Enabling worldwide discovery of rare books: A gift from Roger and Julie Baskes

Enhancing online catalog records for rare books is a high priority for the University of Chicago Library in the University’s capital campaign. Detailed cataloging is an essential tool for researchers to discover handwritten annotations, special bindings or illustrations, and other features of individual copies of rare books. The Library has long recognized the scholarly value of this work, but without additional funding the project could take as long as 20 years to complete.

Julie and Roger Baskes

Julie and Roger Baskes

Prominent Chicago cultural philanthropists Roger and Julie Baskes stepped forward this spring as the right donors for this endeavor. In his seven years on the Library’s Visiting Committee, Mr. Baskes said, he was impressed by “the Library’s extraordinary commitment to keeping its collections physically and instantly accessible, at the very center of the campus” through the construction of the Mansueto Library. An avid and knowledgeable book collector, Mr. Baskes has also nurtured a long affiliation with Chicago’s Newberry Library, serving as a trustee and previously as chairman of the board. Over the last 30 years, he has cultivated a one-of-a-kind personal collection of rare and historical books with maps.

In doing so, Mr. Baskes explained, “I became aware of the extraordinary collections of rare books at the world’s great research libraries, especially as the catalogs of these libraries began to be accessible online, and discovered that the University of Chicago Library is one of the world’s most important repositories of rare books. Julie and I also understand that however rare, beautiful, or extensive such materials may be, their value to scholars is entirely dependent upon their accessibility.”

Baskes Bookplate

The electronic bookplate for gifts from the Roger Baskes Collection.

With that in mind, Mr. and Mrs. Baskes made a $250,000 commitment to support the cataloging project. “Twenty-first century readers and students of rare books and manuscripts, whether part of the University of Chicago community or from other parts of the world, will come to the Library after they have learned from its online catalog that there exist materials important to their research,” Mr. Baskes said. “We believe that little would add to the value of the Library’s remarkable Special Collections more than the enhancement and editing of its catalog, and we are honored to support it.”

Along with their monetary support, Mr. and Mrs. Baskes are also donating rare and historical books with maps that they have collected. So far the Library has received approximately 100 titles ranging from the 18th century to the late 20th. In addition to American, English, and French books with maps, the gifts include books in Japanese, Armenian, and Ottoman Turkish. When they are cataloged, the associated online records will bear a custom electronic bookplate (pictured) and will be readily retrievable by searching the catalog for the donor name.

“We have long understood the importance of improving access to our rare book collections by providing more detailed and accurate catalog records,” said Alice Schreyer, Interim Library Director and Associate University Librarian for Area Studies and Special Collections. “Roger and Julie’s gift will make the unique features of our collections known to a wide range of scholars who would otherwise not discover them.”

In recognition of their gift, a group study space in the Special Collections Research Center will be named the “Julie and Roger Baskes Group Study.” Students, faculty, and visiting scholars use this room to work collaboratively with rare and historical materials.

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