Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Susan Otis Thompson papers, 1965-1992 bulk 1970-1980 

Thompson, Susan Otis,
Phys. Desc: 
1.05 linear feet (1.05 linear feet 2.5 document boxes)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

Susan Otis Thompson was a teacher, author, editor, lecturer, and researcher, best known for her scholarship on William Caxton and the history of the book. Thompson enrolled at Columbia University's School of Library Service, where she earned both her M.S. (1963) and D.L.S. (1972). She began as an intern in the University Libraries Reference Department. She gradually took on teaching duties and rose through the academic ranks, becoming a teaching assistant, lecturer, preceptor, assistant professor, and finally an associate professor in 1978. Starting in 1966 she began teaching a course on the History of the Book that she would continue to teach until the school's closing in 1992. She also contributed, alongside Terry Belanger, to the establishment of Columbia's Master's program concentration in Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections, the first of its kind in the U.S. (1973). This program would later become the independent Rare Book School, now located at the University of Virginia. With research interests in rare books and manuscripts, book and printing history, library history, rare book librarianship, book design, typography, graphic arts, and the Arts and Crafts movement, Thompson published American Book Design and William Morris in 1977 (Bowker), which was reprinted in 1996 by Oak Knoll Press and the British Library. As both a writer and editor, she contributed to numerous publications, including The Arts and Crafts Movement in America 1876-1916 (1994), The Heritage of the Graphic Arts Lecture Series: A Complete Listing (1994), and William Caxton: An American Contribution to the Quincentenary Celebration (1976), a chapbook published by the Typophiles printed for the Caxton International Congress (1976), which marked the 500th anniversary of the introduction of printing into England. Thompson also spoke around the country at seminars, conferences, and panel discussions. Thompson was an active member of numerous book history societies, including the Typophiles, the William Morris Society, and the Corrodentia Society, and in 1977 she became one of the first women allowed to join the Grolier Club. She was also a founding member of the American Printing History Association (APHA) (1974) and served as the editor of APHA's semiannual journal Printing History from 1979-1983. Thompson died of breast cancer in 2008.

Scope and Contents

The papers consist primarily of correspondence and documentation related to her professional activities as a professor, a librarian, and a scholar of early print and book history. Thompson's papers consist primarily of correspondence, clippings, and printed materials related to her professional activities as a librarian, teacher, and scholar of book history. The strength of the papers lies in their documentation of topics pertaining to the history of libraries, books, and library science in the late twentieth century. A scholar in early book history and book design, her papers contain documentation and artifacts from Thompson's research, as well as correspondence with Leo Wyatt, L. Carrington Goodrich, and Herbert Kleist. Thompson's papers also document the activities of the now-defunct School of Library Service at Columbia University, including the establishment of a rare books librarianship concentration that would later become the Rare Book School, and the activities of numerous library- and book history-related organizations, most notably the formative years of the American Printing History Association (APHA). The papers also include manuscript drafts, speeches, and correspondence related to Thompson's research, publications, and speaking engagements. Of additional note is a manuscript on the state of libraries in Nigeria and Kenya (1965). A small set of black-and-white photographs are included with the report. The collection contains a small amount of information describing the Grolier Club's contribution to the establishment of the Columbia University rare books progam, but little else of note. Papers related to the William Morris Society are too few to be considered significant. The material type of the collection is mixed.