Living with his 35,000 books

Tom Johnson, 83, lives in the museum that is his home. In his own non-digital way, he curates his family’s legacy, the estimated 35,000 books and manuscripts that share his 113-year-old meandering and musty house on the Osage River.

Johnson has built wooden corridors that link the family three-story home to the family library, built in 1899 by his grandfather for a collection of 8,000 books, and another that connects the house to the annex library, built in 1990 when the library overflowed. Grandfather Thomas Moore Johnson (1851-1919) was known as the sage of the Osage.

With his knit cap and Scotch-taped glasses, it is hard at times not to think of Tom Johnson as a living exhibit from a time when the printed word shook the world like the digital word shakes it today.

The Johnson Library and Museum became a non-profit in 1990. Its board of directors includes David Richards, an associate professor at Missouri State University who oversees the school’s special collections and archives — via

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