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Ken Dorn's Place

College’s historic collection got help, name from FMCC custodian

June 21, 2009
By SHAWN M. TOMLINSON, The Leader-Herald

Everybody remembers the books and the man who sold them.

Ask an antiquarian book dealer about Ken Dorn and chances are, a big smile will appear.

He had his own antiquarian book store in his house for 58 years on Walnut Avenue in Johnstown.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Shawn M. Tomlinson
Curator Peter Betz and Evans Library Director Mary Donohue look through some of the items gathered over the years in the Kenneth R. Dorn Regional History Collection at Fulton-Montgomery Community College Wednesday.

He worked at Fulton-Montgomery Community College since the 1960s as a custodian.

When the college got a $500 grant from the Board of Cooperative Educational Services to start a reference room for history, librarian Peter Betz turned to Dorn to get the whole thing started.

"He was here before I came on in 1968," Betz said Wednesday.

Betz, now professor emeritus at FMCC, is curator of the Kenneth R. Dorn Regional History Collection. The collection is housed in the Evans Library at FMCC in Johnstown.

"I used his expertise" to collect the books, Betz said. "I learned a lot from him. I often took his advice when I looked into buying books."

Betz said most of the early collection came from the knowledge of Dorn.

"'Why are we buying these books?' was what he helped us answer," Betz said.

For example, Betz said, the collection includes a commemorative book about the famous Johnstown, Pa., Flood in 1889.

"This is where Ken's expertise came into play," Betz said. "Why would we have a book on the Johnstown, Pa., flood? Well, because in the last edition of the book is a small bit at the end about our own Johnstown flood."

Mary Donohue, the director of the Evans Library, said when she first arrived at the facility, the historic books were "down behind the desk. That was the Dorn Collection," she said.

The collection moved from there to some upright locked cabinets on the second floor of the library before it moved into its own room in 2000.

The room doesn't just hold general history books, but focuses on local-interest topics such as the collected writings of Sir William Johnson, a new book by David Nestle about the history of the Fonda, Johnstown & Gloversville Railroad and many other works.

"It's not just old books," Betz said. "We also collect works of modern scholarship about the history of the region. We are continually looking for and purchasing new books."

Betz, who serves as Fulton County historian along with his duties as curator, only comes into the collection room by appointment.

Donohue said some items from the collection can be loaned and the catalog of the collection is online at the college's Web site. /library/ Regional _History. Other items, of course, are irreplaceable, Betz said, and can't be loaned out

The Ken Dorn collection opened its doors at the library May 5, 2000 with a celebration.

Aside from books that include local authors Robert W. Chambers and Harvey Chalmers, Betz also makes an effort to collect college theses and other research materials related to local history.

For example, fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote her thesis about Chambers in 1974. The very rare chapbook, called "The Necessity for Beauty" is housed in the collection.

Dorn retired in 1980 from FMCC, but continued his love for books in his own business and for the college. He died in 1998.

The Kenneth R. Dorn Regional History Collection is open by appointment by calling the Evans Library at 762-4651, Ext. 5610.



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