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Xavier Magazine | June 28, 2017

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Old Books Get a New Room

By Skip Tate

In 1995, library director JoAnne Young got a call informing her that she had a new collection in the library—a collection of about two feet of water. The University’s storm water pipes backed up during a heavy spring rain and flooded, among other areas, the library’s special collections room. Books dating back 500 years were soaked. Others were dampened. It was a mess.

But it was also the beginning of what’s turned into a new $300,000 special collections room on the library’s third floor. The room was built to protect the University’s collection, which was recently appraised at $1.3 million. A dedicated air handling system keeps the room temperature at 60 degrees, humidity at 45 percent and removes 85 percent of the air’s impurities. Covers block the fluorescent lights’ ultraviolet rays. The doors and windows are airtight. A special glue was used that doesn’t emit toxins. The entire room was wrapped in a special insulation and all nail perforations were sealed to prevent moisture seepage.

Such extreme measures are necessary, says Young, to preserve the collection, which includes a Bible with handwritten and hand-painted pages from 1479; a first edition copy, in Latin, of the Nuremberg Chronicle; two first-edition copies of Winnie the Pooh; a page from the original Gutenberg Bible; and a book of hand-drawn astrological instruments from 1668 by Ferdinand Verbiest, S.J., which Young once received a $50,000 offer for sight unseen.

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