In large measure, the library of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas owes its existence to Lloyd H. Shinners and his vision of the future. He was an impassioned bibliophile and shared books and his views on books with many of his friends and professional colleagues. Dr. Shinners was not just a book collector. He selectively chose those books that were the most important to research in systematic botany. It is a library assembled with care and with an intimate knowledge of each work chosen.
Accepting an appointment as Research Associate at the Milwaukee Public Gardens, he was recommended by Cyrus L. Lundell, Director of the Institute of Technology and Plant Industry, SMU, to become a Research Fellow in Systematic Botany. The appointment was approved in February of 1945.
Following his appointment, Lundell instructed Shinners to prepare a complete list of books needed for his research on the Compositae (sunflower family). The library at the university was limited and older reference works were especially lacking. Outside funds had been obtained for such purchases by Lundell.
Before coming to Dallas, Lundell suggested that Shinners visit Chicago and St. Louis to check the material in those herbaria for specimens he might be able to use in his study of the Compositae. Shinners went to the Gray Herbarium at Harvard and then to the Bailey Hortorium at Cornell where Liberty Hyde Bailey was a preeminent horticulturist. Lundell was trying to assemble a set of Bailey’s publications and had the money to purchase any out-of-print articles or rare reprints which might be available. His responsibilities at the SMU Institute of Plant Industry and Technology included organizing the library, herbarium, and unmounted specimens.
Shinners was able to travel to other institutions in his quest for library materials to support his research on the Compositae, although such activities were severely limited by other staff. While at the Gray Herbarium he had some photostatic copies made of some important botanical volumes. This was a new process which had just become available after the end of the war. Some of the titles he selected included Jacquin’s Enumeratio Systematica Plantarum, L’Heritier’s Stirpes Novae, and Bentham’s Labiatarum Genera et Species.
The books arrived that Shinners had felt necessary research on the Compositae. Dr. Humphrey Lee, President of SMU, had to approve the special purchase of publications which Shinners had ordered from Antiquariat Junk in the Netherlands. When they arrived in September of 1946 the total bill was $6,092.92. This was nearly three times Shinners annual salary. In 1947, Shinners was promoted to Assistant Professor of Biology for the academic year of 1947-48. His salary for that position was $1,600.00 for half time. The other half time to be in the herbarium on a twelve month contract for $1,600.00.
The Biology Department began preparations to move into the new Fondren Science Building in 1950. But no provision had been made for the herbarium in the new building, nor for the card indexes and books temporarily stored in the library, nor for Shinners’ personal library nor any of its staff. Shinners was the only tenured professor for whom no office was allocated. In the end, the attic of Fondron was adapted for the herbarium and an office was created for Shinners from a small graduate student room. The other staff remained in Perkins Hall.
Shinners stated that due to the rising costs of subscriptions, new books, and missing back volumes of incomplete sets, accessions in the form of out-of-print books had been almost exclusively in the form of gifts. And, to a large extent, those gifts came from Shinners himself. The extent of Shinners gifts were staggering in their scope considering that his salary was merely $3,200.00 a year.
Between 1945 and 1947, he presented about $2,000.00 worth of books on botany, zoology, and American history.
In 1950, he gave subscriptions to three scientific journals and 47 volumes including eleven nineteenth-century works.
In 1958, two hundred and eighty titles were added, worth $1,800.00
In 1959, $1,200.00.
In 1960, $1,310.00.
He planned to increase the holdings of the library in plant systematics although it already “ranked number one in the South and Southwest in this regard.”
In 1962, the herbarium was moved again, from the attic of Fondron Science Building to the basement in the Science Information Center. Due to lack of help, Shinners had to do all the unpacking and rearranging himself. The move itself took three days, but preparation for the move took six weeks, followed by an additional six weeks of unpacking and rearranging.
The new area was air-conditioned, whereas Fondron had not been, and free of the dust and dirt of the attic. The book collection would finally be decently housed, but in less space than before. There were now 3,150 volumes in the collection not including uncatalogued pamphlets and reprints. He felt that additional shelves were needed.
The library was changed to the revised geographical scheme of the Dewey Decimal Classification in 1963. Dean Albritton requested and received a grant for $3,000.00 from the NSF to reclassify 750 of the 3,150 floras in the library. Catalog assistants and supplies were needed to accomplish the project.
In 1971, Lloyd Shinners died and Bill Mahler took over the directorship of the herbarium and library. Mahler served in that capacity from 1972 to 1987. After Lloyd Shinners’ death, Mahler continued to develop and expand the herbarium and library. Library growth was primarily through exchange with Sida Contributions to Botany, of which Mahler became the editor after Shinners. Books were also purchased for the library through an annual budget provided by SMU.
In October 1987, the SMU herbarium and botanical library were placed on loan to BRIT. Continuing its forty-five year tradition of service to the botanic community, SMU allowed the collections to remain on campus until a new home in Fort Worth was ready. Volunteers completed the pre-move inventory and identified books in need of preservation. The current holdings totaled over 40,000 books and other printed pieces at the time of the move to Fort Worth.
The move to Fort Worth officially began in the spring of 1990 with a gift of temporary office space from the Fort Worth Parks and Recreation Department and culminated in the fall with the selection of a building in downtown Fort Worth. By December, negotiations were well underway for renovation of the building space for the library and herbarium, with June 1991 as the target time for the actual move.
The library was included in the data conversion project of the SMU library system to support the computer record system.
Preservation was another BRIT focus. Every book in the library was inspected, cleaned, and wrapped or boxed, if needed, as the first step in the collection conservation plan.
Three years later, in 1994, the library moved into new space in an adjacent building. The former library space in the original building was converted into a learning center and lecture hall.
Barney Lipscomb noted that the library, as of 1996, contained more than 59,000 books and journals.
John L. Merill, on behalf of Simon W. Wolff, presented the Gardener’s Dictionary, by Philip Miller, to the library in 1998. Published in 1768 and 1782, the two volume work is of great botanical and horticultural significance and includes many beautiful hand-colored plates.
A gift of almost 400 volumes of mycological books came from William R. Burk in 1999. This strengthened BRIT’s existing collection of books on fungi. The oldest book is H. W. Ravenel’s (1852) Fungi of Carolina. Early mycological investigations in the United States and popular mycological books for North America round out the collection.
Additionally in 1999, Scott and Stuart Gentling donated a copy of their book Of Birds and Texas to the library. Our copy is one of 15 in Texas libraries and number 438 of 500 numbered copies. It is perhaps the most stunning book ever produced on Texas natural history. In the 10 landscapes of Texas there are at least 17 species of native, naturalized, or cultivated plants in full color.
In 2001, a major collection was received from Gordon and Sarah Delle Hultmark. This set of books was Sarah’s personal collection of floras. The gift also included a continuing memorial, the Rifka Sharon & Sarah Delle Hultmark Memorial Library Fund. Additionally, two major art collections of local artists have been donated to BRIT. One hundred and thirty-eight watercolor paintings by Mary Jo Laughlin, along with 10 works by Ruth Andersson May and two elephant folio prints by Stuart and Scott Gentling, were given by her husband, Dr. Harold E. Laughlin. Three hundred and five paintings by Marie C. Wesby were donated by her husband, Mr. Vern Wesby.