The David Sarnoff Library: The First Three Decades

Friday, January 22, 2016

Under the management of Curator Cary J. King, Jr. and his secretary Dorothy Camfield, the David Sarnoff Library (DSL) received 8,300 visitors in its first four and a half years.

Chart of Sarnoff Library visitors

Most visitors were given a tour of the library, but a number of graduate students made extensive use of the library when preparing dissertations or other papers.

It was common for formal visits to the David Sarnoff Research Center (DSRC) by groups of scientists and dignitaries to include a tour of the David Sarnoff Library. In addition, King organized a major publicity campaign in 1967-1968.

To promote awareness of the Library and to build up attendance, nearly 400 letters with brochure enclosures were sent in the Fall of 1967 to each college president and librarian in the northeastern section of the United States, and to high school principals in the Princeton area.  In the Spring of 1968, two additional mailings, totaling approximately 2,200 letters and brochures, were sent to professors in appropriate college departments as well as to public and other librarians in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. (First Annual Report, p. 1)

He also invited representatives from a dozen local newspapers for a special tour of the DSL in November 1967.

Interestingly, there was at least one plan to expand the scope of the David Sarnoff Library, as this 1970 memo shows:

Letter about Corporate Archival Program

Sadly, RCA never did establish a corporate archive. Oddly enough, even though this period of DSL history is well documented, there is no other mention of this proposal in the DSL records. 

Following David Sarnoff’s death at the end of 1971, the Library’s position became increasingly uncertain. The previously detailed records of the Library’s operation thin rapidly and make it hard to determine exactly what happened. Dorothy Camfield moved to Florida in 1972 and was replaced by Diane M. Farkas. However, Farkas was reassigned in October 1973 and Fern Cloak, the head librarian for the DSRC Research Library, was now also responsible for the David Sarnoff Library.

This change didn’t help the frequent confusion of the David Sarnoff Research Center Research Library, which served as a scientific reference library for research staff, with the David Sarnoff Library, which had a narrower historic focus. It was presumably around this time that Cary J. King stepped down as curator, but he remained involved in an indexing project until at least December 1973.

Amid all these changes, the one constant for the next two and a half decades was Phyllis Smith. Smith was involved with the David Sarnoff Library from its beginning and by the time of King’s departure was the closest the Library had to a curator. Yet Smith was only able to devote a fraction of her time to the DSL, as she had extensive responsibilities in the Public Affairs Department, including editing the weekly DSRC newsletter.

Despite her best efforts, it remained difficult for researchers to access the collection. Additionally, since there were no attempts to publicize the DSL as a scholarly resource after its initial few years, many potential researchers were simply unaware of its existence. 

On December 3, 1997, a luncheon at the David Sarnoff Library marked the end of an era. Phyllis Smith had died earlier in the year and the event was dedicated to her memory.

Phyllis Smith's memorial card

But the event also marked the beginning of its most dynamic period as Susan T. Gauff wrote:

Memo from Susan Gauff

The remarkable achievements of the Library under its new curator (later executive director) Alex Magoun will be the subject of a future post.

Dan Michelson is the Sarnoff Project Archivist in the Manuscripts and Archives Department at Hagley.