Sunday, March 3, 2024

Letter to the Editor: Response to “A Special Look at Special Collections”

OpinionLetter to the EditorLetter to the Editor: Response to "A Special Look at Special Collections"

wul_eh_trevor_dawes_2013_A CREATIVE COMMONS
Trevor A. Dawes is the vice provost for Libraries and Museums at the university and the May Morris University Librarian.


Dear Editor,

I write in response to the article “A special look at Special Collections: student accessibility, potential renovations, and still no official screening process for rare books in the stacks,” to clarify the issues the article addresses.

Perhaps most important for students and faculty at UD is the issue of accessibility. I will emphasize that ALL of the materials held by Special Collections are available to students, faculty, researchers and members of the public for consultation. This collection exists for their use and benefit. Because of their monetary, cultural, aesthetic and/or historical value, Special Collections materials can only be consulted in the designated reading room, where staff can assist with handling of these unique and distinctive materials. We are working to digitize works to facilitate their use; also in the works is a system that would allow readers to request materials prior to arriving in Special Collections.

We are beginning a fundraising campaign for the renovation of Special Collections. Beyond the reading room and gallery mentioned in the article, the renovation will expand storage and optimize environmental systems for the conservation of the collection; it will also include classrooms for faculty and students to examine materials from the collections and for group study.

Regarding the issue of Special Collections materials found in the stacks: I assure you that our situation is not unique; and it is likely that unique and distinctive materials exist in open stacks at any academic research library. Whenever we acquire materials for the general collection, there is a possibility that over time they will become “rare.” Members of the Library staff, including in Special Collections and subject librarians as well as other staff, who have received guidelines from Special Collections, regularly review areas of the collection. We also encourage users to bring materials from the stacks, which appear to be better suited to Special Collections, to the Circulation and Reserve service desk and request that they be reviewed for transfer to Special Collections. It is sometimes tricky: what does “rare” mean? Certainly, pre-19th-century materials, if found in the stacks, should be brought to our attention. It is not, however, all about age. A 19th-century mass-produced book may be far less rare than a late 20th-century private press edition book of poetry. Thus, it sometimes takes a specialist with very specific expertise to recognize a “rare” book.

One desire for our renovation is to make Special Collections more visibly accessible to students. I realize that many do not venture into the Special Collections exhibition gallery (with low lights to protect the objects on view) and then further on to the reception desk and reading room. However, I encourage everyone to do just that. Come in and let us know your interests. You may be surprised at what we have to offer.

Trevor A. Dawes is the vice provost for Libraries and Museums at the university and the May Morris University Librarian. His views are his own. He may be reached at

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