The NYPL Acquisition of the Burroughs Archive

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Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

For those of you chomping at the bit to sneak a peek at the Burroughs Archive in the Berg Collection, do not book your ticket to New York just yet. The archive is massive and could take awhile to organize and to catalog. I have contacted a former employee of the New York Public Library, a Burroughs scholar, and members of the New York publishing community. The general consensus is that the process could take as long as two years to complete.

In addition, the Library is notoriously stingy in providing access to its special collections, particularly its holdings in the Beats and counterculture. An application process must be completed with emphasis on academic goals and credentials. Casual drive-bys are not tolerated.

All is not lost. William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Barry Miles spent considerable time and effort in putting the initial archive together. They published their efforts in a signed limited edition in 1974. This catalog is available on the rare book market for $400 and up. Ken Lopez, the bookseller who brokered the Robert Jackson sale, offers a condensed, but highly informative, version of the catalog for $20. I highly recommend it. (

Roberto Altman, the man who bought the initial archive, never touched the collection and for years it remained in its initial packaging. Robert and Donna Jackson kept the collection in impeccable condition and provided limited access. Ted Morgan, the William Burroughs biographer, only looked at the collection for three days. As a result, the collection should be well organized and in great shape for the cataloguers. Hopefully, Burroughs fans will be able to look at this incredible piece of literary history sooner rather than later.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 5 March 2006.

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