SRU’s “Special Collections” require white-glove treatment


judy silva displays old book

Judith Silva, Slippery Rock University assistant professor of library, holds a 1880s copy of “A Cyclopedia of the Best Thoughts of Charles Dickens.” The volume is one of more than 1,800 items housed in Bailey Library’s newly remodeled and relocated Special Collections Room.

March 16, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Inquiry-based learning relies on a strong collection of books. Slippery Rock University has many such collections, including a trove of antique, rare and local-authored volumes in its relocated Special Collections Department in Bailey Library.

Bailey recently moved Special Collections from the second to third floor and added climate control to preserve its close to 2,000 items. The library will have a grand opening from 2-4 p.m., April 13, to celebrate the new site.

Judith Silva, SRU assistant professor of library, said Special Collections houses books, audiotapes, art related to the collection and framed photographs.

Shelved and encased behind glass are limited-print books, first-edition volumes from the 1880s, a Japan Collection, Pennsylvania History Collection, The Nien Cheng Collection and a Rare Books Collection. There are children's books from the 1930 and the personal library of Emma Guffey Miller, the late Slippery Rock trustees whose ghost is said to haunt her namesake Miller Auditorium.

"This is the most interesting stuff in the library, what is in this room," she said. "Pretty much everything out there in the regular collection, you can get somewhere else. Pretty much everything in here is one of a kind."

Many of the books have hand-painted, highly cursive lettering on their covers, such as "A Cyclopedia of the Best Thoughts of Charles Dickens." Other books are recent, such as "The Fitzgeralds and Kennedys: An American Saga," but are signed by the author.

Silva said the collection is attractive to SRU classes and researchers on and off campus. Books cannot be checked out, and an appointment is necessary.

"We've had two creative writing classes come to get inspiration from some of the unusual bindings," she said.

Silva said one of the most significant offerings is the Nien Cheng Collection. It includes books donated by the late Madame Nien Cheng, who was imprisoned for more than six years in Communist China. Cheng tells her life story in "Life and Death in Shanghai."

A picture of Guffey Miller with former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt identifies Guffey Miller's collection of books. Guffey Miller was active in Democratic politics and knew Roosevelt.

Silva, who has relocated her office to Special Collections, illustrates the importance of the collection by using museum-type white gloves to handle books. Controlling temperature and humidity are essential to preserve the collection

"It's never going to be 95 and humid in here," she said. "It's always going to be the same temperature and same humidity."

MEDIA CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine | 724.738.4854 |