Donahue Rare Book Room seeks to raise $1 million for renovations

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John Muir’s journal is one of the rare books that USF aims to protect by renovating the Donahue Rare Book Room. Foghorn Archives
John Muir’s journal is one of the rare books that USF aims to protect by renovating the Donahue Rare Book Room. Foghorn Archives

The University of San Francisco’s Donahue Rare Book Room is not in danger of being closed and nothing further has been identified to be auctioned off, according to Gleeson Library Dean Tyrone Cannon, who called the room “a definite part of the library.”

Speaking on behalf of the University, Cannon said USF has tentatively set a January 2010 deadline to raise $1 million to renovate the Rare Book Room, a task even more daunting than it sounds because most of the university’s fundraising dollars will be poured into constructing the new Harney Science Center. Cannon said the university is “flexible” in its January deadline and will continue the fundraising further into the year if the goal looks attainable.

If it does not appear that the university is able to raise the needed funds, USF will go ahead with only “necessary” renovations identified by the Audit Committee of the Board of Trustees and leave repairs such as new lighting, carpeting and shelving out of the plan. The committee has said the improvement of the room’s Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system and better security of the books are necessary in maintaining the room’s safety.

Cannon said that fundraising for the Rare Book Room, which has been a part of the Gleeson Library since the 1970s, is in the “strategy phase,” and initial ideas include reaching out to donors and students, specifically those in the humanities, and applying for the annual National Endowment Humanities Grant. Selling items from the room is not part of the plan at this point.

USF’s current position on the room’s items is a reversal from their initial stance in April, when University President Rev. Stephen Privett S.J., who in July signed off on this latest fundraising initiative, told the Foghorn that USF was sifting through university assets and identifying expendable items to be sold in the event of an economic emergency. Some of the identified items were from the Rare Book Room. This policy, along with the auctioning off of a collection of prints by Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer earlier this year, prompted a strong rebuttal from a group of USF professors, who wrote letters to the administration in an attempt to stop the school from auctioning off any more of the room’s items.

USF history professor Martin Claussen, a member of the aforementioned faculty group, said he has no knowledge of USF planning to sell any more items from the Rare Book Room. Claussen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Committee, a joint committee of administrators and faculty in support of the preservation of the room’s items. He has been working closely with Cannon on the Rare Book Room preservation project and from the beginning has spoken out against selling items from the room, a move he called “odd” earlier this year in questioning the logic behind selling items from the room to pay for its’ renovations.

According to Cannon, the Durer prints were auctioned off for a total of $60,000. This earning will count as part of the $1 million total USF aims to raise, though the prints were auctioned off before the fundraising initiative was introduced. Any money raised is not subject to income tax, according to USF’s Vice President of Business and Finance Charles Cross, who said the university is exempt from income tax for activities related to its exempt purpose, and these activities fall within this exemption.

Cannon said there are “core items” that cannot be sold. Head of the Donahue Rare Book Room John Hawk identified some of those items as the original copy of the first edition of “More’s Utopia,” by English Renaissance writer Thomas More, and original works by Eric Gill, a late 19th century and early 20th century British sculptor, typeface designer, stonecutter and printmaker. Hawk revealed a library plan to have a “major Gill gallery” this fall in the Thatcher gallery, and later an extension to be added in the Rare Book Room.

“It is a great resource and teaching tool,” said Hawk of the Rare Book Room. “It is a vital part of the library, this campus, and [its items] should be integrated into curriculum as much as possible.” Hawk said this semester the room is averaging 15-30 students a day, not including Bay Area historians and researchers that frequent the room. Cannon said, “There is a steady flow. Any more would be overwhelming.” In an unscientific Foghorn poll conducted this April, 53% of surveyed students said they visited the Rare Book Room once, but less than half of the 53% said they visited the room again.

Still, Cannon and Hawk insist that a significant number of professors bring entire classes to the room and individual students wander in daily. The library advisory committee is dedicated to the fundraising effort and Cannon remains hopeful.

“We are optimistic but realistic about the financial climate,” he said.

2 COMMENTS

  1. This is an amazing follow-up on the piece you wrote last spring. I’m glad to hear the University won’t be selling more historical items from the room. The million dollars for renovations seems unnecessary though, at least for now. Can’t they be postponed until the economic climate is a little more promising?

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