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A Rare Opportunity

April 5, 2006       For my Senior Project in Theatre, I decided to write a play about fairy tales.  During my research, I came across a really helpful book that mentioned an illustrator named George Cruikshank.  (He became famous mostly for his illustrations for Charles Dickens.)  So I thought I'd look him up in our library catalog.  Strangely enough, almost every book that came up was labelled as a part of the "Rare Collection."  I wasn't really sure what that meant, so I asked for some help.  The librarians explained to me that the Rare Collection houses some of the college's older and more unique books, books that need extra attention and care.  Because they're old, they tend to be more fragile, and partly for that reason, they're kept in a separate part of the library.  So I made an appointment to take a look. 
    I wasn't really sure what to expect -- I had figured that the librarians might watch you like a hawk as you turn the fragile pages with white gloves.  Or maybe, I thought, you don't get to touch the books at all -- maybe they turn the pages for you, while you're only able to look on.  But surprisingly, when I met with the librarian, he was more than happy to help, and told me that I'd even get to turn the pages myself.  He took me to look at what I needed, explaining that the books I wanted to look at were in their overflow room.  So, we had to take the elevator to the basement of the library, and continued down a hallway, through a set of doors into a small room, where the maze led us to another room filled with shelves of old books.  It was kind of suspenseful, because I wasn't sure exactly where we were going.  But finally, we found the Cruikshank collection... all the way in the back corner. 
    And, to my surprise, we didn't need to wear white gloves.  When I asked the librarian why, he explained that as long as your hands are clean, they decided it's better to touch the books with your bare hands than risk tearing the pages (because you can't feel as well through the gloves).  He let me look through the titles, and even allowed me to pull the books off the shelves myself.  I was amazed at how many books there were -- especially because it was only the overflow room!  When I mentioned my surprise to the librarian, he grinned from ear to ear.  Here I thought they would be so protective of these precious old books. (...And they are, in that they take good care of them.) But when I thanked the librarian for his help, he was actually very quick to thank me back, and said that he only wished more students would look at the books in the Rare Collection.
    And I can see why.  It's fascinating to hold a piece of history in your own hands, and I couldn't believe I was looking at the pages of books that were over a hundred years old!  The more books I looked at, the more interesting it became... and then, finally, as I opened the cover of one book in particular, I noticed that something was written on the inside- a signature from the author himself, dating back to 1869!  Looking at the Rare Collection turned out not only to be very helpful for my project, but a really interesting experience in itself -- something I didn't even know existed, right here on the Hamilton campus.  All from a simple library search.