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Books at Goldthwait Polar Library
Photo Credit: Peter Rejcek
Books about the Antarctic and Arctic are packed into the Goldthwait Polar Library at Byrd Polar Research Center. The library boasts more than 12,000 titles and more than 1,000 maps.  

A good book

Goldthwait Polar Library boasts extensive collection on Arctic, Antarctic history and research

Longevity isn’t just reserved for the scientists associated with the Byrd Polar Research Center (BPRC). Lynn Lay has served as the librarian at the center’s Goldthwait Polar Library for 26 years. 

No larger than a classroom, the library contains more than 12,000 titles, and many more waiting in boxes and stacks for Lay and her student worker to process. An old-fashioned card catalog sits against one wall, though the polar-themed collection is being added to The Ohio State University’s online catalog system.

“I’m the only one who uses it,” Lay admits of the card catalog.

Adm. Richard E. Byrd
Photo Credit: Knowledge Bank at OSU
The papers of Adm. Richard E. Byrd are part of the BPRC archival program.

The same can’t be said of the library as whole, with many of the materials available for lending to other institutions. “One of our selling points is that we do both poles. It’s usually one or the other,” Lay explains.

“We cover anything that has to do with the history of polar exploration, anything to support the research needs of the scientists,” she adds. “We’re very small but concentrated.”

Named after BPRC’s first director, Richard Goldthwait, a geologist with OSU, the compact library contains a number of rare books, countless periodicals and more than 1,000 maps. The collection includes books bequeathed to the library by Ann and Emanuel “Rudy” Rudolph, who served as the center’s fourth director from 1969-73.

“They had so many books they had to buy the house next door,” Lay says, with the polar books spread across the main house’s second floor. The Rudolphs left meticulous notes about their academic treasure, numbering the books — a random one of the shelf bears the number 21,598 — and recording where they bought it and for how much.

Rudolph and his wife also left a small endowment for purchasing additional books. Not that the library lacks avenues for acquiring additional volumes. It seems there’s always someone with a polar-themed collection calling with a donation. A former employee of the Polar Ice Coring Office recently donated a hefty collection about Greenland, which is underrepresented in the library, so Lay agreed to take them on.

“We have boxes and boxes of material that we haven’t had time to process yet. It’s sort of feast, feast, feast,” she says.

In addition to the library, Byrd Polar boasts an archival program with extensive materials from Adm. Richard E. Byrd, who flew over the North and South poles and was a pivotal figure in the modern exploration of Antarctica, as well as papers from Sir Hubert Wilkins and the Frederick A. Cook Society. Cook claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole, a claim still hotly debated today.

“We have a great polar history collection,” Lay says. 
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