Fort Wayne library increases access to rare books

Edward Curtis photograph titled 'Geronimo-Apache,' 1907. Image courtesy of archive and Burchard  Galleries.

Edward Curtis photograph titled ‘Geronimo-Apache,’ 1907. Image courtesy of archive and Burchard Galleries.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) – Stepping into the rare books room at the Allen County Public Library is like stepping back in time.

Antique furniture complements the character of a room devoted to the library’s ever-expanding collection of rare and antique—even ancient—books and artifacts.

Display cases containing replicas of important Lincoln documents line the walls in front of the hall windows, while a rocking chair—a replica of the one Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated—sits in the middle of the room.

A letter, handwritten by Gen. Anthony Wayne himself and framed by local enthusiasts, has a place of honor on one of the shelves, near more than a century of Harper’s Bazaar magazines.

Yellow lights, free of any ultraviolet rays, illuminate the room, protecting the sensitive pages contained in special display cases, which Cheryl Ferverda, the library’s communications director, described as “the maroon refrigerators.”

“These are certain books that are too rare, too delicate to ever circulate,” Ferverda told The Journal Gazette, pointing out the volumes of texts contained in special display cases.

One set of books in particular catches her eye—a set of blue, bound books with pages thicker than any normal book. It is an encyclopedia of wood native to North America, the pages of which are made entirely of wood.

“If, say, 100 years ago you were a furniture maker and you were going to make something out of wood, you could go through this encyclopedia, and it would show you three different cuts of wood going with the grain, against the grain and kitty-corner to the grain,” she said. “It’s a very unusual thing, because this being made of wood, it deteriorates very quickly. Wood’s not supposed to be a page.”

But that’s just the beginning. The main room, also known as the “anteroom,” is where the less fragile documents are stored and displayed.

The vault houses the bulk of the library’s collection of rare photographs, books and artifacts. It sits against the far wall of the rare books room, under lock and key.

About half the vault is devoted to the Lincoln collection, and among its contents are photographs, newspaper clippings and the Mary Todd Lincoln insanity file—the only written record of Mrs. Lincoln’s 1875 insanity trial, which ended in her brief incarceration in the Bellevue Place insane asylum in Batavia, Ill.

James Cornelius, curator of the Lincoln Exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Ill., had nothing but good things to say about the collection.

“It’s a wonderful facility, and it’s a wonderful collection there,” said Cornelius, who attended the Sept. 27 Lincoln Colloquium in Fort Wayne. “Fort Wayne has always been best in its collection of prints and broadsides of the period, including artworks of Lincoln and related people.”

But the vault’s contents aren’t limited to Lincoln artifacts. The relics of times long past line the rest of the walls and shelves.

There’s a small carousel holding a miniature set of the complete works of William Shakespeare—they’re tiny books no more than an inch or two wide, but every word is legible. That find, Ferverda said, is worth about $10,000.

The library is also home to the complete collection of Edward Curtis photographs—a turn-of-the-century photographer who captured iconic images of the American West and Native American culture, including the famous Apache warrior Geronimo.

It’s one of two known complete collections of original Edward Curtis photographs in existence.

One of the library’s former directors, Fred J. Reynolds, pieced the collection together over a period of years.

“What he did was get a pickup truck or a station wagon when he found out about an estate sale or an old book store that was going out of business,” Ferverda said. “He would go there and buy things he thought looked historical.”

The library gets its antiques and artifacts as they come available from various dealers and collectors, as well as donations from library patrons and estates. The pieces that cost the library money, Ferverda said, are partly paid for out of the library’s materials budget and supplemented with money from the Allen County Public Library Foundation.

“We try to be mindful and not extravagant with how we spend that money,” she said. “We try to get as many of these exceptional materials for the smallest amount that we have to pay.”

While access to the actual rare books and artifacts is limited, much of the material is available online for easy public access. A large portion of the Lincoln Collection—more than 13,000 books, newspapers, pamphlets and other documents, as well as more than 3,000 photographs—has been scanned and uploaded to the Web.

Digitization is done by Internet Archive, a nonprofit organization specializing in preservation and providing digital access to cultural artifacts. The branch at the ACPL is the only one of its kind in the Midwest, Ferverda said. The rest are on either coast or in countries like China.

“As of today, we’ve digitized 106,183 books at this center,” said Jeff Sharpe, the Midwest regional digitization coordinator for Internet Archive. “That’s 31,631,046 images since 2007.”

That’s a total of 62 terabytes of information digitized and uploaded to the Web since the process started seven years ago.

In addition to digitizing antique books and documents, Internet Archive also takes orders from library patrons and institutions, including American Printing House, the American Legion, Concordia and various universities. The library usually gets the bulk of its orders during the summer, Ferverda said, when schools are preparing for the upcoming term.

“We scan for more than 250 different partners here,” Sharpe said. “Mostly university libraries.”

Orders cost about 10 cents per page and are uploaded to the Internet within 24 hours.

“(The technicians) really know how to do this quickly and carefully,” Ferverda said.

There are also six family history volunteers from FamilySearch, which is operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who upload between 150,000 and 200,000 images a month as part of its genealogy efforts. Sharpe described the relationship as “win-win-win” for the library, FamilySearch and Internet Archive.

“We get more knowledge into our system, FamilySearch gets more information for its genealogy service, and the library gets more material for its database,” Sharpe said. “Universal access to all knowledge is our motto.”


Information from: The Journal Gazette,

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Edward Curtis photograph titled 'Geronimo-Apache,' 1907. Image courtesy of archive and Burchard  Galleries.

Edward Curtis photograph titled ‘Geronimo-Apache,’ 1907. Image courtesy of archive and Burchard Galleries.