Special Collections team brings history to life

The only prerequisite for checking it out is curiosity.

  • John Henry Adams in the Special Collection stacks. Although the stacks aren’t open for public browsing, Adams and his fellow librarians can help you identify what you’re looking for and bring pieces out for you to look at.

Oct. 12, 2021
Contact: Deidra Ashley, ashleyde@missouri.edu

Did you know there’s a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on campus that was printed by Mark Twain’s own printing company? The Special Collections and Rare Books area of University of Missouri Libraries houses this special copy and more than 90,000 other items — all free for users to peruse and study. From eighth-century classics to comic strips, graphic novels, artifacts and more, there are plenty of relics to discover. The Show Me Mizzou team recently talked with two employees to learn how they help bring the collections to life and make them accessible to the public.

John Henry Adams, research and teaching librarian

What do you do for Special Collections?

A large part of what I do is teach. I get to help students get a better understanding of how subjects in their class fit together, and I write and put together exhibits that are open to the public. I also help researchers with their work in the Reading Room — a particularly rewarding part of my job. Every day is different, and I wear a lot of hats. That’s an exciting and energizing aspect of working in a library.

What’s your favorite item you’ve worked with?

Our collections are like my children; I love them all. One of my favorites is the Nuremburg Chronicle. It’s a 1493 book printed in German and Latin — a classic medieval project that’s supposed to include the entire history of the world. The best part is at the end — there’s about 12 blank pages and then it talks about Judgment Day. The idea was that that you can fill in the gap until Judgment Day.

What is something that everyone should know about Special Collections?

This collection is here for everybody. You do not need to have a deep or complicated research agenda, nor do you have to be affiliated with Mizzou. It is called Special Collections, but you don’t need a special reason — our stuff is special and it’s here for you. The only prerequisite is curiosity.

Ying Hu, Library Information Specialist, Sr.

How do you interface with the Special Collections team?

I work with rare books, digitizing them for teaching and research purposes or if they are requested by a patron. In one case, I digitized some things to send over to Scotland for a museum exhibit.

What’s your favorite item you’ve worked with?

The coolest pieces I’ve worked with at Mizzou are medieval manuscripts. They had a ton of coats of arms with bright colors and gold leaf.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I love working with different books and making them digital. To do that, I get to work with lots of different equipment. I like the different choices I need to make to ensure it's clear and easy to use while still preserving the integrity of the item, such as whether or not to include the color, how to crop the images and what text is important to include.

What is something that everyone should know about what you do?

A very important aspect is accessibility and that we are an open resource. Textbooks are expensive. By making some of them digital, we can make it easier on college students. Our content is accessible to students at MU and across the world.

Story written by Madalyn Murry

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