The fifth floor of Hale Library conceals a collection of rare and special books that are often unnoticed by library users. The department remains relatively quiet behind its open wooden doors, away from student traffic.
Genres ranging from poetry and history to science fiction and horror stack the shelves of the K-State Rare Books Collection.
“A lot of students don’t know it exists,” said Roger Adams, curator of special collections and associate professor. “But students should take the time to check it out.”
The special collections department is composed of all printed materials that date back as early as 1486, with current volumes catalogued as well. The printed materials range from books to university-archived manuscripts.
“They are often referred to as rare books, but they are really just unique and don’t have to be old to be considered rare,” Adams said. “Some are even common, but were previously owned by someone well-known who kept notes in the margins or are only one of five copies published.”
The books hold distinct qualities that separate them from the rest of the library’s printed material.
“We have a first edition Robert Frost book of poetry, a nationally ranked cookery collection, books given to World War II soldiers, and a 6-millimeter tall novelty book that was once considered the smallest book in the world,” Adams said.
Students have relatively open access to the special collection, and can benefit from the extensive research opportunities within the 90,000 volumes of books and other manuscripts.
“You can find just about anything and satisfy any interest here, and many classes are integrating projects to encourage student use of the department,” Adams said.
Tony Crawford, university archivist, said the rare books and manuscripts complement each other and both departments support student research.
The collections are an extension of the classroom and aid in any subject from history to English.
“[The collection is] here to be used and all students are welcome,” Crawford said.
Special care is taken to ensure the future stability and survival of the collection obtained mostly through alumni and other donors.
“All the materials are brought to the students, so they are handled in the proper way,” Adams said. “Temperature, lighting and humidity all need to be kept under control.”
Changing exhibits are also part of the special collections department, which introduces students to rare volumes within the various collections. Each year, the department features three to four exhibits and holds fun events throughout the period.
“Last year, we did a lecture on the brewing process and presented our collection of alcohol books,” Adams said. “We also had a beer tasting for those of legal age.”
Making sure the special collection remains open for student use is very important for the department staff, who are available to help with any academic needs or curious minds.
“Seeing the collection is an opportunity in itself, and it’s not every day you can touch a 500-year-old book,” Adams said.