Chancellor's Friday Letters

Three Million Treasures

Three Million Treasures

April 20, 2012

Dear Friends,

Fiat Lux – let’s shine a light on the fact that this week our University Library celebrated the acquisition of its three millionth volume.

It took half a century for the library to acquire its first two million volumes. But it has taken only an additional decade to assemble the next million, which include 404,000 electronic books.  Indeed, of the almost 98,000 journals to which the library subscribes, less than 3,000 are in print format.

During the celebratory event, the passion of the speakers and participants alike reflected more than the mere numerical milestone.  It reminded the attendees – and hopefully this Letter will remind all of us – of the core value of the library to this research university and to our lives as students and scholars, whether we access it in person or electronically.

One of the highlights was the unveiling of the three millionth volume that was donated by Dr. Edward Petko, a treasured friend of the UCR Libraries.  And what better gift than a rare facsimile edition of the first printed book – the Gutenberg Bible. This treasured piece of history is on display in the Special Collections area on the fourth floor of the Rivera Library.

Nationally renowned librarian and University Professor Terry Belanger talked about the value of books that goes beyond the content, precious though that is.  Professor Belanger founded and operates the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia.

Belanger pointed out that a rare Bible doesn’t have any different content than any family Bible, even a paperback version.  But its significance as an artifact, its intellectual history, its place in Western civilization are priceless, and it has incredible teaching value. Similarly, an inexpensive paperback edition of even the most revered work of literature has little monetary value.  But add in the jottings of the author and it becomes a treasured work.

These are some of the reasons why we have special collections such as the Costo Library collection of Native American history and the Tuskegee Airmen Archive. Moreover, the Association of Research Libraries has declared our Eaton Science Fiction and Fantasy Collection to be the leading science fiction collection in the country.

The event also featured UCR faculty members, who discussed the role that libraries had played in their lives. Professor Tom Cogswell, chair of History, noted that his entire intellectual history could be traced through libraries – from the neighborhood branch he visited when he was growing up to the British Museum in London, where he spent time doing research.

Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing Susan Straight brought along two books of photography about New Orleans and South Carolina. These books were instrumental in many of the seven novels she has written, and she’s borrowed them from the library time and time again.  In fact, Susan claims she wouldn’t be a writer without the library.  She still visits the library every week, doing research deep in the stacks, and once a year or so, visits her own books.  When they were first published, she knew they were real when she saw them on the shelves at Rivera.

Digging through libraries is a familiar activity in our household, too. My wife Karen, who also spoke at the event, remembers what an adventure in discovery and learning it was for her as a graduate student tracking down volumes through the stacks. By the time she became a faculty member, libraries had begun electronic delivery… and a whole new revolution in information retrieval was in the making.

Best wishes,


Tim White, Chancellor

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