Accession Records

The “Librarian’s Waste-book”

While doing archival work on William James’s personal library, I came across information suggesting that he donated books and pamphlets to Harvard College Library (HCL) while teaching at Harvard. Speculating about whether or not this was a regular habit of his,  I decided to spend some time searching through the library’s donation records.

In the depository of Harvard University Archives there is a series of bound volumes that are known as the “Librarian’s Waste-book”  — after 1904 they received the less catchy name of “Accession Records.” These volumes document HCL’s accession records from 1821-1947. Accession records provide basic data about materials gifted to and/or purchased by the library. Generally speaking, accession practices vary from library to library, and often times these practices change over time due to various factors.

For example, as late as the 1860s the HCL standard was to enter information about the author, title, and imprint, as well as to include data about the donor and date of the gift/purchase. Due to the sheer number of volumes it was handling, the practices changed in the 1870s and HCL converted to a different system that categorized according to three data points: date, type, and source of accession. In this case, each entry is divided between types of acquisitions thus separating items that are gifted to the library from those that were purchased. Information is further divided according to the type of material received: volumes, pamphlets, and miscellaneous.

Harvard University. Harvard University Archives. W279409_1

Harvard University. Harvard University Archives. W279409_1

So I decided to begin my search with the year 1872, when James was first hired to teach courses in Anatomy and Physiology, and proceeded to spend more than six months reading page after page of donation records.  As I worked my way into the mid 1880s, I noted that Josiah Royce — initially hired in 1882 to  replace James for a semester while he was on sabbatical, and later hired permanently in 1884 — also donated books to HCL.  By the time that I reached 1910, the year that James died, I decided to continue and see if Royce had donated other volumes.

My persistent curiosity was generously rewarded: between the years 1885 and 1915, I calculated that Royce had gifted HCL a total of 194 volumes — that is 177 books and 17 pamphlets. His first donation of 6 volumes dates back to 7 March 1885 and his last entry of 10 volumes is recorded as being given on 18 October 1915. Despite the fact that the accession records for the Schelling Collection are not recorded in the “Librarian’s Waste-book,” I was able to track down information about his largest gift of 151 books and pamphlets (see “Schelling Collection“). I had a suspicion that the story of Royce’s personal library did not end with his last donation in October of 1915. Knowing that the families of William James and Charles S. Peirce donated portions of their personal libraries to HCL after their deaths, I decided to continue reading the “Librarian’s Waste-book” to see if this was also true of Royce.

Widener Library. Harvard University. Widener Harvard Depository Phil 5205.11.7

Widener Library. Harvard University. Widener Harvard Depository Phil 5205.11.7

Less than three months after the death of her husband, Katherine Head Royce began donating his library to HCL and Harvard Medical School (HMS) — now the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. According to the “Librarian’s Waste-book,” Katherine’s first donation is recorded on 21 November 1916. She went on to donate 5 more times between 1916 and 1918. The largest of these donations consists of 258 volumes and 323 pamphlets. Katherine also made at least one donation to HMS: on 28 February 1918, she gave a total of 58 books and pamphlets.[1]

According to my findings, Katherine gave a total of 323 books, 359 pamphlets, and 32 newspapers; this, however, is not counting her 11 January 1930 donation which formed the basis of the Josiah Royce Papers at Harvard University Archives — 47 notebooks and 7 packages of miscellaneous materials. When combined with Royce’s own donations, the total number of volumes is 934.

[1] Harvard Medical School. Library. Record of funds and purchases, v. 2, 1914/15-1923/24 [E50.A28.72], p. 45.