David Sarnoff Library recordsCreation: 1960-2009
The David Sarnoff Library was established at the David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton, New Jersey in 1967 as a showcase for the accomplishments of long-time Radio Corporation of America (RCA) head David Sarnoff. After five years of activity, the Library was largely moribund until the arrival of Alex Magoun as Curator (later Executive Director) in 1998. Under his leadership, the Library expanded its mission to include the history of RCA in general and the David Sarnoff Research Center in particular. Due to lack of funding, the David Sarnoff Library closed in 2009. The collection documents the creation and evolution of the Library through board of directors records, correspondence, reports, oral histories, and photographs.
- Creation: 1960-2009
- David Sarnoff Library (Organization)
9 Linear Feet
General Physical Description (AVD portion only)
(AVD portion only) 80 photographic prints : b&w ; 8 x 10 in. 4 photographic prints : b&w ; 4 x 6 in. 19 photographic prints : b&w ; 9.5 x 12 in. 50 photographic prints : color ; 4 x 6 in.
In the early 1960s, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) Chairman David Sarnoff (DS) decided to open a library at the David Sarnoff Research Center in Princeton to house his papers (for more on the papers see the notes to the David Sarnoff papers, acc. 2464.55). Inspired by the Roosevelt and Truman Presidential Libraries, DS intended that his library would be a place of research, “rather than a mere display of his own personal mementos and honors” (see September 17, 1964 memo in Box M&A 1074, Folder 27).
An addition to the David Sarnoff Research Center was constructed in 1965-1966. Initially called Sarnoff Hall, the name of the building was soon changed to the David Sarnoff Library (DSL) at DS’s insistence.
During this time, C. David Blake, initially a consultant for the architects and then the first Curator of the DSL, supervised the planning of the library and the November 1966 shipments of the bulk of the collection from DS’s home in New York. Blake resigned due to illness in April 1967 and Cary J. King, Jr. assumed most of his responsibilities. King was officially appointed as curator in August 1967, following his retirement from RCA. Along with his secretary, Dorothy Camfield, King would be the guiding force for the library’s early period.
Throughout 1966 and 1967, DS frequently visited the library to inspect the progress being made. During his visits, he would give specific instructions on a variety of issues, from the placement of items to the material for constructing cabinet doors.
The DSL was officially dedicated on September 28, 1967, the first day of the four-day 25th anniversary celebration for RCA Laboratories. With over 700 volumes and hundreds of artifacts and framed items, the library represented a remarkable tribute to David Sarnoff and, he hoped, ensured his place in history.
Under the management of Curator Cary J. King, Jr. and his secretary Dorothy Camfield, the DSL received 8,300 visitors in its first four and a half years. Most visitors were given a tour of the Library, but a number of graduate students made extensive use of the Library when preparing dissertations or other papers.
It was common for formal visits to the David Sarnoff Research Center (DSRC) by groups of scientists and dignitaries to include a tour of the DSL. In addition, King organized a major publicity campaign in 1967-1968.
Following David Sarnoff’s death at the end of 1971, the Library’s position became increasingly uncertain. The previously detailed records of the Library’s operation thin rapidly and make it hard to determine exactly what happened. Dorothy Camfield moved to Florida in 1972 and was replaced by Diane M. Farkas. However, Farkas was reassigned in October 1973 and Fern Cloak, the head librarian for the DSRC Research Library, was now also responsible for the DSL.
This change didn’t help the frequent confusion of the Research Library, which served as a scientific reference library for research staff, with the DSL, which had a narrower historic focus. It was presumably around this time that Cary J. King stepped down as curator, but he remained involved in an indexing project until at least December 1973.
At the time of Sarnoff’s death, the collections of the DSL remained his personal property on loan to the Library. In his will, he donated them to the David Sarnoff Collection, which was duly incorporated as a private foundation in September 1972. For the remainder of its history, the DSL’s legal name was the David Sarnoff Collection, Inc. The foundation’s records have never been found and it is unlikely that it functioned as anything other than the legal owner.
