Guide to the Research Collections

- Section -- II: -- THE HUMANITIES
- 20 -- GENERAL LITERATURE -- (Including the Berg Collection and the Arents Collection of Books in Parts)



By the definition already given, the library's resources include for the most part fiction of literary distinction; nevertheless all works by recognized authors, whatever their merit, are acquired. American fiction of lesser quality is acquired because it presents local color or reflects social and cultural values; this is also the policy with English fiction, to a somewhat lesser degree. The Berg Collection purchases first and important editions and manuscripts of English and American authors. The Arents Collection of Books in Parts is, as its name indicates, primarily concerned with the acquisition of books issued in parts, regardless of their subject matter; as a great deal of fiction has been issued in this form, particularly in the nineteenth century, the collection helps to enrich resources in this area. The Arents Collection also has a steadily growing group of "shilling shockers" and "penny dreadfuls." A large group of Beadle dime novels is found in the Rare Book Division; these are discussed in full in chapter 23 of this Guide. English language science fiction of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is also a feature of the fiction holdings. The Slavonic Division acquires a sampling of current science fiction published in the USSR.


Drama in the Western European languages is a subject which the library attempts to collect exhaustively. In this instance the collecting policy does not take into account the literary merit of the piece. As explained above, dramatic texts in translation are added to the collections when possible regardless of language. Plays of fewer than twenty-five pages have not been acquired in the past. Although the Theatre Collection moved to Lincoln Center in 1965, the collection of printed plays and books about the theatre remains under the jurisdiction of the General Research and Humanities Division. For information about holdings of dramatic texts, the Theatre Collection must rely upon a printed catalog.3 and its extensive holdings of typescripts and prompt-books (described in chapter 33), many of which represent unpublished plays. The Theatre Collection's holdings of the shooting scripts of motion pictures and radio and television scripts are also extensive.

In 1950 the Library was assigned the Farmington Plan.4 responsibility for drama in general, i.e., collections and works on the drama as a literary genre. Drama for individual countries remains the responsibility of other libraries assigned to national literatures, but this has not affected the efforts of the Research Libraries in this field.


Following the rule established for literature, the library collects the work of established poets or poets of literary quality. English, American, and Russian poetry are collected comprehensively, French and German representatively, and poetry in other languages selectively. Anthologies, except those designed for school use, are usually secured as they appear. Most older editions of a poet's work are available in the library's holdings, but new editions are purchased only if the critical approach presents a new point of view or includes new materials. As in the case of all literary publications, special press editions are often secured. This is particularly true in the field of poetry, and the Rare Book Division has a significant collection of these publications.

Essays, Letters, Etc.

Volumes of essays (except those designed as school textbooks and reprints) are generally secured. Most collections of letters are purchased, since they represent source materials for the critical study of literature and are closely allied to biography, a subject well covered in the collections.

Literature in all languages forms a vast subject area and is the responsibility of many divisions and special collections within the library. The General Research and Humanities Division has the major responsibility for the library's resources in this field: this includes the literature of America and England, the literature of Europe (except that written in the Cyrillic alphabet), and classical literature. The Slavonic Division collects and houses the Balto-Slavic literature (in the Cyrillic alphabet and in translation), and the Oriental Division is responsible for literature written in the Near and Far Eastern languages. The Jewish Division collects and houses Hebrew and Yiddish literature in the original languages and in translation, as well as material in any language relating to Jews and Judaism.

The Spencer Collection acquires fine illustrated books. The Arents Collection of Books in Parts purchases book material of any kind issued in parts. Originally the collection acquired material in the English language, but over the years its policy has widened to include books in parts in other languages. The Arents Tobacco Collection includes almost every important historical work dealing directly with tobacco, but also contains many literary works in which references to tobacco are only incidental; examples are Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene (1590), with the first known reference in English poetry to tobacco ("diuine Tobacco" and "Soueraine weede"); Charles Lamb's "A Farewell to Tobacco" in manuscript, dated about 1805; Sir Walter Scott's "The Minstrel's Pipe" (ca. 1806), also in holograph; and among more contemporary materials William Faulkner's manuscript "Father Abraham," a first draft of his novel The Hamlet, in which chewing tobacco figures prominently.

The Berg Collection collects first and important editions and manuscripts in English and American literature. The collection is strong in nineteenth-century authors. The Rare Book Division has restricted its purchases of first editions in English and American literature in order not to duplicate the holdings of the Berg Collection, but it continues to acquire first editions and literary rarities

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in other languages. The division maintains a strong collection of literary bibliographies. The Manuscripts and Archives Division is actively seeking to build up its already extensive resources in English and American authors of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and modern Irish authors. It solicits the editorial files of publishing houses which furnish a wealth of primary source material in the correspondence of authors and editors. Since New York City is a center of authorship and publishing, the Manuscripts and Archives Division assumes the responsibility for gathering examples of the literature of the different periods in the city's history.

Many divisions of the library, described fully in other sections of this Guide, are involved in the acquiring of literature as a specific part of their full collecting responsibilities. In the following section only those special collections which are most strongly connected with literature in the Roman alphabet will be considered: the Berg Collection and the Arents Collection of Books in Parts.