Currently, the BRIT botany library contains approximately 100,000 volumes of scientific and taxonomic books, periodicals, and journals from more than 90 countries representing the majority of the world’s written languages. The nucleus of the library was formed from the personal collections assembled by Dr. Lloyd H. Shinners and Dr. Eula Whitehouse. Dr. Shinners specifically collected books he felt were most important for research and systematic botany, mainly those with descriptions of new species. The remainder of the collection has been carefully selected to represent a comprehensive library of scientific and taxonomic books and publications primarily for naming and classifying plants. It is one of the largest and finest collections of botanical literature in the Southwestern United States. The BRIT library has grown from the original 6,000 book titles to over 16,000 book titles in the decade since its establishment.
Housed in the BRIT library are journals, series, encyclopedic works, cultivated works, floras, monographs, and reprints. Twentieth century holdings include works in botany (floras), gardening, and biographies. The basic reference works in systematic botany of this century are available including such standards as Index Kewensis (alphabetical index to published names of seed plants world-wide, citing original publication since 1753), Index Londinensis (index to illustrations of plants from 1753 to 1935), Bradley Bibliography (guide to the literature of the woody plants of the world before 1900), and printed catalogues of such great libraries as Kew, Lindley, and Arnold Arboretum. The library is especially rich in taxonomic literature on botany and horticulture of the 19th and latter half of the 18th centuries, the Golden Age of gardening in its broadest sense. Holdings of the 16th and 17th centuries include volumes detailing expeditions of various explorers, botany, horticulture, and medical botany. The 16th and 17th centuries were the years of gestation for botany and horticulture; they arose as refinements of knowledge from the arts and crafts of medieval medicine and agriculture. The flower garden and the use of plants for their ornamental value developed from this periods. These are the years of herbals, of the works on farming techniques, of tomes on material medica, of descriptions of exotics and directives for growing them, and of books on feminine health and well being. BRIT’s oldest book is a 1549 edition of De Materia Medica, written by Discorides, a Greek physician in the first century A.D. (Ref: The Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt Botanical Library, 1961).