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ASU Library stacked with special collections

A look at some of the unique collections in honor of World Book Day


Rare herbal book opened to middle pages
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April 20, 2023

Even in a world of Kindles and eBooks, physical books — with bindings and paper pages — still hold great value, which is why the ASU Library has at least 3.5 million print volumes spread across its seven locations, and a staff of 165 people responsible for their care. 

In honor of World Book Day, we're spotlighting a few of the ASU Library's special collections. The books can be accessed by ASU students, faculty and staff as well as the general public. 

“Our doors are open to all who want to explore the world of books,” says Shari Laster, head of Open Stacks at ASU Library. 

The collections include several incunables — books printed as far back as the 15th century — as well as books that are topping today’s bestseller's lists. 

“We are constantly buying new books,” Laster says.

Rare books are kept in highly secure locations on and off campus for safety and preservation purposes, “so that they will be available for people in the future,” she says. 

Other books, including those in the Sun Devil Reads Collection, are easily accessible to all.

“The Sun Devil Reads collection is not like anything you will ever find in a public library,” Laster says. 

Some collections create spaces where readers can immerse themselves in specific communities and cultures — such as the Labriola National American Indian Data Center — one of the library’s newest additions. 

Patricia Gopalan, collections services supervisor for Distinctive Collections, notes that it is not always the contents of a book that make it rare. Nor does “everything need to be ancient to be special.”

For example, ASU’s Rare Book and Manuscripts collection holds many unusual books, such as a copy of “Dracula” with a bite taken out of the cover and an oversized audubon book with pages that allow for life-sized illustrations of birds. 

Here is a deeper look at some their special collections.

Rare Books and Manuscripts

This diverse collection is part of ASU’s Distinctive Collections. It holds many unusual and one-of-a-kind items, and sometimes shakes up the notion of what constitutes a book. 

One such item is a children’s hornbook from 15th-century England — single-sided alphabet tablets with wooden or leather handles. 

Another treasure in the collection is “Chefs-d'oeuvre of French Literature,” a book with a fore-edge scene painted directly on the edges of the book pages that is visible only when the book is closed. 

The Doris and Marc Patten Collection is also part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection, and features herbal and early gardening works. The volumes date back to the year 1485 and are filled with exquisite illustrations and early book designs that have survived (thanks to proper preservation) for more than 700 years. 

Appointments to view materials in Rare Books and Manuscripts, or any of ASU Library's other Distinctive Collections can be made through the Ask an Archivist service

Sun Devil Reads

“The Sun Devil Reads collection is much more of a bookstore experience,” says Laster — without the bookstore prices. 

Inspired by the academic and personal interests of ASU students, the books in this collection are organized into thematic categories to encourage browsing and discovery. Categories include: sports, pop cultures, self-help, romance, mysteries and more.

“If you want a book about knitting, we have it. If you want sci-fi, that’s there too,” Laster says. 

Sun Devil Reads can be found on the second floor of Hayden Library on the Tempe campus.

Latin Americana Collection

This collection includes historically important as well as modern Spanish and Portuguese authors and scholars who write about the day-to-day issues of Latin American life, such as revolution, Indigenous history, race, immigration, independence, enslavement, religion, medicine, cinema, photography, religion through essays, fiction and poetry. 

It includes a sub-collection of one-of-a-kind manuscripts that give voice to female writers in convents in colonial New Spain (1519–1810), including nuns who documented everyday concerns through prayer, poetry and legal documents.

This open stack collection can be found on the lower level of Hayden Library.

The Labriola National American Indian Data Center 

It is very unusual to have an Indigenous library within a library, says Laster. 

The Labriola Center is one of the few repositories in the United States with a focus on information resources created by Indigenous people for Indigenous people. This makes the collection highly sought after. The center receives requests for research consultations with scholars and researchers from around the world.

The data center is responsible for a multidisciplinary collection of resources in American Indian studies and Indigenous education and related topics such as decolonization and cultural resilience. 

The Labriola Center is accessible on the second floor of Hayden Library on the Tempe campus, and a location on the West campus is available by appointment.

ASU Music Library 

What was on Ludwig van Beethoven’s daily to-do list? What errands did he run around doing in Vienna, Austria, each day, before sitting down to his composing table?

The answers to these questions and more can be found in volumes of the German composer’s “Konversationshefte” or “Beethoven’s Conversation Books” — daily  journals that can be found in the ASU Music Library.  

The library is located in the music building on the Tempe campus and is home to more than 35,000 books dedicated to music. There are almost 180 titles featuring the correspondences of Beethoven, as well as such composers as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler and Claude Debussy — both in their original language and translated.

There are also books on a wide range of musical topics including: general music history, composers, music genres and pedagogy, as well as the the construction of musical instruments and more.

Top photo: “Ortus Sanitatis,” a book about the medicinal uses of plants, is part of the Doris and Marc Patten Herbal Collection, one of many collections in ASU Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts collections. Books in this collection were written between the years 1485 and 1935. Photo by Dolores Tropiano/ASU News

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