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'I am not an owner, but a steward' - In praise of donating both rare materials and the funds to care for them

South Caroliniana Library


'I am not an owner, but a steward' -- Becky Hollingsworth, consummate collector and South Caroliniana Library friend and donor


What was it, exactly, that Becky Hollingsworth found captivating about the 19th-century cased photographs she collected? Was it their intriguing eyes? Their intricately carved cases?

“They are beautiful portraits, and I am a hopeless collector. I can’t have just one of anything. I’ll see one, and then another, and then another, and soon I’ll be on the hunt for the rest of them. That’s how it was with this little collection,” said Hollingsworth, who lives in Charleston. “These are the work of photographer George S. Cook, and I started collecting those wherever I could find them.”

It became clear to Hollingsworth years ago that these photographs and other items should go to South Caroliniana Library.

“Anyone who is doing research on the antebellum South goes to South Caroliniana Library,” she said. “My friend, historian and author Harvey Teal, is so excited over the collection that is being amassed there that it rubs off on you, and pretty soon you are giving everything you can to the library. Harvey said if I gave these items to South Caroliniana Library, scores of people
would see and use them.”

One of the photos Hollingsworth has donated — of an unidentified enslaved woman — is exceedingly rare. While slavery can be a difficult subject to address, Hollingsworth said, she believes that doing so is necessary for historical reflection and true cultural understanding.

“That photo I’ve had for many years, and with my collection, I feel I am not an owner but a steward for a short time,” she said. “I gather things up, and then it is my purpose to direct them to where they need to go.”

Her collection of antiquarian slavery books is now housed at South Caroliniana Library, along with a two-volume diary that belonged to a slave trader and farmer.

In addition to these fine materials, Hollingsworth has created an endowed fund to care for those items and purchase more. The Rebecca R. Hollingsworth South Caroliniana Library Endowment Fund enables the library to acquire materials that enhance its collections. In recent months the endowment has made possible the acquisition of a significant album of Civil War photographs by Union photographer Henry P. Moore. The fund also provides for processing, cataloging, digitizing and outreach activities, in part through the employment of student assistants.

“Thanks to the Hollingsworth Fund, we’ve had several graduate students work with us, processing visual materials, assisting with reference requests and digitizing materials to make our holdings more immediately accessible to researchers,” said Beth Bilderback, visual materials archivist. “It provides us with additional staff hours, and it provides the students with an unmatched educational experience.”

This article originally appeared in University Libraries minizine, Fall 2016.