A Library Encircling A Herbarium

April 29, 2020

Imagine a herbarium of just under 400,000 plant specimens in cabinets with a corresponding botany library of 40,000 books lining the periphery, along the walls of the herbarium collection accessible to researchers working in the collection. This was the design of the SMU Herbarium and Library housed on the SMU campus before moving to BRIT in 1991.

The SMU Herbarium/Library was in the Science & Engineering Library Building from 1962 - 1991. Previous to being housed in the Science & Engineering Library, the SMU Herbarium/Library, established by Cyrus Lundell (1907 - 1994) in 1943 to do a flora of Texas, was in Hyer Hall and later moved to Fondren Science in 1948.  Lundell founded and headed the Institute of Technology and Plant Industry at SMU and then was Head Botanist and Director of the Texas Research Foundation.

In the center of the large herbarium/library room, specimen cases were stacked two high. Encircling the specimen cabinets, extending along walls, one after another, were the shelves of the library beginning with multilingual floras from around the world, taxonomic encyclopedic works, followed by journals, and ending with a strong reprint collection. The herbarium was enclosed by the library with the plant specimens at the very core of the room.

Oftentimes classes, lectures, and labs were taught in the herbarium/library, as seen below. This is Dr. William Fred Mahler’s Plant Taxonomy class, circ. 1980s. Mahler (1930 - 2013) was the Curator of the Herbarium at SMU and a member of the faculty for 17 years.

Dr. Mahler’s Plant Taxonomy class, SMU Herbarium/Library, circ. 1980s.

Between specimen cabinets and shelves of books, desks and tables were available for researchers, staff, and students to work at, as seen here with Lloyd H. Shinners (1918 - 1971) working among many plant specimens and books in the herbarium/library. Shinners was a professor and Director of the Herbarium at SMU for 25 years as well as instrumental to building BRIT Library's collectionA painting of Lloyd Shinners, very similar in nature to this photograph, currently hangs in the main BRIT library room. Shinners is at the same desk surrounded by two exceptional research collections, the very heart and soul of BRIT, the Herbarium and Library. NOTE: The portrait of Shinners was commissioned (early 1980s) while Dr. Mahler and Barney Lipscomb were still "SMU" and on the campus and actually hung in the Science & Engineering Library.

Lloyd H. Shinners, SMU Herbarium/Library, circ. 1962-1971.

In many ways the SMU Herbarium/Library design is ideal for research, while at the same time reflecting the distinct relationship between herbaria and botanical libraries: two parallel collections preserving the value of plant research praxis. 

This story partially inspired BRIT Library's upcoming new blog series Collections Lens, which highlights collection managers across natural history collections, libraries, and herbaria as collections move into the future. The first interview, with Tiana F. Rehman, BRIT's Herbarium Collections Manager, will be available in the May GROW Newsletter. 

Special thanks to Barney Lipscomb for providing photographs and details about the SMU Herbarium/Library.

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