By Micah McIntyre, News Editor
Buswell Library’s Special Collections, housed in the Billy Graham Center (BGC) recently acquired over 1,300 volumes of rare books from Chicago’s McCormick Theological Seminary, some of which date as far back as 1572. This new influx of books represents the library’s largest single collection of rare books since the Akin Book Collection, a 4,000 volume collection of British literature was donated by William S. Akin in 1968.
Some of the titles include a first edition of John Calvin’s transcriptions of his sermons on Galatians, a third edition of the Book of Mormon and abolitionist pamphlets.
“This [collection] is so unique,” said Assistant Professor of Library Science Sarah Stanley. “Special Collections collects things that are significant to evangelicalism or people that have had relationships with Wheaton College. The fact that these books are from the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s and are in line with our [focus] is just amazing.”
It took two weeks from the shipment’s arrival to shelve the entire collection. Stanley and senior Katherine Baylis have been the only library employees involved in the process. They put the final book on the shelf in the BGC last Monday. Baylis says that the collection is worth the hours of “meticulous” work it took to unpack them all.
“I was awed at the vast quantity of books we had received, especially because some of them are kind of rare. They’re gorgeous,” Baylis said. “Because we’re dedicating so much space to these books means they’re worth something and worthy to be looked at.”
Stanley and the library staff had received word that McCormick Seminary was moving part of their collection this past July. Every book in the collection is a duplicate of a book held by the Newberry Library in Chicago, which gave the original collection to McCormick. However, the library at McCormick did not have the space to shelve everything and shipped them to Wheaton so the books could be cared for. Many of these books have connections to Wheaton that predate those with Newberry and McCormick.
According to Stanley, some of the books and abolitionist material can be traced back to Lane Theological Seminary, the alma mater of Wheaton’s founder Jonathan Blanchard. Stanley believes it is “very likely that Blanchard used or at least looked at” some of the books in this collection.
The books cannot be entered into the library’s catalog until Buswell completes its transition to a new classification system, but the collection is open to any student who asks to see the list of titles. Stanley expressed the importance of some of the volumes for research by faculty and staff.
“These books have a lot of applicability to student learning,” she said. “[Examining] the previous readers’ markings and seeing how the books have been used by people presents a lot of opportunities.”
Assistant Professor of English Benjamin Weber has already conducted his own research using some of the materials in the collection. On Wednesday afternoon, he brought students from his Classical and British Literature survey class to Special Collections to see materials from the time period they were studying. Weber said in an email interview that he makes a point to take his classes to the archives for the experience and to show them the value of using these books for research.
“I want all my students to know about the incredible opportunities they have to do archival research and study books as physical objects,” said Weber. “Beyond the tremendous value these volumes have for my students, I’m excited by the potential they have for my own research. I have already done some research on medieval Biblical glosses to John 4:34 using materials in the collection, and I plan to do more.”
Stanley encourages students to take advantage of the resources in Special Collections. “Of course you need to handle the books gently and carefully, but fundamentally they are here for students to use.”
“When you look at a source online, you can get the idea that the source is there for you,” said Baylis. “Whereas, when you’re in the library and you’re holding the source in your hand, you might think, ‘I’m part of a larger literary tradition of people who have also used this information.’ Everyone builds off of each other as scholars and to be a part of that is important.”