirurgia was selected because it complemented anatomical works in the recently acquired Lownes Collection, notably Vesalius’s Fabrica (Basle, 1543) and Estienne’s De Dissectione (Paris, 1545).
Even as the renovation of the John Hay Library was cutting-edge for its day, so too was the library system’s adoption of the computer in providing access to its holdings. Beginning in the mid 1970s, books and periodicals were cataloged electronically and added to the national databases. Josiah, the library’s on-line catalog named for Brown’s mythical Professor of Psycho-ceramics, Josiah S. Carberry, increasingly replaced the card catalog as an avenue for access to the collections and the card catalog was formally closed in 1996. Very little of the funding for this costly multi-year project was provided by the University, thereby ushering in another innovation for the Brown Library — a sustained program of fund raising for operational funds. For the online catalog, major grants were received from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Davis Educational Foundation and large cash gifts were obtained from Paul Dupee, Class of 1966, and Laurance and David Rockefeller.
While the John Hay Library benefitted from the infrastructure provided by Josiah, the unusual non-book formats and complicated nature of many of the antiquarian holdings in Special Collections often required exceptionally sophisticated modes of electronic access. To accomplish this, the library secured a series of federal and private foundation grants, a practice that has continued to the present. Beginning in 1980, the John Hay received a total of 11 grants, totaling well over $1,000,000, from the Title II-C program of the U. S. Department of Education which gave nationwide electronic access to thousands of rare books and broadsides, hundreds of manuscript collections, and significant portions of the University Archives. Additional funds were obtained from the National Historic Records and Publications Commission, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and more recently, from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. These grants have provided for both access to collections, especially manuscript and archival holdings, and the preservation microfilming of tens of thousands of items, thus building upon Librarian Van Hoesen’s pioneering efforts of the 1940s. The many private foundations that have provided support to Special Collections since the 1980s have ranged from the Gulbenkian Foundation to the Ameritech-sponsored American Memory Project awarded through the Library of Congress.
Important as these initiatives were, and continue to be, building the collections remained at the heart of the enterprise, and the 1980s were especially important in this regard. Mrs. John Nicholas Brown had begun transferring control of her personal library of books and prints dealing with military iconography to Special Collections as early as 1967. However, it was not until after the building renovation was complete that the Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection was finally installed in the John Hay Library. At its inception, the focus of this collection was on the history of military uniforms of all nations from the 17th century to the present. However, in the course of over 60 years, the collection has come to include material on military and naval history, political and military biography, portraits and caricatures, as well as on heraldry, architecture, general costume and other unexpected topics. The 20,000 volumes, 60,000 prints, photographs, drawings and watercolors, and over 6,000 military miniatures mark this as one of the pre-eminent collections of its kind in the world.
Merrily E. Taylor was appointed University Librarian in July of 1982, remaining in that post until 2004. It was during her tenure that the John Hay Library celebrated its 75th anniversary and the collections of the library system grew exponentially, both in electronic and print form. The two millionth acquisition was celebrated in 1988, the iconic token volume being the extremely rare first edition, in Russian, of Ivan Pavlov’s seminal work on stimulus response in which he pioneered the concepts of unconditioned and conditioned reflexes. Here again, the library chose to enhance the Lownes Collection of Significant Books in the History of Science and to honor its donor who had donated the token 1 millionth title in 1954.
The final three years of the 1980s were particularly significant for the acquisition of several major collections for the John Hay Library. In 1987, the American Mathematical Society agreed to donate its archives to the library, thus adding a new and more contemporary dimension to the strong historical mathematics holdings of the John Hay. The Society, founded in 1888, promotes growth of mathematical research in America and is the principal professional society for academic mathematicians. It publishes the prestigious Mathematical Reviews as well as various specialty journals and monographs on an annual basis.
Also in 1987, the members of the Rhode Island Medical Society voted to donate their library of more than 30,000 volumes to Brown. The more recent books and serials, including journals issued by national and state medical associations, were added to the Sciences Library to support the University’s Program in Medicine. However, rare or unusual books collected by the Society for well over a century were added to Special Collections. Especially important were the contents of the Society’s De Jong Rare Book Room. Examples of significant additions to Brown’s holdings in the history of science included medical classics such as Pliny’s Historia Naturale (Venice, 1501), Avicenna’s Liber Canonis (Venice, 1555), Vesalius’s De Humani Corporis Fabrica (Amsterdam, 1642), and works by Celsus, Harvey, Boerhaave, Paré, Morgagni, and Osler, along with other authoritative texts including the ubiquitous Anatomy, Descriptive and Surgical (London, 1858) of Henry Gray.
The Society’s general collection also contained numerous important 18th and 19th century medical treatises published in America, from Nicholas Culpeper’s Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (Boston, 1720) to the “ether controversy” of the 1850s and beyond. There is also a substantial selection of pamphlets dealing with homeopathy, hydropathy, naturopathy and other less orthodox medical doctrines more frequently practiced in the 19th century.
A third major gift of 1987 was the archive of the Gorham Silver Company, an enormous body of material that continued to arrive over the next several years. By far the largest and most complete corporate archive to survive from the heyday of Rhode Island’s industrial prominence, the Gorham archive consists of documentation that illuminates every aspect of the company’s activities for much of its 175-year history. There are some 8,000 drawings, 1,000 manuscripts, and tens of thousands of photographic prints and negatives as well as catalogs, blueprints, index cards, and corporate records ranging from early personnel records to reports relating to the company’s own silver mines. President Howard Swearer and Robert S. Ames, Vice-Chairman of the Friends of the Library and an executive with Textron, Gorham’s parent company at the time, were instrumental in securing the Gorham archive for Brown.
In 1988, H. Adrian Smith, Class of 1930, gave his remarkable collection of books and related materials on magic to the John Hay Library. The Smith collection is primarily focused on performance magic but also includes strong holdings that link it to the occult and the pseudo-sciences as far back as Hero of Alexandria. Rivaled only by the collections of the Library of Congress among publicly accessible institutions, the Smith Collection has the distinction of serving as a link among the John Hay’s other performance-related holdings as well as its great strengths in the history of science and the occult. Chronology and subjects range from Reginald Scot’s The Discovery of Witchcraft (London, 1584) to Houdini’s Handcuff Secrets (London, 1910) to more recently acquired video tapes and DVDs of contemporary magicians.
As the decade of the 1980s drew to a close, the library system sought to establish a means of recognizing those who had brought the library to its position of current eminence. With this in mind, the library created the William Williams Award in 1989, to acknowledge those who had aided the library substantially over a long period of time. Like William Williams of the Class of 1769, who protected the library during the American Revolution, the support of these individuals had made a lasting contribution to the Brown Library — financially, through donated collections, and through contributions of time and devotion. Several of those recognized in the first award ceremony were great benefactors of Special Collections: Lyman G. Bloomingdale, Anne Seddon Kinsolving Brown, John M. Crawford, Jr., and Albert E. Lownes. Of the 37 award recipients to date, 25 have made significant contributions to Special Collections.