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The Gift of EaseThanks to Debra Fagel Treyz ’74 and her husband, Jim, conducting research in Vassar’s Special Collections just got a whole lot easier.

Debra Fagel Treyz ’74 says she logged countless hours in the stacks of Thompson Library during her four years at Vassar. “I spent a lot of time in there, ‘going to the source,’” Treyz, a Vassar trustee, said.

Now, thanks to a donation from Treyz and her husband, Jim, scholars from all over the world can more easily follow that Vassar maxim and “go to the source” in the Catherine Pelton Durrell ’25 Archives and Special Collections. The Treyzes’ gift funded four years of cataloguing of many of the treasures housed there. More than 25,000 items in Vassar’s Special Collection are now available on a worldwide database called WorldCat, providing researchers with instant access to information regarding Vassar’s rare books and manuscripts. 

(left to right) Mark Seidl, Special Collections Librarian/Cataloguer; Vassar Trustee Debra Fagel Treyz ’74, Ronald Patkus, Associate Director of the Libraries for Special Collections; Vassar President Elizabeth Bradley, and Jim Treyz.Photo: Karl Rabe

Special Collections Librarian/Cataloguer Mark Seidl said he spent “many, many 40-hour weeks” logging information about the collection onto the database, which can be accessed from computers around the globe. “Now, someone from Rome or Bangkok can look at the description of an item and see instantly if it’s worth more study, or even a visit to the Vassar campus,” Seidl said.

Ronald Patkus, Associate Director of the Libraries for Special Collections, said that ever since he came to Vassar 20 years ago, he had been concerned that much of the information about the material in the library was “virtually invisible” to all but a few faculty and staff. “Vassar’s collection is considerably more extensive than those at most colleges our size,” Patkus said, “so having our material available to our students and to researchers is vitally important.” 

Treyz said she was not aware of the treasures of Special Collections when she was a student. In fact, it wasn’t until 2012 when she and Jim joined the Special Collections Adopt-a-Book Program that they became interested in making the holdings more accessible. “Jim and I realized there ought to be a better way for scholars around the world, as well as our students here on campus, to be able to find information about the collection for their scholarly work,” Treyz said.

Patkus said it is impossible to know exactly how many scholars are learning about Vassar’s collection through the cataloguing, but he has seen an uptick in inquiries from researchers since the system was installed. Recently, he said, a scholar and book dealer in England inquired about a 19th-century book known for its collection of lithographic plates. The book had been catalogued as part of the Treyzes’ project, Patkus noted, “and it’s logical to assume that the only way this scholar in England would have known we have one of the handful of copies of that book in the world was through WorldCat.”

Patkus explained that catalogued information about books and manuscripts in Special Collections is especially important to researchers because it includes more than just a notification that the work is housed at Vassar. “The database also contains information about notes or commentary that may have been written in the margins of the work,” he said. “This is often vital information researchers may be looking for.” 

During a recent visit to campus, the Treyzes paid a visit to the library with President Elizabeth Bradley to view a demonstration of records in the library catalogue. Debra Treyz said it was gratifying to see the system in action. “It’s a gift that keeps on giving, something of lasting value,” she said. “Now scholars from all over the world can scroll through our collection, find some things they’re looking for, and say, ‘Aha!’ And then maybe they’ll come to campus and touch them.”