Student Spotlight

Student Bibliophile Marries a Love of Science with History

James Tracy

James Tracy has won the UC San Diego Libraries' Annual Student Book Collecting Contest three years in a row, but he first stumbled onto the idea of entering by accident.

"I was on the Libraries' Web page and found a link to the competition," he recalled in an interview. "It said 'Got Books?' and I thought yes, I've got books."

The problem was that the deadline was the next day. He quickly wrote the required essay and put together a bibliography titled Darwinism, Evolution, and Religion. He followed that in 2009 with The Great Monkey Trial, and the winning 2010 collection was Charles Darwin: A History of Biography and Interpretation. Contest rules allow for repeating books in different years, but Tracy never has.

Now 28 and a graduate student in Science Studies, Tracy collected toy cars and trading cards as a child. His interest in the creationism-evolution debate was piqued at a UC Irvine debate, and that fueled his interest in the course of study he is now pursuing, as well as in reading everything he could find on the subject.

"I was looking for older works related to Darwinism and religion and that relationship, and I found some on eBay," he said. "It became a mild obsession. It was really cool to hold those old 19th-century books and read them."

Tracy's library currently contains more than 600 books – 100 to 150 vintage works from the 19th and early 20th centuries and the others more contemporary.

"The pleasure is in owning something old and being able to preserve it – the physicality of the book, its construction," he said, "but there's also the pleasure of finding it, discovering works I didn't know existed by following trails. A lot of it is in the chase for me. I love hunting down all these pieces."

Unbeknownst to Tracy, his father, a semi-retired investment banker living in Encinitas, had begun collecting books about the history of the stock market at the same time, and the two went to the antiquarian book fair in Los Angeles together earlier this year.

"Dad uses a book broker because he deals in more expensive books," Tracy said, "but on the budget of a grad student, I look for deals and buy online."

One of his acquisitions was a 15-volume set of Darwin's works. A John Scopes memoir signed by the co-author is a treasured gift from his father. His collection contains most of what has been written about Darwin, and he is fascinated by how people's perceptions of the man have changed over the last 100 years.

"Just after his death people wrote hagiographies – reverential biographies," he said, "but more recent scholarship shies completely away from that and looks at the guy's flaws and his social life."

Tracy's undergraduate major was computer science. He built his own computer and wrote the software for it, and he also designs and builds Web sites. His other passion is swimming. Most of the reading he does now involves textbooks and science magazines. His all-time favorite book, however, is The Demon-Haunted World by Carl Sagan.

"It opened up the world of science to me," he said.

New Mobile Site Offers Quick, Easy Access to Libraries

The UC San Diego Libraries launched a new mobile Web site this fall, to meet the needs of the growing number of mobile device users on and off campus. The site, which can be accessed at:, provides quick mobile access to essential library information, including UC and UCSD catalogs, research tools, contacts, maps, and hours. Users can also text, chat, or call library staff right from their phone using the Ask a Librarian service. With the catalogs, users can search for, find, and reserve library items.

The Libraries are among the first UC Libraries – and only a small percentage of academic libraries in the U.S. – to launch a platform for users of mobile devices. The Libraries plan to add more services and tools to its mobile platform over the next several months.

Exhibits & Events

Oct. 13 - Jan. 28, 2011

Exhibit: UCSD @ 50: A Marvel Inside a Miracle Main Floor, Geisel Library

For more information, call (858) 534-2533.

Nov. 1 - Dec. 3, 2010

Celebrating UCSD's Nobel Prize Winners

An exhibit of photographs and personal & professional papers of UCSD Nobel Prize winners Harold Urey, Francis Crick, and Maria Goeppert-Mayer, among others.

For more information, call (858) 534-4579.

Nov.18, 2010

"Founding the Future: Health Sciences' Legacy of Excellence"

In celebration of UC San Diego's 50th anniversary, the Biomedical Library and Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences are hosting a Founders' Day seminar.

For more information, call (858) 534-3418.

Nov. 24, 2010

Annual Live Turkey Calling Show

For more information call the Arts Library at (858) 534-0245.

Dec.15, 2010

Annual Holiday Short Attention Span Show

For more information call the Arts Library at (858) 534-0245.

Feb. 1 - Mar. 30, 2011

Achieving the Extraordinary: 50 Years of Discovery and Innovation at UCSD

An exhibit of selected UCSD inventions and other intellectual property in partnership with the UCSD Technology Transfer Office.

For more information, call (858) 534-4579.

Jan. 7 – April 1, 2011

Exhibit: "Ansel Adams at UCSD"

For more information, call (858) 534-2533.

Domain Editors

  • Dolores Davies
  • Glenda Winders

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