The ABCs of Wash. U.’s libraries

| Scene Reporter
Thomas Matthewe’s translation of the Bible can be read in the reading room on the first floor of Olin. Foam is used to protect the rare books when they are being used. (Mariam Shahsavarani | Student Life)

Thomas Matthewe’s translation of the Bible can be read in the reading room on the first floor of Olin. Foam is used to protect the rare books when they are being used. (Mariam Shahsavarani | Student Life)

When people think about the library system at Washington University, they usually consider Olin, the main library on campus. Most students, if they use it at all, go there only to study. This utilization, while a valuable and essential part of the library, is only the tip of the iceberg. The Washington University Libraries, boasting the most extensive collection in the state of Missouri with more than 4.2 million volumes, is a system of 14 individual libraries, each with a particular specialty (excepting Olin). The Danforth Campus houses 12 of these libraries, while the Medical Campus and West Campus each house one. The libraries are not comprised merely of dusty old volumes, as some students may believe. There are several aspects of the system, often neglected, which contain resources diverse enough to interest any inquisitive individual.

One notable library on campus is the Gaylord Music Library. Few students interviewed knew that such a building existed, or, if they were aware, had no idea where it was. Located on Shepley Drive, separated from Forsyth Boulevard by a parking lot, it is never crowded and sometimes even empty. The library houses an impressive stock of classical music recordings and a collection of Mozart and Beethoven early and first editions, purchased by the University in 1998. Beyond that, it contains a tremendous number of books, recordings and sheet music.

The most overlooked holdings on campus are almost certainly the Special Collections. Consisting of several divisions, such as The Film and Media Archive, Manuscripts and Rare Books, the collections are valuable yet little-known aspects of Wash. U. The Film and Media Archive contains such materials as the “Eyes on the Prize” series, the famous PBS documentary series about the civil rights movement.

Rare Books and Manuscripts may house the most impressive materials of all, however. Manuscripts include numerous ancient Egyptian papyri and a large collection of manuscripts from Samuel Beckett. This collection is probably the best-known aspect of Special Collections, and most students appear to have some idea that Wash. U. has it. Rare Books contains numerous literary works, including opera from writers and playwrights such as William Shakespeare, John Milton and Ben Jonson.

Rare Books houses Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s copy of “Whole Works of Homer,” written by 17th century English translator George Chapman. Possibly Rare Books’ most noteworthy holding, it is the first complete English translation of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” Coleridge, one of the main proponents of the English romantic movement and best known for “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Christabel,” added his own annotations to the text.

With these impressive holdings, it is unsurprising that professors often use the Special Collections. Many classes, including English and history, require students to use materials in these sections. Interested individual students sometimes view the works for pleasure, but the majority of the traffic appears to be class based.

The libraries are valuable resources that often go unused, as students are unaware of the capital there. They are often beneficial for both classes and self-driven curiosity. There are a wide variety of libraries scattered across campus, offering students a multitude of opportunities and amenities. We just have to take advantage of them.