KISSIMMEE, FLA. -- Scholars talk about pure research, but how pure can research be when you're standing elbow-to-elbow in the stacks with someone clad only in contact lenses?

That particular delight -- or hazard -- of intellectual life occurs at the American Nudist Research Library, on the grounds of Cypress Cove Nudist Resort in Osceola County.

Don't ask for an encyclopedia or "Great Expectations" at this library. There's no rack with Redbook or Field & Stream.

"We have nothing but nudism here," explained library president Eileen Farrell, 60 years old, 33 years a nudist. "That's our whole collection."

Farrell and others at the library claim no other public institution in the world has so much nudist literature. The collection includes scores of books on nudism and thousands of nudist magazines, as well as nudist videos, oral histories with members of the American Sunbathing Association's Nudist Hall of Fame, and a copy of "Barely Proper," a rare one-act nudist play.

This is the place for information on Kurt Barthel, father of America's nudist movement. His American League for Physical Culture (founded in 1929) is liberally documented in words and photographs.

Here too is the Donald Johnson archive. The world knew Johnson as John Ball, author of "In the Heat of the Night" and other novels. A practicing nudist, he also wrote nonfiction books about nudism.

"For the books about nudism, the publisher made him write under a different name, Donald Johnson," said Tom Farrell, Eileen's husband and the library coordinator.

Ball's widow donated his large collection of nudist literature to the library. The Farrells consider it fitting that America's greatest nudist writer is so well represented in the American Nudist Research Library.

Volunteers from Cypress Cove run the library. Nowhere is the stereotype of the flour-skinned, bunned-hair, starch-dressed librarian more consistently contradicted.

Although they have staff T-shirts, sometimes the librarians show up for work nude. Such was the case one day earlier this month with Richard Carrico, the spectacularly tanned supervisor of the video collection.

"We get quite a few calls for information here," Carrico said, spreading a towel over the hard plastic chair he was about to sit on. "I got one a week ago Monday. A guy called, said he'd just moved to Las Vegas. He wanted to know where the nearest nudist club was. So I looked it up for him."

Jeannette and Read Schuster, nudist schoolteachers and writers who live in De Soto, Tex., established the American Nudist Research Library in 1979. They had started collecting nudist literature in California in the 1960s and stepped up the pace in the late '70s, after Jeannette Schuster retired.

"I became very concerned because nobody was keeping any records of anything," she said. "We started to collect magazines, we drove all over {to nudist camps} asking for material and we took our tape recorder along for interviews with important people in nudism."

By 1979 they had 75 boxes of material. Jim Hadley, owner of Cypress Cove, offered space for a library.

"I saw it as a very important thing," Hadley said. "There was no central place that had the history of this social movement."

The Schusters and other interested nudists established the library as a nonprofit corporation. At first the material was displayed in a back room of the resort's dining hall. By 1983 Hadley had built a small library building in the same cedar-front style of many other Cypress Cove buildings.

The library has its own board of directors and its own dues-paying support organization (276 members). It's open every afternoon a volunteer staffer is available. That's nearly every afternoon in the cool months, but not as often the rest of the year. The Cypress Cove live-in population (there are 300 residences) falls off in summer, so volunteers are difficult to find.

Cypress Cove members are welcome whenever the library is open. Outsiders have to make an appointment so that the guard at the resort's front gate will know to admit them. They can wear clothes or go nude. Either way, they're encouraged to be efficient and focused in their research.

No walking the grounds for inspiration.

"They come right here to the library, and when they're through they have to go right back out," Eileen Farrell said.

Perhaps the main source used by researchers and more casual patrons is the magazine collection. The magazines, with such titles as the Nudist, Nude Living, Elysium Journal, Sunshine & Health, Paradise, Sundial and Jaybird Journal, are very much a part of nudist history.

Before the Playboy era, nudist magazines were bought not only by nudists but also by others who wanted to look at pictures of naked people. Newsstand sales outdistanced subscriptions by practicing nudists.

The magazine publishers had periodic battles with postal authorities, who refused to deliver material they considered obscene. For a time, Sunshine & Health actually published two separate editions: one with genitals exposed, for the newsstands, and one with genitals covered, for the mail.

The library's collection documents all of this. It includes many magazines from the 1960s, when nudist publishers became especially graphic and even titillating to compete with the commercial skin magazines.

The nudist library is a reference library. Material can't be checked out. Patrons use a library VCR for viewing videos.

Carrico said the most asked-for of the library's 50 videos is a 1987 "Donahue" show in which nudism was debated. A Cypress Cove resident appeared on the show to take the pro-nudism position.

"She did quite well," Carrico said, adding that the video collection also includes Geraldo Rivera, Oprah Winfrey and Sally Jessy Raphael programs on nudism.

The library averages almost 1,900 visitors a year. Eileen Farrell said she has had as many as 20 patrons in the library at one time. On one Open House Day, when outsiders were invited to Cypress Cove to see what a nudist resort is like, she had a line of 80 people waiting to enter.

The nudist librarians agreed that mainstream libraries would have trouble putting nudist material on the shelves. Besides the threat of community criticism, there likely would be theft and vandalism.

Theft and defacement pose no great problem at the American Nudist Research Library. Where the librarians are naked, nude pictures don't seem all that big a deal.