When using Paley Library’s Diamond Search, Temple University students often find the words “Special Collections” listed in bold type after the book for which they are searching.
Whatever the reason may be, many students abandon their search at this point and concentrate only on books that can be found in the stacks.
The Special Collections Department in Paley Library was originally established in 1967 to house the University Archives.
Special Collections now also contains the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, the Contemporary Culture Collection.
According to Thomas Whitehead, head of Special Collections, University Archives contain work by or about people associated with Temple, Temple’s corporate history and pieces published both by students as well as Temple faculty.
The Contemporary Culture Collection, established in 1969, is home to material disseminated by the alternative press, including newspapers, pamphlets, posters and manuscript collections.
According to Whitehead, the Contemporary Culture Collection was started as “a direct attempt to acquire fugitive and underground material of the social political protests of the Vietnam era.” He said.
“We still keep up with the collection, but now it leans towards alternative lifestyle publications.”
Finally, the Rare Books and Manuscripts collection is comprised of works that are kept separate from the stacks, says Whitehead, “due to their value, rarity, condition, unique status – such as inscribed books or manuscripts – or the literary copyright problems attached to some of them.”
To those who have visions of an unruly collection of thousands of books, Whitehead states that Rare Books and Manuscripts is much more than a collection of unrelated material.
Rather it is made up of a variety of smaller collections, such as the Walter de la Mare Collection and the science fiction collection.
“In general, in Special Collections collecting, you avoid miscellaneous collections that don’t help research. What you try to do is have a number of subjects or authors that you try to collect,” Whitehead said.
“You always have to make sure that the information you are collecting is helpful to the academic community.”
Because of the rarity and conditions of the collections, students must look at the works in a specified reading room, located in the Special Collections department in Paley’s mezzanine.
However, this issue should not dissuade students from visiting, as they are encouraged to walk in at any time, and will be helped by one of the staff members.
Whitehead notes, however, that if one is looking to view a particular manuscript, he or she might want to call beforehand just to make sure the material is located on the premises.
Though it is impossible to count the number of works contained in Special Collections, due to the fact that the library is still attempting to catalogue all of them, Whitehead says that once people begin to use the collection, they truly become enthralled with its variety and depth.
“Many people look around and say ‘My God, wow, this is just tremendous,'” says Whitehead.
In addition to their existing collections, the department is currently working on what will be called the Philadelphia Dance Collection.
This new collection should be up and running sometime during the spring semester, and contains regional archives pertaining to the art of dance.
The Special Collections at Temple University is interesting enough to pull in not only Temple students, but also students from neighboring colleges.
According to Whitehead, students from colleges such as Penn and Rutgers are frequent visitors.
“Because every university has different strengths in their collections, we try to be open to one another, which not only helps students with research, but also helps to form a rapport among universities,” said Whitehead.
To those who tend to shy away from this intriguing collection of works protected because of value, age of historical importance, Whitehead offered the following words of encouragement.
“I think generally, in all my years here or elsewhere, students ignore archives or rare books. We’re great people up here, just trying to help. They shouldn’t hesitate to come up… Don’t be afraid of the written word.”
Alix Gerz can be reached at Agerz@temple.edu