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A Map to Our TreasuresSix-Year Special Collections Cataloguing Project Nears End

Only 73 libraries in the world can claim to have a copy of John James Audubon’s rare volume Birds of America. Vassar is one of them. It’s the “crown jewel of our collection,” says Ron Patkus, Associate Director for the Libraries for Special Collections. The problem? Not many know we have it.

Vassar’s Archives and Special Collections contains more than 50,000 rare items. All are listed in the library’s card catalogue, but only about half were listed in the library’s online directory. That means people searching the online catalogue for, say, one of the college’s 17th century William Shakespeare folios might not have found it.

Debra Fagel Treyz ’74

Special Collections is nearing the end of a six-year project to catalogue 25,000 books, folios, and other items. As a result, online records of the rare books in the Archives and Special Collections Library will now be available to faculty, students, and researchers around the world.

Completing the project has been a top priority for the library. The task was finally made possible by the generosity of Vassar Trustee Debra Fagel Treyz ’74 and her husband, Jim. Alumnae/i have always been significant supporters of the library—providing gifts, purchases, and bequests—Patkus says; it’s no surprise that an alumna stepped up to support one of the library’s most important projects.

To get the project started, another graduate, Mark Seidl ’87, Technical Services Librarian in Special Collections, enlisted the aid of students, who culled through the card catalogue looking for Special Collections items that were not included in the online catalogue.

Those cards were then sent out to a contractor, which used the information on the cards to create online records. Seidl’s most arduous task was to edit each record, physically examining every item in order to properly describe it. Along the way, Seidl also reorganized some areas of Special Collections making them easier to access.

The project, which began in 2011, is now coming to a close, Patkus says—it should be fully up and running by this fall. To celebrate, the library is proudly displaying Audubon’s Birds of America in the Archives and Special Collections Library (ground floor, Ingram Library addition), providing visitors a prime example of the wonders ensconced in the library’s domain.

“We have some world-class treasures,” Patkus says.