The nickname of William Jackson, head of Houghton Library from its opening in 1942 to 1964, was "The Grand Acquisitor." Treasures beyond dreams he gathered into Harvard, into its main depository of rare books and manuscripts. So vast
Photograph by Jim Harrison
is this trove that William P. Stoneman, a Canadian who came from the Scheide Library at Princeton last year to serve as the latest of Jackson's successors, thinks that two or three generations of successors will need to spend most of their time making Jackson's gatherings accessible. (Which is not to say that the library is out of the acquiring business; recently came the papers--thousands of letters--of publisher James Laughlin '36, founder of New Directions.) The challenge of the next few years, says Stoneman, will be to digitize the Houghton's collections--not just catalog information, but images of illuminated manuscripts, Emily Dickinson poems, Laughlin's letters from Ezra Pound--so that library users, whose expectations soar, can access the stuff from their living rooms in Australia at two in the morning. Digitization will advance scholarship and help preserve the collection; if a graduate student can see a precious tome on her computer screen, she may not require getting her mitts on the book itself. Stoneman's scholarly specialty is medieval Anglo-Saxon manuscripts, and so he's sensitive to fragility in treasures. In the refrigerator in his Cambridge apartment, he has small canisters of seed of antique varieties of sweet peas and flowering tobacco gathered from his former garden in Princeton. He hopes to preserve the seed until he finds a home with earth in this new world.