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Preface

The University of Delaware Library has been the beneficiary of support from numerous donors throughout its history, but over the past five decades the University of Delaware Library Associates has been an especially generous donor to the Library's Special Collections. From the outset, the University of Delaware Library Associates made the development of the Library's research collections its chief priority. In particular, the Library Associates have sought to enrich the Library's research holdings in some of the fundamental disciplines of the humanities, notably French, English, Irish, and American literature; horticulture and landscape design, art and architecture, history, Delaware, and the history of science and technology. This collecting emphasis continues today and the support Library Associates remain a major factor in the remarkable growth and development of Special Collections.

In 1998, the University of Delaware Library celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the Library Associates with the exhibition and accompanying catalog, Four Decades of Library Support. The exhibition presented highlights from Special Collections which were acquired with support from the Library Associates. The exhibit included many of the most important and notable treasures acquired for Special Collections in the above-mentioned topics. During the ensuing decade, Special Collections has seen a steady increase in the use of its books, manuscripts, and other collections for scholarly research, but paralleling this research use has been an even more dramatic increase in the use of Special Collections by University of Delaware faculty and students for graduate and undergraduate coursework.

There are a number of explanations for this increased educational use of Special Collections. First the holdings of Special Collections, which currently number over one hundred thousand books and more than one thousand separate manuscript collections, have become much more accessible to potential users. Library staff have made processing and cataloging a top priority and have also taken advantage of technology to make the Library's holdings accessible via the Internet and the Library's on line catalog. The Internet, in particular, has helped expand access to Special Collections as collections are included in consortial catalogs and databases, as well as in web search tools such as Google and Yahoo. Secondly, archivists and special collections librarians nationally have seen an increase in the use of primary research materials in their original format by scholars and educators, even as more material becomes available in digital formats. New curriculum requirements which mandate course work using primary research materials, such as diaries and land records, are being developed, even at the elementary and secondary school levels. Finally, the emergence of new academic programs and disciplines, many of which are interdisciplinary in nature and focus on topics such as material culture, gender studies, and vernacular architecture, have also helped foster an increased use of Special Collections by students and scholars alike. These users often bring new perspectives and approaches with them and collections are being reinterpreted in non-traditional ways by innovative students and scholars.

In planning their approach to this fiftieth anniversary celebration, the curators sought to find ways to demonstrate and highlight the new trends in scholarly research and educational use of Special Collections, and the theme of "Building the Future while Remembering the Past" emerged. While Four Decades of Library Support depicted landmark acquisitions over the previous forty years, this fiftieth anniversary exhibit seeks to present old and new materials in the context of their application to research and teaching. In addition, rather than try to provide overviews of primary collecting areas, as was done in Four Decades of Library Support, the current exhibition provides snapshot views of particular collecting areas. This approach allows the curators to demonstrate how collections are currently being used by students and scholars, as well as how they might potentially be used by future researchers.

This page is maintained by Special Collections.
10/28/09

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