The loss of a reading room.

I’m a few weeks behind in my Google Reader, so I only just discovered that the Eighteenth-Century Reading Room has closed down, in both real and cyberspace. As a reader of 18th-century miscellany whose institution does not provide access to ECCO, I’m feeling the loss of this resource already. Does anyone know what happened?


3 responses to “The loss of a reading room.

  1. It’s an extremely sad story, Eugenia. The man who owned the collection originally lent about a fifth of his books to the CUNY Graduate Center Library (which, due to poor state funding for CUNY in general, had nothing like this and was deeply enriched by these books), where there was appointed a wonderful special collections librarian to catalog, tend to and promote the collection. The owner of the collection said he really wanted to ensure that the books would stay together and that they would be used, so he was lending them to CUNY on a trial basis to find out whether this was a good place for him to donate his collection.

    For seven years, the librarian worked tirelessly to make that collection one of the most open and user-friendly special collections in the world. There were talks and social events in the room more than twice a month. There was an essay contest for undergraduates (who were encouraged to just drop by and say, “Hey, I’m looking for books on prisons” and they would be guided to stuff that would be useful). There were one, sometimes two graduate research fellows (I was one for two years) whose job was to help increase the open hours of the room, assist with the collection, exhibits, talks, the contest, etc., and run the blog.

    Anyhow—seven years go by and the collector reaches his mid-90’s. He seems to be letting go of more and more of his collection every week. I was going up to his apartment on a regular basis and coming back to CUNY with a precious bundle each time in a taxi (a complete set of Hume, a complete Fielding, a 1601 translation of Pliny, on and on). He talked more and more about his love of public education. I think we figured that his refusal to definitely sign over the collection as a donation was just because he loved talking to people about it, and lending made that conversation ongoing.

    Then suddenly, a few weeks ago, several guys from Sotheby’s came by, boxed up everything, and carted it off to be sold off piecemeal. Turns out the money was more important. The librarian had to find another job, the fellowship was cancelled, the room, which had become a wonderful central home for 18th-century scholarship in all disciplines, was closed, and we’re all bewildered. Many of the books I was using in my dissertation were in that collection. It’s gone.

  2. This is very sad news, Carrie. And they are not trying to keep the books together? Maybe a smart special collections person will try to snatch up all or part of this collection. It sounded like a great resource for learning and discussion.


  3. That’s really heartbreaking. It would be a godsend to find the resources to save the collection as Dave suggests.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one grateful for the seven years we got from the Reading Room, though, as well as for the efforts of the people like Carrie who maintained it.