The first time I went into Special Collections was for a course in my first year. Sitting in A003 looking at manuscripts is where I decided to be a medievalist, and soon I wanted to venture in on my own. The Westminster Abbey Bestiary facsimile was my first goal. I had looked it up online, found every image google had to offer, and gotten the call number (PA8445 W47 2013) – I was ready to go. Standing outside those light wooden doors in the basement as a first year, I hesitated. I ran a hand through my hair, straitened my blazer (chosen specifically for this purpose), and gave myself a pep-talk. Summoning up my confidence I walked inside and up to the call desk. It was really quiet, and I made every effort to not make a sound.
“I have the call number for the Westminster Abbey Bestiary,” I whispered to the lady behind the desk. Kindly, she showed me the forms and how to fill them out, and where to put my things, and then told me to go sit and she would find the bestiary.
Special Collections has since become my favourite place on campus and it is where feel most inspired to study manuscripts. I think those light wooden doors keep out a lot of students who might find exceptional sources and research help behind them. The Special Collections Archives range from Medieval Manuscripts to the Transgender Archives to maps from WWI and WWII. The staff of Special Collections already makes these wonderful resources accessible to students, but I thought I would post some steps of my own to encourage you to visit the collections:
1.) Don’t be afraid of the doors! Behind the doors is the reading room – a safe place for the collections, but also a quiet place to work with them.
2.) Find the call number. You can find the call number on the Special Collections website by searching within categories, such as Subject or Collection.
3.) Bring your student card. When you go through the doors the desk is straight ahead, and to your right on the desk are yellow forms and pencils. Fill out a form and give your student card to the librarian.
4.) To the left of the reading room are cubbies for your things. The only things you can bring around the collections are laptops, paper, and pencils. Everything else goes in the cubby!
5.) Take a seat, wait for your material(s), and enjoy! Handle them with care and avoid touching inks and pigments, but also take time to appreciate being able to see these objects in person.
6.) When you are done with the material(s) you carefully return them to the desk and get your card back.
I hope this post makes those doors less mysterious and encourages you to make a visit to Special Collections for your next project!