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Department offers rare books

GRACE McCORMACK | Friday, September 13, 2013




News Writer

Although often associated with long study sessions and frantic all-nighters, the Hesburgh Library is also home to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, a bountiful resource for researchers and students alike.  

The collections, which are located on the first floor of the library, contain a plethora of interesting items, curator and assistant professor of medieval studies David Gura said. “Special Collections houses over 150,000 rare materials in a variety of formats, including manuscripts, printed books, maps, numismatics (coins), broadsides, and posters and newspapers,” he said.
Gura said students often utilize the department’s collections for coursework in a variety of academic disciplines.”The materials cover a large range of topics, with specific strengths in Irish studies, Italian literature, medieval studies, theology, Latin American studies, sports research, American Catholic studies, natural science, natural history and medicine, and United States history and culture.” 

The department houses an expansive collection of works by Dante, according to the department’s website. Fr. John Zahm purchased most of the more than 3,500 volumes in 1902.Gura said the department’s collection benefits the South Bend and Notre Dame communities, as well as scholars throughout the world.

“The collections are open to the all researchers from the general public as well as students, faculty, and staff from the University of Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College, and Holy Cross College,” Gura said. “We also have visiting scholars from all around the world who travel to Notre Dame specifically to access these collections.”

To ensure the collection continues to be invaluable for scholars inside and outside of the Notre Dame community, Gura said the department consistently augments its resources. 

“The department is always acquiring new materials in a variety of areas and formats,” he said.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections usually obtains these new resources when the library acquires them, but some come from donations or gifts, Gura said.

“The criteria for what may enter the collection really depends on the specific item, its rarity and the context in which it can be situated,” he said.Gura said these acquisitions range in age but are commonly more than a century old. 

“As a general rule, all manuscript material and books printed before 1850 will automatically be placed in Special Collections,” Gura said.The collection includes maps of the Great Lakes and Mississippi watershed from the 16th through the 19th centuries, Confederate currency from the Civil War and a copy of John Locke’s treatises, according to the department’s website. The current exhibition, “Tír na nÓg,” highlights Irish literature for young people. 

Students, faculty and the general public may visit the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections on Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 .p.m.