The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
Bob Dylan: Nobel Laureate
Many years ago, when I was the young Head of Library Acquisitions at the Minnesota Historical Society, an auditor walked into my office. He had been charged with making sure the Society was appropriately spending the State’s money. Perhaps frustrated by our squeaky clean finances, he was excited to find malfeasance. Waving a list of books the Library had purchased that year, he accused me of buying a book about Bob Dylan and his music for my personal use. Biting my tongue, I signaled him to follow me into the locked library stacks. We walked to a section overflowing with the great literary works of Minnesotans, the likes of O. E. Rolvaag, Sinclair Lewis (our other Nobel Laureate), Ann Chidester, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There among those giants were two shelves of books about Dylan, including the title in question. Deflated, the bean counter went away. I hoped he learned what we knew well, that Bob Dylan has had an unprecedented influence on our State’s culture and that his work was the unquestionable product of the unique environment that is Minnesota’s Iron Range. That it is the sacred duty of the Historical Society to document his Minnesota voice.
Occasionally, skeptical eyebrows have been raised not only by auditors but by my colleagues as well. When I came back from an Antiquarian Book Fair in New York with Dylan’s hand written lyrics for “Temporary Like Achilles,” I had to assure them, on my reputation, that $10,000 would seem like a bargain someday. Proof of its historic value came just last year. The manuscript spent a year on exhibit at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential library as an iconic representation of the 1960’s.
We continue looking for rare Dylan works to fill in our collection. Coincidentally, less than 12 hours before Dylan was announced as the 2016 Nobel Prize winner for Literature I bought a first edition of his “Poem to Joanie.” I swore to the rare book dealer that I had no advance knowledge of the coming announcement.
Over the nearly four decades of my tenure at the MNHS, the Society has done an excellent job documenting Dylan. We regularly, if quixotically, bid for Dylan material at auctions against better endowed institutions and fabulously well-heeled private collectors. While those efforts seldom work, a library search of Dylan’s name still turns up over 250 items. From his earliest recorded “party tape;” to his three interviews in Playboy Magazine; to the “bootlegged” edition of Tarantula (Hibbing: Wimp Press); to Denis Anderson’s unique Dylan research collection (compiled while he taught Dylan at a German University), the MNHS Collection is rich. If you want to learn or write about Bob Dylan, or if you want to understand why the Nobel Committee took the unprecedented step of awarding him the 2016 Prize for Literature, you’ll want to visit the MNHS Library.
Patrick Coleman, Acquisitions Librarian
- Bob Dylan in Gale Family Library Collection
- Minnesota Party Tape blog post
- Temporary Like Achilles blog post
- Tarantula blog post
If you are a fan of Minnesota music, make sure not to miss Heyday: 35 Years of Music in Minneapolis, coming out from the MNHS Press on November 1!