The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information: An Introduction

We are often asked, "Under what circumstances did the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information come to be associated with the Museum, and what is the precise nature of that involvement?"

Our answer has been, and must continue to be, that it is impossible to disengage one from the other, so closely do the interests, inclinations, and ideals of the two intermingle.

Members of the Society first approached us in the spring of 1989, to present an opportunity. It was suggested that a portion of the Society's library be housed at our institution, thus providing to the public an invaluable educational resource, while at the same time enabling the collection, which had previously suffered from callous and insensitive treatment, to shelter under the protection of the Museum.

Once taken under our wing, these books proved themselves to be peculiarly suited to the character of their new home. Indeed, certain of these books gave even ourselves new understandings of subjects dear to us: we consulted them with invariable enthusiasm and eager interest. We grew to rely upon them; to turn to them, avidly, at every opportunity. Incalculable difficulties soon arose. Multiple copies of these books were demanded; permanent access to them was required; there was a desire to possess them, as it were. Some books had vanished; accusations were made.

In this situation, the joint Trustees stepped forward. A decision was reached to establish and maintain a bookstore, run by the Society, housed at the Museum.

Thus the bookstore's primary function was to make library volumes available to Society members and to members of the Museum.

However, other worthy organizations soon approached us, asking us to also represent their publications. We agreed. Exhibition catalogues, informative brochures, scholarly treatises, reprints of classic works long unavailable, reports, and lecture transcripts, all were welcomed.

The bookstore, further, became the only outlet where Museum publications could consistently be obtained. Perhaps the philosophy of the bookstore is best expressed in the words of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Information charter:

The rarest and most precious knowledge is not that which is imposed, but rather, that which is absorbed, inhaled almost, from the ephemeral substance of the world in which we are contained.