The world’s largest accounting library—right on your laptop

Faculty members and students have a “one-stop research source for accounting” in the AICPA Library at the University of Mississippi.

August 11, 2015

The AICPA Library at the University of Mississippi is an invaluable resource for faculty members and anyone interested in the history of accounting. The largest collection of accounting materials in the world, it contains more than 129,000 books, pamphlets, and other documents, many of which are available in digital form online. To let AICPA members know about what the library holds and how they can access its wealth of resources, we spoke with Dale Flesher, CPA, Ph.D., a professor of accountancy and associate dean at the School of Accountancy at the University of Mississippi.

EXTRA CREDIT: Tell us a little about the history of the library. What was involved in moving it?

DALE FLESHER: In 2000, the AICPA decided they were going out of the library business. So they offered to give their collections to a university, along with money for bookshelves and transportation. Basically, any school in the country with an accounting program could apply to house the collection. About 10 did apply. The AICPA narrowed the list down to five pretty quickly, then three. And we were one of the three that was invited to New York to make a proposal to the AICPA Foundation on what we would do and how much money we needed to accept the gift of the library.

In 2001, they brought the AICPA library to Oxford, Miss., in 5,000 boxes in 14 semi trucks. Already we were close to being the largest accounting library in the world. You add the AICPA materials, and that made us three times bigger than the second-largest accounting library in the world—which would be either the one at the University of Illinois or the Institute of Chartered Accountants in London, both with somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 volumes to our 129,000.

It took almost five years to get everything cataloged. We originally stored the materials in a local warehouse we rented, and then as they were processed, they were carried to the library and cataloged and put on the shelves.

What is in the collection of the AICPA Library?

Absolutely everything. We claim to have everything published on accounting in English in the 20th century, and many, many things published prior to the 20th century. We have everything from the state taxes of Maryland to The Singapore Accountant, The Indian Management Accountant, The Nigerian Accountant and anything published in the British Commonwealth. We do have a lot of publications in foreign languages as well, but we really brag about the English-language materials.

We even have the first book on accounting written in 1494 [Luca Pacioli’s Summa de Arithmetica]. People like to have their picture taken with it.

Some of the most asked-for items are exposure drafts of AICPA publications. The AICPA publishes audit guides and statements of position on accounting. A lot of times people want to know the thinking behind the final position, so they look for the exposure draft, or early draft, that was issued about a year before the final document.

Which holdings are available online?

We have started digitizing as much as we can. Anything that is out of copyright, we are trying to digitize and put on the internet to be available to anyone. Anything the AICPA has ever published, we have digitized. Also, Deloitte gave us a grant to digitize everything it and its predecessors had ever published.

How can professors access the library’s holdings? Do they have to travel to Ole Miss?

They can just go to our website. There is no password needed. Anyone can do it. AICPA members can also check out books. Since we are a service of the AICPA, anyone who is an AICPA member has the same rights to the library as an Ole Miss student.

We used to loan out a lot of books a lot, but now we mostly just digitize everything. If somebody calls and wants something, we can pretty much always digitize it. If they do want to check a book out, it will take about three or four days for them to get the book, and then they can keep it for about three weeks, or they can use the interlibrary loan service at their local library.

What are some ways faculty could use AICPA library materials in the classroom?

I see the digitized materials as being the most advantageous for faculty. Anything Deloitte or its predecessors have ever published is on there; anything the AICPA has published is on there. You or your students can basically do any research that involves an AICPA publication online. It’s the one-stop research source for accounting because it has the greatest breadth and most depth of any library.

You can also use the materials in the classroom, particularly if you’re accessing them online. I like to have students tour the library and do a project called a Serendipitous Discovery in the Ole Miss Library. The goal is to have them go in and see what kinds of things the library has to offer. Then I do a Serendipitous Discovery in the Deloitte section of the library. Anybody in the country could do that online.

Can you tell us about some interesting research projects scholars have done using the library’s holdings?

One student found a publication that was basically an operational audit of a county in Tennessee in the 1930s, and it was done by a volunteer group. The volunteers would go around to the various counties and cities and conduct audits.

This was very early on in the area of operational auditing. Most people would tell you that operational auditing didn’t start until 1945 with the GAO. Well, it was being done in Tennessee in the 1930s. The student ended up with a research paper on it and some publications out of it [see “Accounting and Accountability in Local Government: Contributions From Accounting History Research” in the August 2011 issue of Accounting History].

Alex Granados is a freelance writer based in Raleigh, N.C.