|In 1920 two representatives of The University of Texas at Austin, attending a presidential inauguration in Mexico City, were transfixed by the sight of the first edition of Bernal Díaz del Castillo's Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España (True History of the Conquest of New Spain, Madrid, 1632). There, in a bookstore window, was the eyewitness account by a Spanish conquistador of the early Spanish adventures in Mexico. That single purchase led to their discovery of the availability of the unique private library of the recently deceased Mexican||
| bibliophile, lawyer, and historian, Genaro García. Within months, UT Austin purchased the García library and its 25,000 volumes of books and periodicals relating to Mexico, the Americas, the West Indies, and Spain as well as manuscripts, photographs and other visual materials, which became the nucleus of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection.
The Benson Collection now contains over 800,000 books, periodicals, and pamphlets as well as numerous historical and literary manuscripts, photographs, maps, microforms, broadsides, sound and video recordings, drawings, posters, and electronic media. The Benson Collection serves the students and faculty of UT Austin as well as the national and international research community, which ranks it among the premier institutions of its kind in the world. Researchers from the United States and abroad have been attracted to this remarkable resource for nearly eight decades, coming to consult materials accumulated from all parts of the world, in many languages, dating from the fifteenth century to the present.
The Benson Collection's rapid rise to prominence is largely due to its first two librarians, Carlos E. Castañeda and Nettie Lee Benson. Dr. Castañeda laid the foundation for a great collection by acquiring important manuscripts and libraries. Following him, Dr. Benson showed great resourcefulness in expanding the breadth and depth of the collection. Upon her retirement in 1975, the Board of Regents named the collection for her.
Dr. Benson's care for the library, however, was not over. After more than thirty years of service and rarely taking leaves-of-absence, UT Austin compensated Dr. Benson for her accumulated sick leave and vacation time. She "gave back" $10,000 to establish the Nettie Lee Benson Library Fund to sustain the collection's acquisition of rare materials. From her retirement until her death in 1993, she made annual gifts to the fund. Friends, faculty, staff, and former students also made donations. The value of the endowment, which is invested in the Long Term Fund, was $481,746 at August 31, 2002.
The book collection of the Benson Collection represents approximately ten percent of the volumes at UT Austin, which supports the fifth largest academic library in the United States. Moreover, the rare books and manuscripts of the Benson Collection are among the most unique and valuable holdings of the UT Austin Library. The collection adds about 14,000 volumes annually. These acquisitions are accomplished through donations of in-kind gifts, cooperative arrangements, and purchases. The purchases are financed through the General Libraries budget, approximately half of which comes from the Permanent University Fund, and distributions from endowments such as the Nettie Lee Benson Library Fund. The Benson Collection is an excellent example of how private endowments and Permanent University Fund distributions have been used to support an extraordinary project.