Inaugural Special Collections Showcase puts unique PUL items on display

Four visitors view the items on display in the Special Collections Showcase.

Four visitors view the items on display in the Special Collections Showcase. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson

What kinds of items are in Special Collections? Of course, there are books, but there are also photos and maps, masks and clothes.

In an effort to share a bit of what Special Collections has to offer, Reference and Outreach Specialist Emma Sarconi debuted the “Special Collections Showcase,” a monthly series in which various pieces from Princeton University Library’s (PUL) collections are on display for visitors to see up close and personal.

“Through the showcase, I’m hoping to inspire folks to use and explore Special Collections,” said Sarconi. “I want to make sure visitors know that we’re here, and they have the opportunity to ask questions and hopefully be inspired to do some research of their own.” 

For the first go, Sarconi chose a mix of items that didn’t necessarily adhere to a specific theme. “First, they had to be structurally sound – nothing could be too fragile to be displayed,” Sarconi explained. “Second, I wanted to choose a group of objects that a wide group of people could understand and appreciate – nothing too esoteric or niche.” 

Sarconi added that she worked with Preventive Conservator Eli Boyne to ensure that both criteria were met, as well as making sure that the items were displayed in a way that is conducive to their preservation. 

Of the five items on display, which included a map of New York City during the temperance movement, and the ACLU file on Brown v. Board of Education, Sarconi is partial to “The Commonplace Book of Countess Lydia Rostopchina”.

“I’m really excited about reading the diary of Countess Lydia Rostopchina. I love commonplace books in general — I just think they’re fascinating objects, but I would love for someone to do a translation so that I can read more of Lydia’s salty takes,” Sarconi said. “This is also such a data-rich object that is begging to be the inspiration for a Digital Humanities project. It just holds so much potential.” 

Though Sarconi avoided a theme for the inaugural showcase, the next one, scheduled for Thursday, October 26 from 2-4 p.m. in the Firestone Library lobby, will feature items that lean towards the spooky side of things.

Emma Sarconi smiling behind the table of her inaugural Special Collections Showcase.

Emma Sarconi smiling behind the table of her inaugural Special Collections Showcase. Photo credit: Brandon Johnson

“I know that Special Collections can feel like it’s a space only for a select group of people (“Special” is in our name!), it can inspire imposter syndrome and anxiety about not knowing the rules or how to work within the system,” Sarconi said. “I hope that by being in the lobby, inviting people to come by, we break that down a little bit. Plus, it's fun to show stuff off.” 

Interested in accessing Special Collections?

“First, we’re open to the public - anyone can make a researcher account (more on that below) and come view material in our reading room,” Sarconi said. “We don’t require an appointment or anything like that, just know that we’re only open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-4:45 p.m. You’ll want to make an account first and then request things to the reading room from either the finding aid or the catalog. There’s a step-by-step guide on the Reading Room Guidelines page of the Special Collections website. If you’re nervous or need more help, don’t hesitate to reach out to the public services staff.

Published on October 9, 2023

Written by Brandon Johnson, Communications Strategist

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications