Michigan State University

Turfgrass Collection Development Statement

Turfgrass Collection Development Statement

Supporting the Worldwide Study of Turfgrass

The Michigan State University Libraries houses the world's largest and most comprehensive publicly-available collection of turfgrass research and educational materials. The MSU Libraries is also home to the Turfgrass Information Center, a specialized unit that oversees construction and maintenance of the Turfgrass Information File database (TGIF), the only bibliographic database dedicated to the study of turfgrass.

The MSU Libraries is both the repository of and index to the worldwide turfgrass literature, broadly defined. As such, the primary aims of the collection are to preserve important historical works on grasses, especially those grown and maintained for amenity and utility purposes, in order to document the history of humankind's relationship with these species, and to make available relevant contemporary works in turfgrass science and related fields that may be of use to researchers, students, or turf professionals around the world.

The turfgrass collection includes materials on all aspects of current and historical turfgrass science, culture, and management. Areas of special focus include turf diseases, pests, and weeds, and the design and upkeep of turfgrass-based facilities, such as golf courses, parks, sports fields, lawns, sod farms, roadsides, institutional grounds, and other managed landscapes.

Curricular and Research Needs

The collections also support the curricular and research needs of faculty, staff, and students, primarily in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), AgBioResearch (formerly the Michigan Agricultural Experiment Station) and MSU Extension. Most impacted are the following CANR departments: Crop and Soil Sciences, Horticulture, Plant Pathology, Landscape Architecture, and Entomology, as well as the Institute of Agricultural Technology.

Crop and Soil Sciences offers a 2-year certificate program as well as B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Entomology also offers B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees, and Plant Pathology offers both M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Through the School of Planning, Design and Construction, Landscape Architecture offers B.S. and M.S. degrees.

Certificate programs in Golf Turf Management, Sports and Commercial Turf Management, and Landscape Management are offered by the Institute of Agricultural Technology.

In addition, several virtual courses are being offered in turf. In fact, the first MSU degrees awarded outside the country (in Beijing) were turfgrass degrees as a part of the 5-year American Sino Turfgrass Education Program.

MSU’s turfgrass programs are routinely ranked in the top tier in the world.

History of the Collection/ Existing Strengths and Emphases

Due to the fundamental role of Agriculture within the evolution of the University, the foundational collecting in support of turf science programs began as a part of that effort. 

Beginning in the early 1960s, however, the MSU Libraries began more focused collecting within the turfgrass arena, primarily at the behest of Dr. James B Beard, a young member of the (then) Farm Crops faculty just beginning to establish a systematic research, teaching, and extension program in turf science at MSU. Dr. Beard’s bibliographic bent also resulted in substantial gift acquisitions which continued throughout his tenure at MSU, until 1975.

In 1968, the O.J. Noer Memorial Turfgrass Collection was established. During his career, renowned agronomist and turf expert O.J. Noer accumulated books, journals, and conference proceedings related to the science, culture, and maintenance of turfgrass. Upon his death, this legacy fell in turn to Charles Wilson and the O.J. Noer Research Foundation, which was formed to honor his name in support of turfgrass research and education. It was soon voted to place this valuable collection into the hands of an accredited institution of higher learning so it would be universally available to turfgrass students. MSU was selected at the urging of Dr. Beard, then of the Dept. of Crop and Soil Science, and Dr. Richard E. Chapin, then Director of Libraries — after the University of Wisconsin Libraries had declined the offer because of a lack of concurrent financial support for ‘processing’ the donation.

Other private contributions to build the Noer Collection included materials from Dr. James Watson, Mr. Thomas Mascaro, Dr. John Gallager and Dr. Beard himself. Valuable books and publications were solicited by Charles G. Wilson and James Latham on the behalf of the O.J. Noer Foundation. After the initial donation push, the O.J. Noer Foundation supported the purchase of historic items not yet owned through an annual subvention on a reimbursement basis, which continued until this arrangement was converted, around 2000, to an ongoing pledge to the TIC Endowment. This is one of, if not the, longest ongoing external financial support contribution(s) made to the MSU Libraries by any organization or supporter.

The Noer Collection materials were primarily intended as a ‘use collection,’ and thus available for checkout and interlibrary loan. While this did maximize use and accessibility, it also resulted in some collection degradation and some outright loss. Unfortunately, there is no surviving record that we have been able to locate or identify of the Noer Collection titles originally donated to MSU, other than those as noted in the work directly below.

In 1973, the Libraries published The O. J. Noer Memorial Turfgrass Collection: A Bibliography (https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat09242a&AN=msuc.b17295257), a 20 page booklet which outlined the extent of the collection, and indeed a short-form of the perceived literature ‘of turfgrass science,’ via a classified approach, including:

  • Turfgrass Conference Proceedings
  • Scientific and Technical Periodicals
  • Turfgrass and Lawn Books

The introductory cover letters provide the earliest extant documentation regarding the mission, objectives, and methods of the Noer Collection, including the following statement:

“It is the goal of those who have been involved in establishing the O. J. Noer Memorial Turfgrass Collection that it become the primary depository for both the historical and current turfgrass literature where scholars, students, and interested individuals from throughout the world can look to in obtaining the published information available concerning turfgrass science, culture, and management” (Beard, p.[ii]).

