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Rauner Library turnsĀ  rare treasures into teaching tools

Far from gathering dust, Rauner Special Collections Library's massive collection—100,000 rare books, six and a half million unique manuscripts, the Dartmouth College archives, and a range of other materials—is being increasingly used by professors and students to inform and complement their teaching and research. More than 70 undergraduate classes are scheduled to visit Rauner this academic year, while five years ago there were only eight.

English Professor Andrew McCann
English Professor Andrew McCann, Alexander Rivadeneira '10, and Sydney Ribot '11 view illustrations by the 19-century poet, artist, and engraver William Blake in Rauner Special Collections Library. (photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

"Rauner is one of the College's major teaching tools," says Associate Professor of English Andrew McCann, whose Romantic Literature class viewed illustrations by the poet and artist William Blake last term. "It is always a great thrill to be able to take students of 19th-century literature to show them in great detail how changes in technology manifest in the material objects they are studying. Looking at the original serialized editions of, say, a Dickens novel, can open up new horizons and possibilities for research that we wouldn't glimpse from a standardized modern edition."

Some classes meet in Rauner for the entire term, while others visit periodically to introduce a visual and physical element to the curriculum. And the classes represent a range of departments. This year, Assistant Professor of Theater Soyica Diggs showed students original playbills of Raisin in the Sun for her class, Black Theater, USA; Associate Professor of Physics Richard Kremer's class, Reading Artifacts, created an exhibition of historic scientific instruments; and Colin Calloway, the Samson Occom Professor and professor of history, viewed early journals of western expansion with the class, American Odysseys: Lewis and Clark.

Blake's illustration
Blake's illustration, "The Reunion of the Soul and Body," appears in Robert Blair's The Grave (1808).

Separate from classes, approximately 1,500 students examine thousands of items from Rauner's collections each year. As a James O. Freedman Presidential Scholar, Haley Wauson '09 spent countless hours in Rauner researching children's fiction and educational texts. Her findings are being used in this spring's class, Orphans, Runaways, and Adventurers: Children's Literature 1690-1911, taught by Professor and Chair of English Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, the Kathe Tappe Vernon Professor in Biography. Wauson, referring to the prevalence of electronic communications, notes that she was drawn to the tactile and historic aspects of Rauner's materials. "There's more of a human factor with books," she says. "When you hold them, and think about their history, it's a sensory experience."

Rauner also hosts and sponsors tours, special events, and presentations for alumni, parents, and community members. The library is open to the public, and visitors stop by frequently to see well-known pieces such as John James Audubon's Birds of America series, or to view recently acquired items such as a 16th-century book of hours, an inscribed copy of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, or the papers of screenwriter Budd Schulberg '36. In February alone, Rauner catalogued 47 new pieces, ranging from Dartmouth students' honors theses, to a rare missionary society publication titled The Eskimo Bulletin, to a 1721 arrest warrant issued to a Native American for hunting deer on Cape Cod.

As is typical of all the libraries in the Dartmouth College Library, Rauner has a dedicated, friendly staff, who are largely responsible for the influx of visitors. They teach or co-teach about 40 individual classes a year and work tirelessly to uncover resources that support courses and research. "The goal is to provide trouble-free access and to get the rich intellectual content off the shelves and into peoples' hands," says Jay Satterfield, special collections librarian. "Some of the items are incredibly rare and valuable, but they are here to be used, and appreciated."

By STEVEN J. SMITH

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Last Updated: 5/30/08