|Nettie Lee Benson|
Library Special Collections are fundamental to preserving historical materials and providing resources for students, professors, and independent scholars. But how were such collections formed and how do they continue to thrive? I have encountered no better concise explanation than one given by Nettie Lee Benson (1905-1993), librarian and later director of the Latin American collection at the University of Texas from 1942-1975. The revelatory essay came to my attention recently after the purchase of an offprint from the University of Texas Library Chronicle of Benson’s “The Making of the Latin American Collection” (1962).
Her essay pertained to a state institution but is generally applicable to any library special collection. The thoughtfulness of her answer brings together often compartmentalized ideas and forms them into a wider vista—a deceptively simple task. Being able to grasp both the big picture and the details within is a decidedly uncommon talent.
Benson’s outstanding career as a librarian, teacher, and scholar is outlined well in the resources linked below. Benson natural curiosity combined with her historical bent guided her along an unlikely career path in a field dominated at the time by men. From her small-town Texas roots she became an acknowledged expert in her field and rose to the directorship of a major library.