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ABC History: Library Formed from 30-Year Collection.
The following is the last of a five-part series profiling ABC, its people, and its history.

When the American Botanical Council moved into its new home at the historic Case Mill Homestead in Austin, it also moved closer to its vision for the future: to become a research resource that the public, industry, academia, and healthcare practitioners would be able to access for information on medicinal plants. While ABC fulfills many needs for education through HerbalGram as well as the HerbClip educational service, the many presentations that Mark Blumenthal and other staff members make through the course of a given year, assistance to numerous media queries on a daily basis, and contributions to the literature on herbal medicines, ABC envisions still more that needs to be done.

For example, over the past three decades, Mark and ABC have acquired an extensive private collection of books, monographs, special publications and journals, some of which are quite rare and out of print. These resources continue to grow into a library that ABC intends to make available to the public. Two volunteers have undertaken the task of organizing this collection of print, audio-visual, and electronic resources into a functional library: Shirley Beckwith, who recently received her master's degree in Library and Information Science from The University of Texas at Austin, and Cathy Pedraza, who is in her first year of that same program. "I love doing this work," Shirley says. "It's a librarian's dream to start from scratch, to organize a collection and make it useful." Cathy is enthusiastic. "Now I see how a library is put together from the ground up, and can put the theoretical material that I learn in school to practical use."

They both share ABC's vision of developing an eclectic collection with special emphases on Southwest traditional medicines, Native American traditional healing, Eclectic medicine of the late 1800s and early 1900s, rainforest and Amazonian plants, Asian traditional medicine, economic botany, phytotherapy, nutraceuticals and natural foods, alternative therapies, history of medicine, and related topics. A special environmentally controlled rare book room is being planned. In the meantime, Shirley and Cathy are organizing print resources, modifying the Library of Congress classification system to create call numbers to create an on-site database. This vision also includes a new building to house the library, a multi-purpose meeting room, and additional offices, and is the focus of ABC's current capital campaign.

Already, the proposed library has won major support from Dick Marconi, president of Global Health Sciences, Inc. ABC's Chief Administrative Officer, Wayne Silverman, devotes energy to finding additional support for this project through foundations, individuals, and other sources, showing how it will benefit the future of the herbal movement by growing ABC's resources and ability to educate the public, government, and industry about medicinal herbs. Once that building is constructed, ABC will then expand its medicinal botanical theme gardens on the grounds of the Case Mill Homestead. Already a dozen gardens have been designed and installed, with such themes as antioxidants, women's and men's health, Southwestern plants, medieval medicinals, medicinal lilies, fragrance specimens, purifying and protecting herbs, shade-loving herbs, herbs that affect the nervous system, a children's garden, a rose garden, and ethnic culinary gardens with herbs commonly grown for Mexican, French, It alian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Southeast Asian cultural use.

Future gardens include Chinese and native Texas medicinal plants, plants that affect human body systems, and a large terraced garden with sacred plants, Ayurvedic medicinal plants, Andean varieties, Highland, and South African herbs.

Many of these gardens were designed by renowned horticulturist Gabriel Howearth Landeros. Others were submitted to ABC during the 1998 garden design contest. ABC's resident gardeners, Lisa LaRousse and Rachel Hagan, tenderly oversee the gardens' care and progress.

Lisa brought a lifetime of gardening experience to ABC in February 1997. "The best part about working at ABC," she says, "are the people that I work with, and the fact that I'm learning all the time, building on what I already know. I believe we're accomplishing something important here." Rachel joined ABC in the spring of 1999, with a fresh bachelor's degree in horticulture from Texas A&M University, just in time to help install many of the new gardens. "I was very lucky to come to work here at ABC with plants. I am interested in our commitment to organic methods. I'm always learning more about plant history and uses."

Article copyright American Botanical Council.


By Karen Robin