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Treasures of SU Library's special collections on display

May 13, 2010

Pamela Whiteley McLaughlin
(315) 443-9788

Syracuse University Library’s newest exhibition, “4,000 Years and Counting,” features treasures from the Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) that highlight the breadth of the library’s special collections—from second-century-B.C. cuneiform tablets to the papers of notable contemporary figures like Joyce Carol Oates.

The exhibition occupies the display case on the first floor of E.S. Bird Library and the gallery on the 6th floor, which is open from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. The exhibition will remain up until Aug. 31. 

The exhibition opens with the origins of special collections at SU: the 1887 purchase of the eminent German historian Leopold von Ranke’s library. In support of the acquisition, University Librarian C. W. Bennett made this assessment: “For this has always been my theory, that six thousand to ten thousand well-selected volumes are sufficient for the wants of the undergraduate, but to keep the professors from mental hunger and starvation, sources, authorities and books of a very different kind must be had in large numbers and in special collections.” 

Special collections was born of the Ranke library and matured in the 1960s under the leadership of Chancellor William Pearson Tolley (1901–96), a noted collector of rare books. Librarians solicited the personal papers of the best and brightest of the day, including pediatrician Benjamin Spock, architect Marcel Breuer, photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, Nobel Laureate Albert Schweitzer and Grove Press publisher Barney Rosset. The Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive, with its world-class collection of wax-cylinder recordings and state-of-the-art reformatting studio, was founded in 1963. These notable accomplishments gave rise to subject areas in which SU could claim to be among the best in the world, including architecture and design, popular culture, and the literary and artistic expression of radical ideology. This exhibition offers an introduction to these and other collecting areas. 

SCRC continues to build upon historical strengths while new areas of collecting have emerged; for example, the history of broadcasting. Increasingly, special collections include not just print and manuscript items, but a growing number of material-culture artifacts—from clay tablets to Tupperware—and a variety of media formats, such as Edison wax cylinders. SCRC’s mission is to collect and preserve the best of today for the researchers of tomorrow, and increasingly that means bits and bytes as well as paper and print. 

For more information about special collections at Syracuse University Library, contact, Sean Quimby, director of special collections, at smquimby@syr.edu.

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