Library opens swell birthday presents

Before dozens of diplomats and dignitaries, Director of Libraries Paul Mosher proudly acknowledged the University of Pennsylvania Library’s acquisition of its 5 millionth volume.

All 273 of them.

“Since I’m the director, I can say that all of these gifts together constitute our 5 millionth volume,” Mosher told the audience at a Nov. 13 reception in Van Pelt-Dietrich Library commemorating the milestone.

The gifts Mosher referred to came from 52 countries around the world. To celebrate the library’s 250th anniversary this year, the Library Anniversary Planning Committee decided to commemorate the library’s first major gift — 100 volumes from the royal press of King Louis XVI of France — by asking heads of states whose citizens visited the Penn Library Web site most for an anniversary gift.

Not all of the gifts were of the ink-on-paper variety. King Hassan II of Morocco sent a jeweled dagger and plaques depicting the 1782 treaty between the United States and Morocco, our country’s first foreign alliance. Armenia sent a 21st-century present — two CD-ROMs of the country’s geography, art, architecture and history.

The ink-on-paper gifts included a number of treasures, among them a beautifully engraved Koran from Saudi Arabia and a facsimile edition of the historic Schauenberg map collection from Switzerland.

In a letter with his gift, Swiss President Adolf Ogi even acknowledged the fate of the library’s first major donor. “As a matter of fact, I would rather prefer to keep my head,” he wrote.

Also on display at the reception were acquisitions made possible by gifts from library supporters, including a 140-CD collection of the complete works of Johann Sebastian Bach and a 1695 Haggadah containing the first known map printed in Hebrew.

The gifts, Mosher said, are “representative of what any good research library has become in the 20th century.” And while a number of them — including the dagger, no doubt — will end up in Special Collections, “most will be in the main library collection, where they belong. And some of the gifts will be available on the Internet, where they will remain on permanent display.”


Originally published on November 30, 2000