Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Archival Adventures (Let's Explore!)

In Garth Nix’s novel Lirael, archives and libraries hold special powers. They are dangerous, alluring places filled with ancient books seething with written magic, where the librarians equip themselves with swords and the knowledge that they might not come back if they wander into the wrong section. Behind every door, ancient secrets come to life from ink and paper and there’s no turning back once you look in.

It’s a good thing that those libraries are fiction (imagine the insurance bills!), but Nix’s imaginings do hold a bit of truth. If knowledge is power, then libraries and archives are weapons of mass construction. Don’t worry, in Special Collections, enchanted creatures don’t come springing out of our shelves and you won’t need a sword to peruse the archives. However, there’s something magical about exploring archives. Time seems to disappear and your research pile mysteriously grows taller. You find connections in history between people, places, and things you had no idea about when you started. The most important thing, though, is that you come away with a broader perspective, more understanding about what you're researching, and a greater desire to explore and learn.

On that note, with the start of the fall 2012 semester and the Pattee/Paterno Library Open House, I'd like to take you for a backstage tour of some things you don't get to see when you visit Special Collections. Unfortunately, while we can’t show you everything here on the blog, I thought I might unveil some of the mystery of where exactly we get all that stuff we bring out to you in the Reading Room. 

When you first walk in, you get a nice sample of some of the rare books, manuscripts, and items we keep here at Special Collections. The exhibits do change, so check back frequently to see the newest offering!

On display until September 24th is "The Land Grant Act at 150: Promoting Liberal and Practical Education at Penn State"

See the doors at the very back? This is our Reading Room. Come on in...just make sure to check in at the desk--out of frame on the right--first! If you're not quite sure of the procedure, please either visit our home page or read our Special Collections tutorial (#8 on the list is a walk-through of the Reading Room with pictures). Now to the part you don't normally get to see!

Behind the doors in the Reading Room, we've got offices, the processing area, and other things needed to keep Special Collections serving you and functioning day to day. Nothing too fancy, and nothing really too interesting for anyone who isn't working here. The really cool part, the heart of Special Collections, is one floor down...

This isn't even all of them.

Each of those shelves moves with the push of a button for even more storage space and accessibility. Just think, try to imagine for a moment, how much we have down here based on this one picture alone...now double it. Quadruple that and you might get a decent estimate near what we have in the main storage, cold storage, the Annexes, and our other storage rooms for Fred Waring's America and Blockson combined. I know I'm getting excited here, so bear with me, but the knowledge held in this picture is priceless. It would also take many, many years and lots of people to go through and harvest that knowledge completely, because we're still getting boxes of new material pretty much every day

Boxes upon boxes upon boxes. What will you find?

If you're an academic explorer, this place is the treasure vault that never runs dry.

Finally, I've gotten to the books. But we all know we had those down here!

Just for the heck of it, I also took a picture of one of our intern's pamphlet folder work since she so neatly laid them out to dry. These will be used to help preserve our more delicate pamphlets.

I've been working here nearly two years, gone through multiple tours during my time as a student, and I still get all excited just looking at the pictures. Actually getting to go down into the heart of Special Collections is a trial in maintaining my composure (aka not getting distracted or sidetracked). If you're like me, hunting for one book means you don't come back with it, but you do come back with 10 other books nowhere near the same subject as the original prey. I may not be in Nix's universe, but libraries and archives are still an exciting promise of adventure, learning, and mystery...just without all the physical danger.

So, if you like exploring history and want to find out more about Special Collections, come visit us during our Open House (September 12th/13th, 2012)! We look forward to seeing you there and continuing to help you research in the future. Otherwise, keep tuned for more archive adventures...I'll try to get some good stories, focus on interesting collections or specific items, and continue my search for intrigues and oddities!


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