The Penn Libraries will celebrate the official naming of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, the final capstone in its $17 million capital campaign to renovate the 5th and 6th floors of the Van Pelt – Dietrich Library Center.
The new, 27,000 s/f space is named for Jay I. Kislak and his family. Kislak is an avid collector of books and artifacts and a longtime supporter of the University.
A graduate of the Wharton School in 1943, he is the first of three generations of his family to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania. Younger generations include his son Philip T. Kislak, who graduated in 1970, and his granddaughter Elizabeth Kislak, who also graduated from the Wharton School in 2010.
“Preserving cultural history and making materials from the past available to researchers has always been my passion,” said Kislak. “Through the renovation of this space, the Penn Libraries have shown their commitment and leadership in the field, particularly in the digital humanities. My family and I could not be more pleased to support their endeavors.”
Kislak, a native of New Jersey, served as a navy pilot in the Second World War upon graduating from the Wharton School. In the 1950s, he moved to Florida and expanded his family’s business into a privately held real estate and financial services empire.
His passion for rare books, manuscripts and historical artifacts began early. Starting first with books, he began to focus his collecting interests on Florida and the Americas, later turning to art and artifacts. Collaborating with his wife, Jean, he assembled widely diverse collections encompassing many interest areas, including a major focus on polar exploration and early globalization.
In 2004, more than 3,000 books and other objects from their collection became a gift to the nation, now known as the Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
Kislak has made his collections available for research through his family collections, through the Jay I. Kislak Foundation and gallery, and through the donation to the Library of Congress. In recognition of his efforts to preserve cultural heritage, he was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee from 2003 through 2008 and, in 2013, received the Encomienda of the Order of Merit Civil from the King of Spain.
The $5.5 million Kislak gift to the Penn Libraries represents the largest cash contribution from an individual donor.