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Learn about Rare Books and History at the Special Collections Drop-in Hour

Librarian Rachel Ernst with a first print edition of Euclid’s Elementa Geometriae and a first edition of Newton’s Philosophia Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

The weekly reference hour is an informal introduction to Special Collections. There is no need to have to have an appointment or a research project; instead, you can walk in, look at a few representative items from the collection and learn what makes them unique or interesting. Rachel Ernst will be present during the hour to answer questions, show you how to set up an appointment or offer techniques for searching the library category for Special Collections materials.

The materials for the reference hour change each week, offering a varied snapshot of Special Collections. Amongst the variety of materials, Ernst says, “My favorite item changes pretty much every day depending on what I am working on with researchers! Some favorites so far include a cuneiform clay tablet that is over 4000 years old and a serial edition of Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers.”

Starting this semester, Special Collections Reference Librarian Rachel Ernst has been hosting weekly drop-in sessions for students to be able to learn more about the J. Willard Marriott Library’s Special Collections. The sessions take place every Monday from 10:30 A.M. until 11:30 A.M. in room 4300 (the opening area in the Special Collections). Anyone wishing to engage with books, manuscripts, and multimedia from these collections is welcome to stop by.

“I often hear from students that they don’t know what Special Collections are or what they can see when they come visit,” explained Ernst. “I started this weekly reference hour to showcase curated items from our collections as an introduction to the amazing resources we have in Special Collections.”

This Euclid, published in 1482, is an incunable, a book that was published during the first fifty years the printing press existed. Visually, it serves as a bridge between earlier handwritten manuscripts and the type of printed book we are familiar with as modern readers—the woodcut borders, the initial letters and the type all echo manuscript tradition. The geometric figures, however, were a huge innovation in printing and book historians still do not definitively know the method the printer used to print the figures.

For more information or questions about this weekly event, contact

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