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"Treasures of the USGS Library" Highlighted in Recent Lecture

Huffine lecturer photo
Richard Huffine, Director of the USGS Libraries Program, as he delivered his lecture on April 6.
The Dallas Peck Auditorium at U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Headquarters in Reston, VA, was the setting on April 6, 2011, for an evening lecture delivered by Richard Huffine, Director of the USGS Libraries Program. His talk focused on many of the library's most notable holdings. Some 80 USGS employees, annuitants, and members of the public attended.

To set the stage, Huffine indicated that the U.S. Congress authorized a library for the USGS in 1879, the year of the agency's founding. The library was formally established in 1882 with the naming of the first librarian and began with a staff of three and a collection of 1,400 books.

Today, the USGS Libraries Program is one of the world's largest Earth and natural science repositories and a resource of national significance used by researchers and the public worldwide. USGS libraries contain approximately 1.5 million volumes spanning more than 400 years of Earth and natural science literature. The libraries also contain more than 700,000 maps covering the globe and more than 500,000 historical photographs documenting the early exploration of the American West and other scientific pursuits since the late 1800s.

Huffine said that the USGS Library program supports all of the fundamental scientific research conducted within the USGS. The library serves both internal and external users with comprehensive access to the literature, data, and information necessary to understand the mission areas of the USGS and make critical decisions about how to proceed with research initiatives and investigations in the Earth and natural sciences.

While the lecture was about the USGS library system overall, Huffine also highlighted many of the rarest, most valuable and significant materials held in Reston as well as library branches in Denver, CO; Menlo Park, CA; and Flagstaff, AZ; including:
  • Historia Mundi or History of the World, published in Latin in 1530. The book was on display (today the book is in a box and is no longer bound).
  • Documents that establish the provenance (history of ownership) of the Hope diamond. Huffine said it's a fascinating story about a memo, dated 1812, pasted in a book we own, 20 years after the French Blue diamond was stolen from the French royal family. The book was photographed and displayed in the National Geographic Channel special last year on "Secrets of the Hope Diamond." Both of these books were among those willed to the library from The George F. Kunz collection. Kunz was a special agent for the USGS and vice president of Tiffany & Co.
  • A special collection of books, maps, and reports known as the "Heringen Collection." Many of these Nazi era items were captured from libraries, offices, and even private homes as the German Army advanced into neighboring countries. In the last days of World War II, these records were sent from the Military Geology offices in Berlin to the safety of a deep mineshaft in Heringen in Hessen, Germany. A group of US Army soldiers found these lost records. Those that dealt with earth sciences, terrain analysis, military geology, and other geological matters were sent to the USGS and are now integrated into the collections of the USGS libraries.
  • A variety of materials on the exploration of the American West, such as: mining documentation from Clarence King, a geologist and the first director of the USGS; and works from John Wesley Powell's journeys down the Colorado River - one of the four great surveys done prior to the creation of the USGS. Powell's survey was performed as part of a geological and geographic survey of the Western territories. Powell was the second director of the USGS.
Huffine concluded his talk by addressing the initiative to digitize the USGS collection for online access. "Our focus has been on USGS-published material," he said. "We're working through the digitization of that material as well as the digitization of photographs and other types of documentation among our holdings."

He added, "You can learn something today that was written in a book 100 years ago that can truly change the way you think about ecosystems, climate change, and so forth," he said. "So many of these books don't deal with history for history's sake, but history that can inform science."

USGS Library Treasures photo
The USGS Library Treasures exhibit case just outside the Reston library contains several highlights of the April 6 lecture. Photo credit: Bruce Avera Hunter

Hope Diamond photo
An image of the Francillon memo of 1812, the first record of the diamond which was to become the Hope diamond. George Frederick Kunz discovered the memo in a 1782 catalogue of the French royal jewelry. Kunz is pictured in the background examining the mineral named for him, "Kunzite." Photo credit: Lakegan Harris

USGS Library Grossbeak book photo
A copy of Food Habits of the Grossbeak (1908) by W.L. McAtee. Photo credit: Lakegan Harris