Building Our Collection

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Suzanne Schlenger poses with a few volumes from her collection.

If a university and its people are dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, there is perhaps nowhere on campus that more embodies that mission than the library. That is surely true here on UMBC’s campus. Much more than books on shelves, the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery is an engine for discovery, providing our students and faculty with the resources and support they need on their academic journey.

This year, those resources grew thanks to Suzanne Schlenger. A member of the Friends of the Library since 2001, she recently established the Suzanne Schlenger Endowment for a Collection of American Women in Literature and donated a substantial set of books that will form the basis for this new collection.

The volumes, which now reside in UMBC’s Special Collections, include many works by Willa Cather and Edith Wharton, as well as a limited edition of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. The collection was built over many years, as Mrs. Schlenger and her late husband, Jack Schlenger, a lawyer and friend of Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, travelled the world looking for works by their favorite authors.

“My husband was a book collector and a reader,” she says. “I read everything he collected, and I wanted to collect books, too.” Mrs. Schlenger and her husband thoroughly enjoyed their search, which took them as far away as Europe. “I have a collector’s mind,” says Mrs. Schlenger. “This satisfies my love of books, my love of reading, and my love of collecting.”

Although Mrs. Schlenger could have opted to sell her books, she says that donating them to the library and establishing the endowment just felt right to her.  She sees this as an opportunity to ensure that the books are well used, and she is eager to see what research and scholarship comes out of her collection. “I wanted to pass [the collection] on to scholars,” she says. “I hope people come and read it.”

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Left to right: Tom Beck, chief curator of AOK Library; Suzanne Schlenger; and Larry Wilt, former director of the AOK Library.

Her love for books and reading is clear. When asked about her favorite book in the collection, Mrs. Schlenger answers without pause: it’s Willa Cather’s My Antonia. She cites Antonia’s resilience as a key factor in her appreciation for the book. “[Cather] is an outstanding stylist,” says Mrs. Schlenger. “She writes sparely with such style, and she digs at your heart.”

And while Mrs. Schlenger’s books provide a critical base for the new collection of American women writers, the library staff will also be able to use the endowment she’s created to enrich and expand that collection in consultation with faculty from the English and Theatre Departments. This, Mrs. Schlenger hopes, will fill a void in the library and ensure a rich collection in years to come.

“I’ve seen UMBC grow, and through my husband’s enthusiasm for UMBC, I joined him in that,” says Mrs. Schlenger of her choice to invest her time, treasure, and talent in the university.

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