Special Collections enriches BYU education

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Photo of an Ancient Illuminated Bible. Items like this can be found in special collections in the library. (Fernanda Arias).

The Harold B. Lee Library’s Special Collections not only house historical items, but also the stories of how the items became historically significant.

“We want the final product, and we want the material that made that final product,” 21st Century Mormon and Western curator Dainan Skeem said.

Trevor Alvord, curator of 21st century Mormon and Western manuscripts said revealing the process that produced the materials has a more “significant impact” on students.

“They can see just what it takes to create or to make something, and that it’s not just like an instant poof,” Alvord said.

Students have many opportunities to involve Special Collections in their education, according to Gordon Daines, curator of the Yellowstone National Park collection and supervisor of the instruction program.

Special Collections can be divided into two categories: books and manuscripts, and archives. Both have a variety of themes like Church history, BYU history, music, art, photography and more. 

Students from humanities majors visit Special Collections more often, but the archives also have a wide variety of music, science and other disciplinary material available for students to use, according to Skeem.

“We approach trying to help people understand and know what we have in a variety of different ways,” Daines said.

The active instruction program allows professors to hold classes in Special Collections classrooms and teaches how to use the materials, from religion classes to science or journalism.

Citizen passport from the Ancient Rome period. Archives like this can be found in special collections. (Fernanda Arias).

Special Collections also showcases their material with rotating exhibits. There are three small displays that change every four to six weeks. The main exhibit rotates once a year. 

The exhibits are available for all students on campus to visit and interact with.

“What we try to do with our exhibits is to show campus the type of materials we have and do it in a way to tell a story,” Skeem said.

The exhibits are made for people to collaborate with. Every exhibit has an immersive experience, using elements like ambient music, smells and sounds. 

For example, one exhibit commemorating the anniversary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision included pine scent to make it feel like the Sacred Grove.

Curators of Special Collections are interested in the collection being part of a BYU students’ education and life, Skeem said.

“We want every student to feel comfortable coming down and utilizing the materials,” Daines said.

Currently, the main collection is “The Lego Collection, which includes large-scale replicas of Latter-day Saint temples and items. This exhibit will run for six months, closing in June. 

One of the pieces of the Lego exhibit. Special Collections permanent exhibit. (Fernanda Arias).

Curators have previously made exhibits about board games, anniversaries of special events in Church history, and Japanese culture.

For more information about the exhibits, hours, upcoming events or to schedule a tour, visit the library website.

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