Thomas F. Staley, director of the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin for the last 22 years, announced today his decision to retire on Aug. 31, 2011.
During his tenure at the Ransom Center, Staley has raised more than $100 million in donations and collection materials.
“Under the leadership of Tom Staley, the Ransom Center has become an American pantheon of literary and artistic luminaries,” said William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin. “The Center’s collections, which have grown tremendously during his tenure, are the crown jewels of our university. They enrich the cultural experience and illuminate the literary record for students and professors, for visiting researchers, and for the people of Texas and the world at large. We owe a great debt of gratitude and deepest appreciation to Tom Staley.”
Known for its literary and cultural archives, the Center has expanded its holdings substantially under Staley’s direction. Collections acquired during his tenure include the archives of Norman Mailer, Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, Robert De Niro, Tom Stoppard, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Doris Lessing, David Douglas Duncan, Arnold Newman, Stella Adler, Julian Barnes, Bernard Malamud, David Mamet, Brian Moore, John Fowles, Elizabeth Hardwick, David Hare, Arnold Wesker, Jayne Anne Phillips, Peter Matthiessen, James Salter and Penelope Fitzgerald. The Center also acquired the Stuart Gilbert collection of James Joyce materials and the Watergate holdings of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, among others.
“Throughout my years at the Ransom Center, I have been told again and again by colleagues and friends that the directorship of this wonderful place is one of the best academic jobs there is,” said Staley. “As the years have gone by I’ve come to believe it myself. It has been 22 years of great pleasure, and I think that’s enough for one person. It is time for me to go back to writing and spending more time in productive idleness, offering someone else the opportunities that I have had at the Ransom Center. But I must note that there will be no diminution of my energy and commitment in the next 16 months that I remain the Center’s director.”
As director, Staley increased awareness of the collections and focused on making them more widely accessible to scholars and the public.
Staley started a fellowship program at the Center in 1990 to support the research of visiting scholars. The fellowship program, now one of the largest of its kind, awards more than 50 endowed fellowships each year in support of scholarly projects that concentrate on the Center’s collections.
“Under Tom Staley’s leadership the Harry Ransom Center has moved from strength to strength and has become one of the most distinguished institutions for scholarship in the U.S. and indeed in the world,” said Frank M. Turner, the John Hay Whitney Professor of History and the director of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. “Over his two decades at the Ransom Center, Staley has gathered a distinguished collection of manuscripts that are admired and envied throughout the world of rare book and manuscript libraries.”
Staley also spearheaded the $14.5 million renovation of the Ransom Center in 2003, which included the creation of 40,000 square feet of newly constructed public space for galleries, an auditorium and a new reading room. Complementing this renovation was Staley’s development of expanded exhibitions and public programs to showcase the collections in new and engaging ways.
Since the renovation, visitors to the Center have grown to an annual average of 78,000.
“Tom Staley has had a substantial impact on the special collections profession through his energy, focus and leadership,” said Michael Ryan, director of Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. “He reconnected the Harry Ransom Center to the wider professional community and took the lead in raising key issues about collecting, collections, access and programming. He made the Ransom Center a model of the well integrated, focused and dynamic special collections library. He will be sorely missed.”
Envisioning that the growth and maturity of the Ransom Center would need to be aided with external financial support, Staley grew the $1 million endowment he inherited to more than $25 million, establishing endowments to support acquisitions, internships, fellowships, education and programming, lectureships and symposia. Such endowments were funded by Fleur Cowles, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, Marlene Meyerson and a number of other foundations and individual donors.
“Tom Staley is simply one of the greatest library administrators that this country or the world has ever seen,” said bookseller Howard Woolmer. “His ability to raise funds and to spend those funds on the proper archives is unmatched. I would hate to be given the task of finding a replacement for him.”
Rick Gekoski, a book dealer and writer, said, “Tom Staley is totally irreplaceable.”
Staley is professor of English and holds the Harry Huntt Ransom Chair in Liberal Arts. He has written or edited 13 books on James Joyce, Dorothy Richardson, Jean Rhys and modern literature and is the founding editor of the James Joyce Quarterly and Joyce Studies Annual.
A list of major acquisitions and achievements under the leadership of Staley can be found online at www.hrc.utexas.edu/press/releases/2010/staley_timeline.html. High-resolution press images of Staley are available.