Special Collections Curators Acquire New Artifacts by Various Means


    By Jenica Stimpson

    It seems as though you are stepping back through the portals of time as you are guided through the vast array of books and manuscripts in the vaults and bookshelves of special collections.

    There are many rare finds: first editions of Charles Dickens” books written in and signed by the author; cuneiform written on rock from 2055 B.C.; the original, drawn-in-pencil musical score of “Gone with the Wind”; Jimmy Stewart”s reel of film for “It”s a Wonderful Life”; academy awards; and the 75th section of the Doctrine and Covenants written by Sidney Rigdon and translated by Joseph Smith.

    How does the L. Tom Perry Special Collections obtain these priceless pieces of history?

    “The internet has been an interesting way of acquiring things,” said Russ Taylor, director of reference services in special collections. He gets on eBay every day to see what is being offered on the subject of Yellowstone National Park, which is an area of interest at special collections. Internet acquisition is a great way to acquire important books because if they were bought from a book dealer, they would be five times the price, he said.

    Chad Flake, who was the curator and founder of the special collections at BYU, left $1 million to the special collections. Each area has a budget to spend each year from the interest on this donation.

    “If we become aware of the fact that people have, or might have, historical records, or materials or manuscripts in their possession, we will contact them and invite them to donate their collections to Brigham Young University,” said John Murphy, curator of 20th and 21st century Western and Mormon Americana manuscripts. “Occasionally, we will purchase materials. We”ll write people and ask them to donate the collections if it”s something we wish to have at BYU.

    “People hear about us through our reputation, and they know what we do and they know that we do our work well. They contact us or approach us and ask if we would be interested in their materials.”

    Acquisition is a daily occurrence, and special collections has many ways of obtaining the books, manuscripts and photographs.

    “I would say these are the three primary ways in which we acquire collections: we solicit materials, we purchase materials and people approach us,” Murphy said.

    “It”s like Christmas every day,” Taylor said.

    “Usually what happens is one of the curators either finds out about something or finds that something is available,” said Maggie Gallup, curator of rare books. “I had this happen a few months ago, where a book dealer contacted me saying ”I know that you don”t have this” and they had a copy. We”ve got some really great collections that people know about.”

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