Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Priceless Collection Without a Home

More than a year ago, The Chronicle profiled the private collections of various faculty members: a collection of equestrian books, a collection of board games, a collection of Chinese advertisement, to name a few. Since then we’ve met directors of major libraries who have collections of pocket knives, German folk art, and elephants (not real ones, but elephants in earrings, statuettes, and so on). A librarian at Cal Poly Pomona has a garage full of rare and valuable books -- tens of thousands of them. There is something about the profession that draws the careful collector and the pack rat alike.

The New York Times has an article today about one very careful and patient collector who was also a university librarian. The late Mayme Agnew Clayton, who worked at the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles, spent her life gathering documents of American-American history and culture, using money from her modest salary to pick up items at antiques, flea markets, and garage sales. Ms. Clayton, who died in October at the age of 83, has left behind a collection that many consider priceless.

The question now is what to do with it. Could it go to Howard University? To a new African-American museum in Baltimore? The article says only that Ms. Clayton’s son dreams of housing the collection in a hilltop museum. -- Scott Carlson

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