A Brief History of Arizoniana

Image in public domain.

Dr. Joseph Amasa Munk, physician, collector, and Arizona enthusiast

Reading Arizona is such a unique project because of its Arizona-focused collection policy. Arizona is a worthy literary subject, as evidenced by projects such as OneBookAZ, the Journal of Arizona History’s Arizona 100, and the Pima County Public Libraries’ Southwest Books of the Year and original Reading Arizona map. Any state would be proud of the stories its landscape inspires – romantic, fictitious, academic, or otherwise – but as the former “Baby State” Arizona’s bibliography developed much quicker than in other regions. While librarians are excited to explore Arizona’s literary landscape, our love of Arizoniana could be traced to an early collection slight.

Dr. Joseph Amasa Munk began collecting books for a personal Arizona library in 1884. By 1900 he had amassed 1,000 books about the young territory. Munk recognized the collection’s enduring value, and wrote in the preface to the third edition of his bibliography that “to keep them hidden away in seclusion would do nobody any good.” His first choice was to entrust the collection to the State, still the Territory in 1908, which had established a library in 1864. Despite having operated for 44 years, the Territorial Library was still in no position to receive such a valuable collection. Early annual reports reveal the library’s meager funding, inadequate facilities, and disorganization, resulting in poor preservation practices. Munk, fearing his collection would be lost to “fire or disinterest,” did not bother offering his collection to the government library.

Arizona Memory Project

Con P. Cronin, Arizona’s first State Librarian, 1915-1932

Munk’s Arizoniana instead went to the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, now part of the Autry National Center of the American West. It was embarrassing for Arizona reference librarians to direct researchers to California for the most complete Arizona collection. Although some Arizonans protested and tried to keep the collection, Munk argued that Los Angeles was the “Mecca of scholars, educators, and scientists” and those who would use the collection would travel to California for research anyway. Con P. Cronin, the first State Librarian, prioritized acquiring Arizona content in addition to updating facilities and applying best practices. By 1920 the State Library held over 300 Arizona titles. Twenty years later Cronin’s successor Mulford Winsor boasted over 7,000 pieces of Arizoniana, including books, manuscripts, pamphlets, and ephemera. Winsor was also essential in finding space for the growing collections by securing funds to the 1938 addition to the Capitol, where the State Library of Arizona remains housed today.

Public domain

Mulford Winsor (ca. 1918), Arizona politician and State Librarian, 1932-1956

After a century of service the State Library of Arizona is bringing Arizoniana to the state’s residents digitally. The Reading Arizona ebook platform, Arizona Memory Project, and Arizona Digital Newspaper Program all feature the types of items early librarians acquired to build a comprehensive reference collection about the state. Now, Arizonans don’t need to travel to Los Angeles for a curated collection of the state’s best resources.

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Sources:

Alliot, Hector. Bibliography of Arizona: Being the Record of Literature Collected by Joseph Amasa Munk, M.D., and Donated By Him to the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, California. Los Angeles: The Southwest Museum, 1914. (Soon available on Reading Arizona!)

Arizona Department of Library and Archives. Report of the Territorial Librarian. By C. H. Akers. Phoenix: Executive Department of Arizona, 1901.

Arizona Department of Library and Archives. Third Biennial Report of the Arizona State Law and Legislative Reference Librarian. By Con P. Cronin. Phoenix: State of Arizona, 1920.

Arizona Department of Library and Archives. Arizona Newsletter. By Mulford Winsor. Phoenix: State of Arizona, 1940.

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