Rauner Special Collections Library hosts diverse archives
By Hannah Wang, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 25, 2012
Rauner Special Collections Library, currently housed in Webster Hall, features massive, wide-ranging collections of rare books, manuscripts and the College’s archives, including one of the most extensive Robert Frost collections in the world, according to Special Collections librarian Jay Satterfield. The collection has been in continuous existence since 1924, according to College Archivist Peter Carini.
Rauner is one of the most accessible and user-friendly special collections libraries for a collection of its size and depth, Satterfield said.
“For us, it’s all about access and use,” he said. “My ultimate goal is that students feel that using the special collections is a simple, everyday kind of thing to do.”
The Rauner collection contains 120,000 books in the rare book collection, and if its boxes of archives and manuscripts were lined up end to end, they would span over five miles, according to Satterfield. The collection dates from the 20th century B.C. to the present, with materials from almost every era, he said.
“No matter what you are working on, if it has a historical angle to it, there is something here that will make your paper much better,” Satterfield said. “The same goes for classes — if you are teaching a class, there’s something here that will make that class more interesting for your students.”
In addition to its breadth, the collection also includes “places where we go really deep,” according to Satterfield.
Most of the materials in the collection were donated to the College by alumni, according to Carini. There is also an annual acquisition budget that can range from $260,000 to over $500,000. During years in which the acquisition budget was low, however, the rare book market was generally down as well, so there was not a major discernible impact on buying power.
“We almost didn’t notice it, except books that were $33,000 one day dropped down to $15,000,” Carini said. “That’s how volatile the market is.”
Satterfield said that the library is very selective about what it takes into its collections because of the cost of obtaining and maintaining many of the rare books and manuscripts. Most archives produced by the College are obtained free of cost.
“Our goal is that we don’t bring anything into the collection that we don’t believe will get used,” he said.
Rauner Library relocated to Webster Hall in 1998, according to Carini. Before that, the library was called the Department of Special Collections and was housed in the Treasure Room of Baker Library, Satterfield said.
Webster Hall was originally built as an administrative building, a gathering place and a memorial, hence its original name of Memorial Hall, Carini said.
“They also shrank this building dramatically because they ran out of money,” he said. “They [changed the name to] Webster and downsized it to make it a theater and gathering place for students.”
Almost all of the materials in the collection are available for student use, Satterfield said.
The librarians at Rauner do not require students to wear gloves when handling all but a few materials from the collection, according to Anne Peale ’11, who has been working as an intern in Rauner for the past year.
“We take it on good faith that people have an interest in being careful with what they are handling,” she said. “We almost never have trouble.”
Peale, who wants to become a special collections librarian in the future, describes her job as fun and rewarding. She is currently working on a project reprocessing the Robert Frost collection at the library.
“My job was to take everything and bring it together and [create] an online guide that categorizes all the different types of items we have and makes them searchable and usable to patrons,” she said.
Many classes from over half of the academic departments on campus have come into Rauner to work with primary documents, according to Satterfield.
Michael Chaney, an English professor, said that he regularly uses Rauner as a curricular resource.
“Rauner is a top-notch campus resource because of its amazing staff,” he said. “[Satterfield] is a fantastic teacher and knows just how to present materials related to my courses in order to pique my students’ interest.”