From a 15th century Bible to Virginia Woolf’s copy of T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland,” WSU’s special collections are a treasure trove of classical literature and rare books, many collected by faculty in the early 20th century.
 
The collection includes 50,000 rare books, according to Trevor Bond, interim head of Manuscripts, Archives and Special Collections (MASC). They include 52 books printed before 1501 and more than 1,000 English books from the 17th century.
 
Pages from some of the 17th century books being restored at the Holland and Terrell libraries. (Photos by David Arseneault, W
SU Today intern)
 
Among the high-profile editions are the first illustrated edition of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” printed in 1688; a first edition of Samuel Johnson’s seminal “A Dictionary of the English Language,” published in 1755; and Richard Hakluyt’s  “Principle Navigations, Voyages and Discoveries of the English Nation,” from 1589.
 
Not all of the books in the collection have such marquee value, but every one of them has something to say about book history and printed culture, Bond said. Standing in the temperature-controlled special collections room, he pulled out a leather-bound book titled, “A Course in Experimental Philosophy,” published in 1768.
 
“It’s great to have this material,” he said, “but if we are the only people looking at it, it’s no good.”
 
Fortunately, Bond isn’t the only one looking at the books. Last fall he team-taught a senior seminar on print culture with Todd Butler, assistant professor of English.
 
Students in English 492 created an exhibit — Redefining Value: An Exhibit of Five Centuries of Printing — that is on display at MASC on the ground floor of the Holland and Terrell libraries through March 14.
 
Other faculty members also have developed curricula involving the old books, Bond said, including Debbie Lee, an associate professor of English, who gave her graduate students license to pursue their interests among four centuries of travel literature.
 
While the library would like to make all the books available to faculty and students, a significant number are in need of repair and cannot be studied without being further damaged. So, Bond said, the library is in the midst of an ongoing project to properly restore and preserve rare and fragile books in the collection.
 
In 2007 WSU received a $20,000 grant from the Washington State Library to repair about 100 books that had been improperly repaired several decades ago.  Conservation techniques that seem appropriate at one time might not be appropriate years later, he said, so the techniques being used now are both of the highest standards and reversible. For instance, he said, the glue being used on the bindings and end papers is a rice starch paste that is water soluble.
 
In a room stocked with Japanese papers, calf leather, a sewing frame and the miscellany of the conservator’s art, Thomas Gataker’s “A Good Wife God’s Gift and A Wife Indeed, Two Marriage Sermons,” printed in 1624, is awaiting a new case and binding.
 
Bond, along with conservators Jennifer Jouas, a staff member, and Jenny Zylstra, an undergraduate, will be presenting more information about the restoration process at the Academic Showcase on March 28.