If the different libraries at UR were teenagers in high school, Rush Rhees Library would be the rich popular kid – people always flock to him and he owns most of the stuff people want and need. Carlson Science and Engineering Library would be the best friend – best with one-on-one contact and can handle a more serious relationship.
The Art and Music Library is the free spirit, art devotee, who constantly changes the color of his hair. And the Rare Books, Special Collections, Preservation Library is the quiet kid who is always obsessively collecting unique and obscure collectables – the Magic cardplayer who no one really knows, and does not think that they’ll like. But when they do get to know him, he turns out to be pretty amazing.
The Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation Library is not exactly well known on campus, and its existence is sometimes not even easily recognized.
“I’ve heard of the Rare Books Library,” senior Nathaniel Speer said. “But I’ve never needed anything from it. I know that they have rare books there.”
However, some students have taken advantage of the massive amount of resources available in the Rare Books Library.
“I have seen the photographs and documents of the old school,” junior Lauren Selby said. “It was really cool what the old university looked like.”
The Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation Library contains more than old, out-of-print books lying on dusty shelves.
“We have the papers of past presidents [of the university], many photographs and papers from both professors and students,” Digital and Visual Resources librarian Melissa Mead said.
Walking into the library, I was drawn into the different items on display. There were political cartoons from World War II hanging on the wall to my right, and then there were letters from soldiers and badges won in battle filling the glass cases located around the main room. Exhibits are a large part of how the library showcases its artifacts and those of other people.
“Exhibits are another part of our educational program,” modern English literature librarian Phyllis Andrews said. “They are meant to highlight some of the strengths of our collection and are meant to coincide with some of the academic calendar.”
The exhibits were fascinating to me, but perhaps I’m just too much of a museum buff.
Another exciting aspect is that students can create and curate their own exhibits of the Rare Book Library.
Past exhibits have included former UR President Thomas Jackson’s own photography, as well as that of a student who explored the life behind an unknown woman’s journal, eventually identifying her.
It doesn’t stop there. Not only does the Rare Books Library have interesting exhibits, but the artifacts in its possession are interesting as well.
The Rare Books Library has an amazing collection of Frederick Douglass’ documents, including a pass for the Underground Railroad – written to a family in Rochester by Douglass himself. The Rare Books Library also owns a copy of the original Pledge of Allegiance – handwritten by Francis Bellamy, an 1876 UR alumnus, before the words “under God” and “the United States of America” were added.
Some of the library’s items are more unusual, including the boot hooks of President Martin B. Anderson, or the leather jacket that author John Gardner wore the day he died.
Students are welcome to look at the artifacts and are even allowed to work with the Douglass papers and other original documents for class projects.
The Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation Library may be shy and easily overlooked, but if you take just a moment to get to know it, you’ll find a fascinating and fun place to explore, and don’t worry – he won’t make you play Magic with him.
Woo can be reached at email@example.com.