BYU Special Collections Tour
If you are ever offered the opportunity to tour a university library’s special collections department, say yes. Howard and I got just such a tour today deep in the basement of the Harold B. Lee Library on BYU campus. On our way in, they gave us bright red visitors badges and our very own security guard. Though really his job was to protect all the things from us, so I guess he wasn’t really our guard. We also had three librarian archivists leading us on the tour to show us the coolest things. It was part sales pitch “See, we’ll take good care of the things that you give us.” But mostly they were excited to showcase their collection and genuinely thrilled at the history that they’ve collected, restored, and preserved. Justifiably so. I came away filled with awe, not just for the things they showed me, but for the dedication and love that goes into making sure that generations to come will be able to see the same things.
The first thing we noticed were the shelves themselves.
Our first stop was where they keep the first printings of The Book of Mormon. I was startled when the librarian pulled one out of its box and let us hold it.
I spent a lot of time in general looking at the bindings and details of books. I noticed how many of the older volumes had ridges on their spines.
They showed us one of the oldest “books” in existence. A cuneiform tablet.
We didn’t have a chance to see the most elaborate illuminated manuscripts, but this lesser one was still amazing.
I’d mentioned Jane Austen, so they took me to where the Austen books were. A librarian took this first edition copy of Emma and put it into my hands.
Books are not the only things they have. This is the Oscar for the movie Camelot.
We got to peek at the cold vault, though we didn’t go inside.
The library is making massive efforts to digitize as much of the collection as they can and to make it available online. This set up is for exactly that purpose.
I walked out of the building with a renewed respect for librarians. They were as excited to show us the amazing things as we were to see them. I could hear in their voices how much they value history, which was why it felt so strange that they’d like to have some of our papers. This is why we got the tour, they want to create a Howard and Sandra Tayler collection into their massive archive. They reach out to alumni who are creators with this sort of request and they found us. This leaves me feeling honored and…with an odd feeling I don’t quite have a name for.
To be remembered is the dream, isn’t it? I’ve read essays from scholars who create treatises on the correspondence of Jane Austen. In daydream moments, I’ve looked at letters and journals of my own and wondered if someday there would be a researcher glad to have them, or at least my great grandchildren might be interested in family stories. Now a library actually wants these things. They are things which have been taking up space in my house because of that daydream. Yet I’ve seen the preservation infrastructure that they have. I know how much all that effort must cost and I can’t imagine anything that I produce being worth the expense to preserve it for generations. Then I think of all six of us hovering in amazement around a little stone beer receipt. None of us have any way of knowing what future generations will want to reference.
So, yes there will be a Howard and Sandra Tayler collection in the Special Collections of the BYU Library. We don’t know yet what will be in it, nor how much will be public during our lifetimes. But if nothing else I can stop having to decide to throw out things which might be interesting for future generations, but which I haven’t the space to store.
Special collections is well worth your time to visit and if you are so lucky as to be offered a tour. Say yes.
3 comments to BYU Special Collections Tour