Seldom-known treasures abound at U’s Andersen Library

The library boasts the world’s largest “Sherlock Holmes” collection and part of the Gutenberg Bible.

Behind the doors of Suite 111 in the Elmer L. Andersen Library is a treasure-trove of rare collectibles that some officials said are virtually unknown to most University students.

“We want to make the unknown the known,” said Timothy Johnson, curator for Special Collections and Rare Books in Andersen Library, a venue that is home to the world’s largest “Sherlock Holmes” collection and pages of the Gutenberg Bible.

Clay Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets that are thousands of years old are also found in the library.

These tablets give history instructors, such as professor Eva von Dassow, a chance to show students what they typically could only learn from books and pictures. Cuneiform is the earliest form of writing in human history, and it is a “great asset” for the University to have examples of it, von Dassow said.

Lack of awareness

Some University undergraduate students are unfamiliar with this collection of rare books housed next to Willey Hall. But when informed about the collection, they said they were amazed by what is on display there.

Johnson said Special Collections and Rare Books is typically only used by graduate students and faculty for their own teaching and research needs, but he would like to change that and invite more undergrads to discover what this library has to offer.

Paul Werner, a crop and soil resource management student, said he “had no idea” that Special Collections and Rare Books even existed. But he said he was “amazed” that the University houses the largest “Sherlock Holmes” collection on Earth. He said he wondered how these books ended up in Minnesota.

“The number one question new visitors ask is, ‘How did this get to Minnesota?’ ” Johnson said. “Minnesota is a great literary society, and people want to leave their collections in a place where they know the books will be cared for.”

Special Collections and Rare Books is one of the premiere rare book collections in the country, Johnson said. Numerous researchers, book lovers and students visit the University to peruse and study this impressive array of collectibles.

Alumni, friends of the library, or book collectors with an interest in the collection donated most of the books and manuscripts to the library.

Former Minnesota Gov. Elmer L. Andersen, the library’s namesake, is one of the contributors.

Andersen’s donations

Andersen donated 12,500 rare books from his private

library to the University in March 1999. Included in this large contribution is a Kelmscott edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, which was produced by William Morris circa 1895.

This book is one of Andersen’s favorites in the collection because of both its beautiful printing and its Minnesota connection, Johnson said.

In an attempt to entice more students to visit the collection, the library started a rotating rare book series titled “First Fridays.” Here, the public can interact with rare books that most would only be able to see in pictures or behind glass.

First Fridays

The current exhibit, “Lewis and Clark Bicentennial: Exploration Stories from the Archives,” runs through early November. The exhibit includes books written by the explorers and paperwork signed by John Quincy Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Johnson said students are encouraged to visit Special Collections and Rare Books and view the treasures that can be found there. Appointments are encouraged, but walk-ins are welcome.

Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes feedback at [email protected].