|Penn Libraries’ Gotham Book Mart Collection
January 27, 2009,
Volume 55, No. 19
When the Gotham Book Mart closed its doors last year, the disposition of its precious contents was in question. But thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the Gotham Book Mart Collection has a new home at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. A landmark cultural institution in New York City, the Gotham Book Mart was the epitome of all that is engaging and inspiring about an independent bookstore. It was an oasis where poets, writers, and lovers of literature could gather for readings, discuss and discover authors and their works, and while away hours poring over the store’s eclectic and often unique inventory.
The Gotham Book Mart Collection comprises some 200,000 items, primarily focused on modern and contemporary poetry and literature, but also encompassing art, architecture, jewelry, music, dance, theater, drama, and film. The collection includes many first editions, books from small presses, experimental literary magazines, outsider literature published by Black Sparrow Press, poetry published by St. Mark’s Church, books from the personal libraries of Truman Capote and Anais Nin, proofs, advance copies, pamphlets, photographs, posters, reference works and catalogs, broadsides, prints, postcards, and items signed by Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Robinson Jeffers, Woody Allen, Wallace Stevens, and John Updike.
“We’re very excited about this gift to the Penn Libraries,” said Carton Rogers, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries, “and we’re honored to steward the collection, and give it new life as an academic resource.” Penn has an eager audience waiting for the collection’s arrival, including many prominent modernist scholars, who teach classes that will make use of the Gotham materials as part of undergraduate assignments, and for research at the graduate level. According to Dr. Al Filreis, Kelly Professor, Faculty Director of Kelly Writers House, and Director of the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at Penn, the Gotham gift “… [will] solidify Penn’s holdings in modern and contemporary American literature,” thereby rounding out a Rare Book and Manuscript Library collection already rich in pre-1850 antiquarian materials.
The Gotham Book Mart Collection’s new home will be Penn’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML), a locus of collaborative learning at Penn, where students, faculty, and independent researchers have access to rare primary source research materials. The timing of the Gotham gift could not have been better according to Mr. Rogers, who points to the RBML as a cornerstone of Penn Libraries’ capital campaign. “We have an opportunity to include Gotham in our planning for significant renovations to the fifth and sixth floors of our main library, and to really showcase Penn’s unique collections.”
In addition to making the collection available in the RBML, Penn Libraries will create a virtual home for the Gotham Book Mart. The display will provide, for the first time ever, a complete inventory of the collection’s contents, available through Franklin, Penn Libraries’ online catalog. The Libraries will also work with faculty and researchers to identify materials to be digitized in order to open the treasures of the Gotham Book Mart Collection to a wider audience.