Amid all these changes, the one constant for the next two and a half decades was Phyllis Smith. Smith was involved with the DSL from its beginning and by the time of King’s departure was the closest the Library had to a curator. Yet Smith was only able to devote a fraction of her time to the DSL, as she had extensive responsibilities in the Public Affairs Department, including editing the weekly DSRC newsletter.
Despite her best efforts, it remained difficult for researchers to access the collection. Additionally, since there were no attempts to publicize the DSL as a scholarly resource after its initial few years, many potential researchers were simply unaware of its existence.
In 1997, the DSRC (now the Sarnoff Corporation) decided to revive the DSL. The moribund David Sarnoff Collection, Inc. was reactivated and transformed from a private foundation to a public charity with David Sarnoff’s nephew Arthur Sarnoff, the sole remaining officer, as President.
Most importantly, Alex Magoun was hired as the new Curator of the DSL in 1998 and became Executive Director in 2000. Under his leadership, the DSL reemerged as a vital source for those interested in the life and times of David Sarnoff. But he also greatly expanded its mission to encompass the history of the DSRC and RCA.
Collection development efforts targeting long-time employees, retirees from RCA, and RCA successor companies brought in important new collections. Magoun also organized frequent events at the DSL, ranging from tours for middle school students to the popular annual reenactments of Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” broadcast.
Despite successful fundraising through grants and individual donations, the DSL remained dependent on support from the Sarnoff Corporation. With the onset of the Great Recession at the end of the 2000s, the Sarnoff Corporation decided to end its support of the DSL.
Forced to close at the end of 2009, the DSL’s legacy was preserved through the donation of its archival collections to the Hagley Museum and Library and its artifacts museum objects to The College of New Jersey.
The David Sarnoff Library records are arranged in four series:
I. Early files
II. Executive Director Alexander Magoun papers
III. Oral histories
Files are arranged alphabetically.
Scope and Content
The David Sarnoff Library records document the creation of the Library as a celebration of the career of David Sarnoff in 1967 and its evolution into a center for the history of RCA and the Sarnoff Corporation under Executive Director Alex Magoun from 1998 to 2009. Files include board of directors records, correspondence, reports, oral histories, and photographs.
The Early files series consists of correspondence, planning material, inventories, and reports in Series I document the creation and operation of the David Sarnoff Library prior to the appointment of Alex Magoun as Curator in 1998. The best coverage is from 1966 to 1972 period under Curator Cary J. King, Jr. and his secretary Dorothy Camfield.
The Executive Director Alexander Magoun papers document his leadership of the David Sarnoff Library as it broadened its mission from the life of David Sarnoff to the history of RCA in general and RCA Laboratories in particular. The records of the Board of Directors and annual reports provide an overview of Magoun’s goals and strategies for the Library, while files on events and grants show how these were applied.
This series is particularly valuable in shedding light on the challenges faced by an archive that was mostly underwritten by a for-profit company, but responsible to the general public.
The Oral histories series contains audio recordings and transcripts of oral history interviews with a variety of David Sarnoff Research Center employees. The three main sources of the oral histories are those conducted by Alex Magoun from 1998 to 2001, a group by the IEEE in 1975, and a 1994 series from Bob Johnstone used in writing his book We Were Burning.
The Photographs series of black and white photographs contains images from the David Sarnoff Library in Princeton, New Jersey. This includes images of the building exterior, library exhibits, and library visitors.
This collection contains material from the Manuscripts and Archives Department (M&A) and the Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department (AVD). Box prefixes indicate which department holds an individual file or item.
Negatives are housed in cold storage and must reacclimate prior to viewing (Box AVD-NG1). Please contact the Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department at least 48 hours in advance of research visit.
Records are subject to a 25-year time seal.
Language of Materials
In 2009, along with the rest of the archival collections of the David Sarnoff Library, the David Sarnoff Library records were donated to the Hagley Museum and Library.
Finding Aid & Administrative Information
- David Sarnoff Library records
- Daniel Michelson and Kenneth Cleary
- Description rules:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description:
- Script of description:
- The collection was processed with support from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant.