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Arcanaland

By James Call

Here's an unmined trove of words, pictures and memorabilia that help fill out the frame of history and culture.

Napoleon's death mask, a page from the Gutenberg Bible, a handwritten letter from Charles Darwin, some of Dr. Seuss' first sketches, a first edition of The Origin of Species—they're all here, and then some.

Of the more than 10 million books and other publications stored in Florida State University's Strozier Library, Lucy Patrick watches over some of the library's more fascinating items. Patrick is curator of the library's Special Collections, a unit that over the past 50 years has developed into a rare and valuable resource for researchers of all kind.

"Stunned" is the word people use frequently when talking about what they found in the Special Collections Department at Florida State University's Strozier Library. Carol Poster, an assistant professor in the English department, was browsing an exhibit of rare books one day when she discovered a volume by Isaac Taylor, a mid-19th century logician.

"He wrote one of the most important books on logic in his time," says Poster, an expert on rhetoric. "I had never read Taylor and here he was."

The Shaw Collection, one of the 14 sets of archives that make up Special Collections, has a first edition copy of The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1938). Taped to its inside cover is a note from the author to two young fans that reads: "Master Cubbins is going very well — but I still cant (sic) help wondering what would have happened if I'd followed your urge & done it in verse." It's signed, "very truly yours for bigger and better verse," by a relatively unknown Ted Geisel and included a drawing of a soon-to-be-famous Dr. Seuss character.

"The mother lode," is what library science graduate student Matthew Moyer whispered to himself when he began processing the comic book collection.

"It may be one of the top three collections in the country," says Moyer. "All the major touchstones are here; the roots of comic genre. It's incredible; we have a complete run of Spiderman."

Patrick says that the collection's eclectic mix of books, correspondence, photos and paintings illustrates world history and American cultural heritage in a variety of interesting ways.

"We have a lot of material available for research that is unmined," says Patrick.

Louise Richardson, former librarian at Florida State College for Women established the Special Collections Department in 1953 and served as curator until 1960. Her estate donated two of her personal collections, an herbal collection and one dedicated to the poem The Night Before Christmas, to the university.

Passion drove people to collect the items now catalogued and preserved for others also intensely interested in the subject. The collection's more than 1.7 million books, manuscripts, letters, news clippings and other materials now provide a window to the era in which they were created.

"Special Collections gives you many of the books not reprinted or written about for more than 50 years," said Poster who teaches a class on the history of publishing.

"It gives you the more popular writers of a time not the more famous ones; the Harlequin Romance writers as oppose to the Nobel Prize winners. That's the thread of a culture needed to understand a period."

Patrick wants to make the collection more accessible to the public, and one way is to digitize much of the collections, a large project she has under way.

"Some of what we have are the only copies available in the world," she said. "Special Collections is a rich resource that established and budding scholars can explore topics not yet done to death by others.'"

FSU's Special Collections department is housed in Strozier Library on the main campus and is open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Patrick's staff is ready to assist anyone researching topics specifically related to one or more of the collections.



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