The mission of the Special Collections Research Center is to make accessible the rare, unique, and fragile materials that support the research and teaching missions of North Carolina State University. We have two basic types of collections which most of our users are familiar with: University Archives collections are materials produced by the university offices or departments and Manuscript Collections produced and donated by individuals. There is also a third and less well known collection – Rare Books.
Our “rare book” collection is small compared to other local, well-known universities’ rare book collections; most of our collection is considered “medium-rare,” – produced in the 19th or early 20th centuries and needing special care for one reason or another - decorated bindings, plates, illustrations, or limited publishing runs.
We do, however, have more than a hundred books in our collection published prior to 1700 that fall solidly within the “rare” category. When the Special Collections Department was established in the mid-1990s (prior to this only the University Archives existed), many of these books were pulled from the stacks and given Special Collections status due to their age. Because the rare book collection is outside what the majority of our Special Collections patrons use, most of these books have languished on shelves, unused and under-appreciated.
Greater interest in, and knowledge of the collection was spawned by a major shelf read and shift project started in May of 2012. While in the midst of reacquainting ourselves with some of the gems, we were approached by Beth DeBold, a second year SILS student (UNC-CH) interested in pursuing a career in rare books.
After a number of emails and 6 months of planning, we finalized a Rare Books project that would satisfy Beth’s independent study and our departmental goals. Beth will be analyzing all of the books in our collection published before 1700 for their general condition, printing process, materials used, presence of engravings, binding technique, language, etc. In total this represents about 120 volumes, and a lot of work!
Over the next 4 months Beth will contribute a number of posts to this blog - both about what she finds and the process of conducting research on rare books. We are so glad Beth could join us for this project and look forward to all that she uncovers.
If you are interested in what Beth finds, stay tuned for more blog posts and research on our Rare Books!