Collecting Nature

The American Environmental Movement and the Conservation Library

Andrew Glenn Kirk

It was like no other library: not a musty, mute archive but a bustling center of activity and voice of advocacy. It brought together otherwise combative parties—sportsmen, lumbermen, librarians, politicians, even disputing activists—as it helped redefine what environmentalism means in America.

Denver's Conservation Library was established in 1960 as a repository for environmental and conservation documents. In chronicling its history, Andrew Kirk also traces the cultural history of American environmentalism as viewed through the lens of this unique institution. He tells how this library created by an older generation of technophobic men evolved into a cutting-edge laboratory for alternative technology research run by young women, mirroring tumultuous changes in American culture and social movements over the past four decades.

“Kirk has skillfully crafted an intriguing book from a seemingly prosaic topic. . . . By integrating the role a library could and did play in the environmental movement, he offers a unique contribution to environmental history. The result is a balanced and thoughtfully told story not only about the Conservation Library Center but about the larger environmental movement.

—American Historical Review

“This is an important book for both librarians and those interested in environmental or conservation history. The book spans an era during which the definitions of librarianship and of conservation were changing. Kirk not only provides insight into an unusual archive, he does it in an interesting and entertaining way. It is well worth reading.

—Libraries and Culture
See all reviews...

Kirk reveals how the Conservation Library Collection merged with various constituencies vying to shape it for their own purposes, and how it reflected the thinking of influences as diverse as John Muir and Stewart Brand. He introduces key players such as founder Arthur Carhart and administrator Kay Collins, then tells how the CLC was transformed into the Regional Energy/Environment Information Center, suffered cutbacks in the Reagan era that brought on its demise, and lately began a quiet resurgence as the archive it was originally intended to be.

Collecting Nature shows that the CLC was a microcosm for the environmental movement itself, as well as a clear barometer of its gender and generational shifts. Kirk's eloquent narrative reveals much about the ideological bases and promises of environmentalism, while showing how the movement grew from its conservationist and preservationist roots. In the process, Kirk contributes to the debate over the evolution of environmental thinking, with an eye toward resolving the differences among competing perspectives. Through the story of this unique institution, he shows us how we have come to define conservation, wilderness, and even nature itself.

About the Author

Andrew Glenn Kirk is assistant professor of history and public history program coordinator at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He is coeditor, with John Herron, of Human/Nature: Biology, Culture, and Environmental History and is the author of a number of articles on the history of the appropriate technology movement.

Additional Titles in the Development of Western Resources Series