Beard later published, via the MSU Press, his landmark Turfgrass Bibliography: From 1672 to 1972, which for the first time defined the full extent of the literature (https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat09242a&AN=msuc.b15945674). Based largely on the Noer Collection holdings, it importantly notes:

“A significant portion of this turfgrass literature appears in obscure state and regional turfgrass publications that are not included in such standard reference sources as Biological Abstracts, Herbage Abstracts, Agricultural Index, Horticultural Abstracts, Bioresearch Index, and Crop Science Abstracts” (Beard, Beard, and Martin, 1977, p. v).

After Beard’s departure from MSU in 1975, the focus on continued aggressive collection development fell off significantly, and aside from the mainstream literature, Noer Foundation historic item purchases, and occasional donations, there was limited acquisition activity. Most acquired historic works using the Noer monies during this period related to grass husbandry within its broader agricultural context, and most were destined for Special Collections.

That abruptly changed in 1983/1984, when the Turfgrass Information Center was created, primarily to begin the process of constructing the Turfgrass Information File (TGIF) database. Funded in part (about 50%) by soft monies through the United States Golf Association (USGA) Green Section Turfgrass Research Program, TGIF was intended to index and abstract the turfgrass literature and produce an online database serving the research community, with an emphasis on the ‘grey’ or ‘fugitive’ literature, as noted earlier by Beard. It was an unusual enterprise: a user community partnering with an academic institution to pursue bibliographic control of its own literature — based, of course, on what was already recognized as the strongest public turfgrass collection in the world, the Noer Collection. The original USGA/MSU agreement specified that one of MSU’s contributions to the project would include continuing to build the collections, including acquisitions, to include “all” materials. Thus staffing was dedicated for the first time to focusing solely on turfgrass materials, including the construction, and later, hosting, of the online dataset — as well as continuing collection development work.

Very early on, then, the Noer Collection became synonymous with the entirety of MSU’s turfgrass holdings, regardless of origin or acquisition path. It includes, without distinction (other than via bookplates), original Noer donations, subsequent donations (other than the Beard Collection, noted below), and purchases.

Donations, both serial and monographic, became (and continue to be) an important collection development strategy. Major donations have included materials from the USGA Green Section, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), Dr. William Daniel, Dr. Kenyon T. Payne, Dr. James Beard, Mr. Fred Opperman, Dr. Paul Rieke, the family of Dr. Kent Kurtz, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sanitary District (MMSD), Dr. John Hall III, the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program (NTEP), the Scotts Corporation, Mr. Stanley Zontek, Mr. Jerry Matthews, the family of Dr. Fred Grau, Professor Warren Rauhe, the family of Dr. James Watson, Dr. Victor A. Gibeault, and Dr. Stephen T. Cockerham — as well as hundreds of smaller, and in some cases, ongoing, donations.

In 2003, the second named turf-related collection at the MSU Libraries was created when the James B Beard Turfgrass Library Collection was dedicated within the Turfgrass Information Center. This non-circulating reference collection continued to grow over the years through smaller donations of materials, including additional donations from the Beards themselves, as well as targeted purchases.

After James Beard’s passing in 2018, a substantial portion of his remaining monographs, serials, and personal papers came to the MSU Libraries, completing the original Beard donation of 15 years prior.

As a part of the Beard Collection, vertical file structures within the Turfgrass Information Center also house a wide range of materials, including:

  • Unbound (and some uncataloged) partial-run serials
  • Separates, reprints, and loose items (Vertical Sequential File)
  • Organizational materials
  • Commercial materials
  • Golf course yardage guides and scorecards
  • Multimedia (both cataloged and uncataloged)
  • Materials related to people within turfgrass
  • Blueprints and flat files

Other informal vertical file systems hold materials awaiting disposition and further processing. Additionally, since 2014, efforts have been ongoing to digitize much of this vertical file material, as well as to capture born-digital turfgrass content.

While we cannot define precisely the exact relative strength of the MSU Libraries’ overall turfgrass holdings, we believe that we can say with some confidence that it is at least an order of magnitude greater in size than the next strongest publicly-available collection. Functionally, the Collections are the public collection-of-record archive for turfgrass science, the practice of turfgrass management, and the broader turfgrass industry. Other noteworthy collections are located at Penn State University, the National Agricultural Library, the United States Golf Association, and at the LA 84 Foundation Sports Library. Overall, even most other land-grant institutions have relatively weak turf collections, aside from mainstream refereed journals and offerings from major publishers (e.g. Wiley).

In addition, the Libraries’ aggressive efforts at digitizing turfgrass materials have created the largest single electronic repository of turf materials in the world. The material is heavily utilized online, particularly when it overlaps with other disciplines and interests, such as sports and local history.

It is also important to note that the Turfgrass Information Center Endowment is currently the largest single endowment within the MSU Libraries portfolio (see: https://tic.msu.edu/endowment). Development work, whether through gifts-in-kind or otherwise, is an important task in the ongoing efforts to grow the physical and digital collections, as well as the database.