The Last of the Big-Time Spenders

So you thought libraries were dull? The University of Texas has spent millions stalking the globe, buying everything from the first photograph to Houdini’s magic gear, all to get one of the world’s most impressive collections—and itself in trouble.
The Last of the Big-Time Spenders
The manuscript of George Barnard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the play that introduced Eliza Coolittle and Professor Higgins; memorabilia of the author.
Photograph by Rick Patrick

To much of the outside world, literary culture and Texas are like champagne and crude oil: sampling the one while smelling of the other is in poor taste. The very idea of a group of Texans spending millions of dollars in public funds to install in Austin one of the greatest rare book and manuscript collections in the world is inherently comic, like a village of Eskimos founding an opera company or Addis Ababa seeking a franchise in the National Football League. Nevertheless, the thing has been done. The Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas, only twenty years ago a vision in one man’s mind, is today one of the finest and, from several points of view, one of the most impressive collections of literary artifacts in the world, a cultural treasure probably better known in London and Paris than in Dallas and Houston. In its vaults is an

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