Rare Books at Western Libraries

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Many students and grads spend ample time in Western Libraries, unaware that it is home to a Rare Book Collection with some rather eclectic treasures lingering on the uppermost floor. Rare Books are housed in a climate-controlled storage facility on the 6th floor of the Wilson Library, adjacent to a well-lit, comfortable reading and research room.

Western Libraries seeks to increase both size and awareness of the collection, and has recently formed an advisory group comprised of faculty from the library and several other departments. This group will guide future purchases and acquisitions, assist in identifying donors, and perhaps most importantly, help integrate the collection into the University’s curriculum. The collection’s scope includes art books, regional letterpress and small press, 19th century women’s literature and children’s literature.

Recent acquisitions include an edition of Jorge Luis Borges Book of Sand with woodcuts by local artist Tom Wood. The uniqueness and multidimensionality (book as text, book as object, book as art) of works like this make them rich in teaching and research opportunities. The Rare Book Collection also boasts a luxurious facsimile of Ellesmere’s Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, original journals of Vancouver, Cook and Lewis and Clark, and numerous rare works of art and literature.

Western Washington is home to several nationally renowned letterpresses that produce books of exceptional quality. Presses like Copper Canyon, Co-op, Brooding Heron, Grey Spider, Wood Works, Egress Studio Press and others are creating books that by their choice of paper, type, binding, size, and content are themselves works of art. Western’s evolving rare book criteria have been enhanced to include vigorous collection of such items. These are often extremely small print runs that go out of stock quickly, and are often poorly preserved. Preserving these books and making them available for instruction are two of the primary goals.

Rare books located in the general circulating shelves are being discovered and relocated into the Rare Book Collection where handling and climate can be regulated. Anyone  who would like to help grow this collection either through gifts that include books that fit our collecting criteria, or through monetary donations may contact Paul Piper at 360-650-3097 or paul.piper@wwu.edu.

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