The Booth Family Center for Special Collections on the fifth floor of Lauinger Library reopened Wednesday after nearly a year of renovations, which transformed part of the floor into a 9,200-square foot exhibition room with $150 million worth of books, manuscripts and art pieces.
According to Director of the Center for Special Collections John Buchtel, these renovation efforts will grant students larger access to the university’s special collections.
“One thing we are trying to do with this renovation is to make it more welcoming, open and visible, to put these exhibition cases that are secure, climate-controlled and appropriate for collections in locations where students can actually see what the treasures of our university are,” Buchtel said.
The renovations, which began last April, cost a total of $5 million, and were largely funded by a $3 million donation from the Booth family. The other $2 million consists of a $1 million donation from Barbara Ellis Jones (CAS ’74), a $500,000 donation from the Lauinger family and additional donations from many library contributors. The center now holds a collection of over 100,000 rare books, 750 distinct manuscript collections, 7,700 linear feet of university archives material, 50,000 to 60,000 linear feet of fine art prints and other art objects. These collections are estimated to worth over $150 million.
The center is currently displaying “Treasures Since 2000,” its first exhibition since the renovation, which features artifacts from the units of manuscripts collection, rare books collection, university archives and university art collection. Items on display include the first bible printed in America, Abraham Lincoln’s letter to General McClellan and the first poem published by William Wordsworth, which was a recent donation from professor Paul Betz. Exhibits in the center will change frequently.
The renovated center also added new spaces within its glass walls including a reception area, reading room, processing room, digital workroom and a classroom that can be reserved for class research sessions with the special collections.
Buchtel said that the classroom is now ready to serve more student researchers.
“In the five-year period prior to the renovation, we had 49 different faculties from 17 different departments and programs bringing their students in, hundreds of students,” Buchtel said. “We are going to do a lot more than that now. … We can almost hit that by a year-to-year basis. There are so many Georgetown classes that can make use of this.”
According to University Librarian Artemis Kirk, the center has aimed to collect rare items that can enrich learning experiences on campus.
“From time to time, if there are materials that are considered medium rare, we will think about whether we should put them into a special collection studies not just for Georgetown but also for future scholarship. That’s a combination for special collection and developing and managing our circulation collection,” Kirk said.
Meanwhile, the special collection’s online University Archive Unit, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary in 2016, preserves artifacts both ancient and modern. The archives even have historically documented tweets welcoming Georgetown’s new bulldog mascot from 2013 with the hashtag #WelcomeJJ.
“We are not doing our complete duty if we are not capturing the university history by any form in which it comes,” Kirk said. “We are doing both … old and new and looking into the future. Part of the special collection is meant to record, capture and preserve the history of this institution.”
The library has also worked to digitize many of the manuscripts and books featured in the collection, but Kirk said that physical experience with texts in the special collections space is an unmatched experience.
“When you can digitize materials, especially books and prints, you can give people access to what we have,” Kirk said. “You could find a reading copy of a lot of things and you would understand a novel by reading it by yourself. But if you actually see the handwritten manuscripts, you would get a different sense of what it is that the author is conveying.”
Besides research areas, the center also enhanced its collection storage area with separate climate-control and fire suppression systems.
“[The] special collection has a dual mission. We are here to promote history, but we are also here to preserve it,” Buchtel said. “So one of the most important features of the renovation was to upgrade our [Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system] so that we have proper environmental conditions for our collections.”
The special collections are open to all students for both independent study and coursework. Buchtel encouraged interested students to look up materials on the library website and set up an appointment with librarians beforehand, as some of the materials are off-site.
“We can help with what it is that students are trying to find and we are very, very happy to do so,” Buchtel said. “Any students can come in and use the collections, for independent studies or regular classwork.”
Buchtel said that students from all majors would be able to appreciate the center’s initiative in restoring documents from the past.
“It enriches all of us to have a sense of history,” Buchtel said. “Even if you are studying micro-biology or foreign affairs and not doing a degree in history, it matters that you have a sense of where you come from and where the culture has come from. Part of what we are here for is to foster that.”
Jessica Hickle (SFS ’18), who is currently researching Berlin during World War I, said that she was excited to access the rare material.
“It’s a really awesome opportunity for students to have access to such rare materials that brought such incredible insight into the history of the school and the more general history,” Hickle said.
Hickle also took interest in a scorebook for Georgetown’s club baseball team from 1869 to 1873 in the University Archive section of the inaugural exhibition.
“I would encourage people to look at the artifacts that are specifically Georgetown-related,” Hickle said. “I was looking at a baseball sports chart from really early on in Georgetown history. It’s really cool that we still have those things.”
Lynn Lee (SFS ’18) said that while the center is a valuable initiative, she is concerned that it would take up the limited study space in the library.
“I think it’s great that students will get access to rare books etc.,” Lee said. “But I also regret that Georgetown does not have the space to put the center elsewhere. I was hoping that people can use Lau 5 [as a] normal study area and maybe have a collection somewhere else, maybe at Healy or somewhere.”