EGG AND THE PRESIDENT:
USING SPECIAL COLLECTIONS IN YOUR CLASSES
I will save the answer to the following question for last. What
are the connections among a painted wooden egg, three United States
Presidents, and the Cuban Missile Crisis? Special Collections in
Adelphi University Libraries is a unique resource for teaching,
learning, and research. I would like to introduce the faculty to
Special Collections and describe how they might enhance student
learning by utilizing these resources. Trends in digitizing rare
materials are equally relevant to current teaching practices and
to research accessibility. As we look towards the future, what are
some directions our Special Collections will take?
are Special Collections?
As I described
in the Spring 2003 AdLibNews (Adelphi Libraries Newsletter), "Special
Collections in Swirbul Library actually consist of 25 separate collections.
Items date from 1556 to the present and represent a full range of
print and nonprint materials. In addition to books, there are periodicals,
unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, printed ephemera, broadsides
and musical scores. There are also photographs, tapes, realia (objects,
souvenirs, and models), musical instruments, architectural blueprints
and drawings, posters, and prints." This year, with the assistance
of the FCPE, I created a descriptive website for Special Collections.
This is linked to the Library's homepage, and each of the 25 collections
has a brief summary of its contents:
These collections contain rare, valuable, fragile, and special titles
that cannot be housed in the main stacks of the library. I might
add that much of what we have is due to the efforts of librarian
Donald Kelly in Collection Development.
Can Special Collections Enhance Student Learning?
there has been increased interest on the part of the faculty in
utilizing Special Collections to enrich their students' learning
experiences. We have many primary source materials which provide
firsthand evidence of information for students to analyze, question,
and appreciate. Over the past several decades, we have acquired
many secondary scholarly sources to support these collections as
well. The following are several examples of Adelphi students' use
of Special Collections.
using Special Collections learn how such departments work, not only
at Adelphi, but also wherever their research may take them. Often
appointments must be made in advance, and extra care is required
for handling fragile materials. Yes, we are strict where preservation
is a concern. However, the rewards of using actual objects rather
than reducing everything to the same size on a computer screen can
One way that
students learn is to draw comparisons between contemporary subject
matter and material more removed in time. Journalism classes study
alternative voices in e-zines and compare them to radical writers
of 200 years ago. Our Cobbett and Hone collections, described in
the above website, are examples of the latter. Another method involves
historical research. Students in the history department's senior
research seminar are longtime users, studying documents housed in
Special Collections and also in our Reference department. The McMillan
Panama Canal Collection is a wonderful resource for studying Latin
American and Caribbean history; students have been using rare materials
published at the time the canal was built a century ago. English
literature students are assigned nineteenth century publications
to learn about and analyze the culture of Victorian times. Josef
Abers' book, The Interaction of Color, was published 40 years ago,
but its commentary and folders of color theory illustrations are
studied by our art students today. Albers, who worked at the Bauhaus
in Germany and later taught in the United States, dedicated his
work, "This book is my thanks to my students."
Does Digitization Take Us?
are another method of highlighting primary source materials housed
here and all over the world. Sophomore history research students
have been introduced to links for special collections and primary
sources from our library webpage:
These links provide access to repositories of special collections
as well as to excellent tutorials for research and strategies for
finding these materials. Digitization also takes us to one of our
As an introduction
to journalism of two centuries ago, our students viewed the extensive
William Hone Collection website: http://libraries.adelphi.edu/bar/hone/index.html
I developed this site with Mieke Caris' collaboration at the FCPE
for two reasons. First, I wanted to highlight the collection with
biographical information, an online exhibit, a finding aid or inventory
of the unpublished manuscript items, and links for further research.
Second, I wanted to create a model for expansion of the brief summaries
listed under Special Collections on our webpage. While not all of
our collections will warrant the same degree of digital description,
the enhanced access will greatly benefit our students. Imagine images
of rare stringed instruments from the Stoelzer Chamber Music Collection
linked to sound clips or dance video clips linked to items from
the collection of Ruth St. Denis, the founder of Adelphi's dance
department. One future project will involve hyperlinks from electronic
records in our ALICAT online catalog to digital images from Special
When Will Special Collections See the Future?
This fall, University
Archives and Special Collections will be moving to a new home in
the lower level of the new dormitory building next to Swirbul Library.
The move will allow us to review our priorities for preservation
as the collections are reshelved in a more spacious, climate controlled
space. Due to the efforts of the University Archivist Eugene Neely,
fragile university newspapers and heavily used course bulletins
from University Archives may be among the first items slated for
preservation microfilming and then digitization for computer access.
We are learning about recent trends at the university level and
are considering how to adapt them to our needs. Centers for digital
initiatives and programs for networked scholarly resources will
provide greater access to digitized text, images, audio, and video.
Content management systems will facilitate display of special collections
and provide us with the tools to publish, index, search, and share
our treasures locally and globally.
So, what are
the connections among a painted wooden egg, three United States
Presidents, and the Cuban Missile Crisis? Our McMillan Political
and Presidential Letters and Memorabilia Collection includes memorabilia
and correspondence from Adelphi alumnus Robert McMillan's political
career. The blue egg is a souvenir from Ronald Reagan's Easter egg
roll at the White House in 1986. A letter from Richard Nixon in
1983 concerned the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 during John F. Kennedy's
welcome to contact me, Elayne Gardstein, X3563, for suggestions
on how special collections may be used in your classes.