Special Collections offer a rare look at the past

The University of Lethbridge Library maintains a small assortment of books, periodicals, pamphlets and maps in a collection that is usually designated in Academic Libraries as "Special Collections".

It includes rare and antiquarian books as well as a collection of local histories, the print edition of the Lethbridge Herald from 1919-1955 and other titles deemed special for reasons ranging from age and condition to edition, uniqueness, and format. While the value of items plays a key role in their candidacy for inclusion, it is only one of many criteria considered.

Currently, there are about 773 titles in our Special Collections that are housed in Room L1172C of the Library. Although available for private research and reading in the adjacent reading room (L1172A), this is a non-circulating collection.

Decisions regarding the inclusion of material into special collections are made in collaboration with the subject librarians. Many items in the collection provide examples of printing and publishing over the past 400 years.

Our oldest tome is the 9th edition of Saint Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica from 1610 in Latin. Other items include a hornbook from the early 19th century, A History of Florence in Italian from 1764, Volume I of Sir Walter Raleigh's History of the World from 1634, and a collection of works from Charles Dickens from the mid-19th century.

The original mandate of the Special Collections was twofold. First of all, it was to try and keep a copy of everything published about Lethbridge and the surrounding area in an environment that would lend itself to conservation and preservation. Secondly, it provides a safe haven for those items from our collection that require special care.

The collection room is dark and cool, with restricted access – three elements that help in preserving and protecting these valuable items.

Historically, the collection has been built from either donations or materials culled from our open stacks. The materials concentrating on southern Alberta in general and Lethbridge in particular are purchased from our regular subject budgets and a copy is usually placed in Special Collections to ensure long-term access.
The entire collection is accessible through the library catalogue. If you would like to peruse any titles in this collection please ask at the Information and Reference Assistance Desk inside the Library's entrance.

Mike Perry is a professional librarian in the University of Lethbridge Library