APU's Hidden Treasures: Special Collections

by Emily Leyva '14

Within the walls of the Hugh and Hazel Darling Library, surrounded by a world of knowledge and history, appropriately rests one of Azusa Pacific’s hidden treasures—Special Collections.

The APU Libraries’ Special Collections consists of nearly 24,000 printed books, as well as other holdings—ranging from original manuscripts to presidential signatures, to the five Dead Sea Scroll fragments—divided into five climate- and light-controlled rooms. The protected environments ensure the many historic items remain well preserved.

Preservation of such a large collection is a monumental task that the Special Collections Committee will emphasize on May 17 at its anniversary celebration, marking 40 years since the founding of the collections.

“There is always more work to be done in caring for the collections,” said Thomas Andrews, Ph.D., research historian and member of the Special Collections Committee. “We are constantly aware of how we can advance our preservation and scholarship efforts; proceeds from the upcoming celebration will help fund the future development of Special Collections.”

Evidence of the collections’ growth over 40 years can be seen across the hall from the library, in Room 208, where the nostalgic smell of antique books lingers over works by some of the greatest authors of all time. Wheeled ladders stretch to the tops of the shelves, allowing scholars access to walls brimming with timeless novels, including classics by Langston Hughes of the Harlem Renaissance and C.S. Lewis.

Acquiring these rare and desirable books for the university’s collections has been a deliberate and lengthy process requiring extensive research and networking, said Andrews. “It’s really by outreach, this cultivation of people, that collectors become interested in adding their collections to the university’s,” he said. “That interest grows when they can see we are dedicated to preservation efforts.”

Andrews, along with Glen Adams, Ph.D., and Sheldon Jackson, Ph.D., began acquiring the collection in 1974 in an effort to strengthen Azusa Pacific College’s commitment to community outreach and preserve works of historical significance.

From April 1974 to December 1976, Azusa Pacific hosted five receptions and luncheons and two-dozen press interviews to begin adding relics. Over the next four decades, Andrews and the Special Collections Committee grew the collection to nearly 24,000 printed pieces, not including numerous photographs, autographs and other artifacts. All together, the collections are currently valued at more than $4 million.

“The collections are multidimensional, which allows for a great amount of interest and research by scholars across all disciplines and backgrounds,” said Andrews.

A secluded room known as “the vault,” which contains some of the oldest artifacts of the university’s collection dating as far back as 1950–1750 B.C., is perhaps the most guarded and maintained environment of the five rooms that encompass Special Collections. The university went to great lengths to equip the vault with state-of-the-art security measures. “And the door weighs about a ton-and-a-half,” said Special Collections Librarian Kenneth Otto, M.S., MLIS with a laugh.

On a recent day inside the vault, Otto smiled genially while he gently ran his fingertips across the yellowed pages of a 400-year-old Bible. Nearby, ancient Torah scrolls rest on the shelves of the chilly cell.

Beyond preservation and protection, the Special Collections Committee’s mission and purpose is to provide an environment of learning and enrichment. The variety found within the collections is intentional, designed to appeal to researchers and scholars across assorted disciplines, interests, and cultures. “As a university, we have people from diverse backgrounds, and we can say, ‘This is not a limited collection. We have your story, too,’” said Andrews.

Sheltering such treasures may be a formidable task, but for the committee members and librarians who have dedicated their careers to the project, preserving the historic items within Special Collections means upholding a legacy.

“By building up these collections, which offer rare books and key monographs, we’re opening the door for current and future scholars to do important research,” said Andrews.

In the last four decades, Azusa Pacific’s Special Collections has witnessed eras of change and scholastic progress, all the while accumulating more holdings. Today, the Special Collections Committee has two key goals: to continue advancing its conservation efforts that preserve rare and very often, frail books and artifacts; and to allow more public access for researchers, faculty, and students to conduct research or simply view such slices of antiquity.

“We’ve spent a number of years gradually and responsibly building the collection,” said Andrews. “Now we have the chance to raise support and get others excited about Special Collections, its value, and how they can join us in carrying on this legacy.”