Since it opened in the 1930s, WKU’s Special Collections Library (formerly the Kentucky Library) has drawn inquiries about its collections from authors, historians, collectors and genealogists near and far. Before Google searches, digital text or e-mail, library staff members Elizabeth Coombs, Mary Leiper Moore and director Julia Neal corresponded with both scholars and amateurs seeking to research their books and articles, locate a rare publication, or fill a gap in family genealogy. In their replies, the librarians never passed up the opportunity to obtain a copy of the author’s latest work or a pledge to donate his/her personal papers.
A collection of this correspondence, now available at the Special Collections Library, dates from the 1930s to the 1970s and includes letters from authors such as Thomas D. Clark, Anne Pence Davis, Janice Holt Giles, Jesse Stuart and Joy Bale.
Sometimes the authors are interested merely in locating an elusive source; at other times, they write at greater length about their work and that of others. “At present I am spending most of my time in collecting old drafts and photographing old coverlets,” wrote Kentucky master weaver Louisa Tate Bousman (“Lou Tate”). “Do you have in your collection of Kentuckiana any manuscript account book or diary of some planter or farmer in which is enumerated the different expenditures in connection with the slaves?” asked J. Winston Coleman, Jr. Responding to a request for her papers, Joy Bale admitted that she never kept drafts of her poems because “I am so glad when a poem of mine finally reaches what I consider MY best that I joyously tear up all beginnings.” Writing from the University of Kentucky, James Thomas Cotton Noe asked for guidance in “the task of building a Kentucky collection for our library.”