Monday, March 04, 2013

Special Collections: The Hidden Wealth of Libraries

Book cover courtesy of Hong Kong University Press
A few years ago I was surprised to find an email from Shanghai in my inbox. Lindsay Shen, Associate Professor at Sino-British College and Honorary Editor for the Royal Asiatic Society China in Shanghai, had learned of the University of Redlands in Christianity in China:  A Scholar's Guide to Resources in the Libraries and Archives of the United StatesIt mentioned that the Armacost Library had a collection of items from Florence Wheeler Ayscough and Harley Farnsworth MacNair's stay in China. Shen's research focused on Ayscough, known in a variety of roles including that of feminist, poet, collector of Chinese art, and teacher of Chinese culture. Her second husband, MacNair, a scholar of Far Eastern history, had graduated from the University of Redlands in 1912. Upon his death, MacNair bequeathed items from his personal library as well as other personal effects to the University. Shen's research led her to believe this might include photographs taken of, or by, Ayscough. 

With time and patience, answers emerged. The task of documenting, organizing, preserving, and locating Special Collections items such as photographs, correspondence, and other rare and unique artifacts is no easy task. Documenting items that take a variety of forms can be difficult, made all the more so when items rich in story and sentiment are not accompanied by full descriptions of their histories. Without adequate space, organizing and locating such items becomes nearly impossible, and preservation becomes a complex issue without a dedicated space to regulate temperature and humidity. Despite these challenges, the Armacost Library has committed to carve out a Special Collections space; we're currently in the process of clearing out and re-configuring a room located in the northeast corner of the 2nd floor. Until that work is complete, we'll continue to rely on a few individuals in the library who can make sense of the chaos of boxes locked away in a makeshift storage.

With the help of Technical Services Supervisor, Trisha Aurelio, I was able to look through several boxes of MacNair and Ayscough memories. Wearing a pair of white cotton gloves, I combed through numerous photographs of family members and friends, activities, and travels. The images Lindsay Shen chose to include in her research can be seen in her recently published book, Knowledge is Pleasure:  Florence Ayscough in Shanghai. If you would like to learn more about Florence Ayscough or view the images Armacost Library contributed, visit the Library where it will soon be available for check out.

In the meantime, consider the hidden wealth of libraries. Special collections are indeed special. Historic gems like the Ayscough photographs help to shed light on, and draw us closer to, people and events from different times and places. Sometimes these treasures are tucked away, and it may take a bit of sleuthing to discover them, but this can often enhance the journey of discovery and learning. If you're curious about learning more about our Special Collections or are interested in helping us enhance our work with Special Collections, please get in touch with me or one of my colleagues.

Thanks for reading!
Paige Mann
Physical Sciences Librarian


Karyn Huenemann said...

I am the Project Manager for Dr. Carole Gerson's Canada's Early Women Writers (CEWW) project at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, which aims to construct an online database of all Canadian women who published—in any genre, in any forum—before 1950. CEWW is one of the seed projects for the larger database project, the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC), run out of the University of Alberta, and headed by Dr. Susan Brown.

Our updated database will include images, and I am interested in obtaining permission to use one of the images of Florence Ayscough held in your collections, that appears in KNOWLEDGE IS PLEASURE. Could you please tell me how to go about obtaining that permission?

Paige Mann said...

Hi Karyn, I'd be happy to look into this and discuss the details with you. Please contact me directly at