The purpose of this blog is to showcase a few hidden gems in Columbus. While it has evolved to focus primarily on food and drink, Columbus has no shortage of interesting locations that aren’t food-related and I would like to include the occasional non-food, alcohol-free post. This is one of those miscellaneous posts and is courtesy of Esther Chung (library worker by day, crafter by trade) who introduced me to the State Library of Ohio and organized a tour of its Rare Book Room.
The State Library resides in the Jeffery Mining Corporate Center, an old factory complex dating back to 1888 that manufactured coal mining machinery. It is located at 274 East First Avenue, just east of North 4th Street in Italian Village. The library has posted a timeline of the building and the Jeffery Mining Corporate Center, whose history is as rich as the books that reside within.
Shannon Kupfer was kind enough to show our group around the Rare Books Room; her knowledge and enthusiasm about her work made the tour a real pleasure. Housed in two secured, climate-control sections, the Rare Books Room is actually comprised of two rooms: one containing Ohio government documents and the second consisting of everything else in the collection. The document section includes government records and reports up until about 1900. It is a good source of official data, containing everything from state auditor reports to orphanage records; those interested in genealogy research will find this an invaluable resource.
The second section of the Rare Books Room is my personal favorite. Including curiosities such as letters penned by George Washington and the original, hand-written State Library catalog from 1817, this room also contains two pieces I find especially interesting. The first is a medieval book, dating back to circa 1470. The condition of this volume is incredible. Transcribed by monks on vellum, the ink is still vivid and legible (if you can read Latin) after more than 500 years. To hold a relic like this in your hand is an experience which transcends your typical library visit. The second piece of interest is an 1884 printing of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Featuring engravings by Gustave Doré, the book is almost two feet in length and in beautiful condition. It is truly a treat to be able to page through this book; each page contains a verse, followed by a full-page Doré engraving.
While the Rare Books Room is open to the public, the library requests that you call before-hand if you’d like to schedule a tour. You will not need to don white gloves and the collection is not under glass or encased in Mylar. The decision was made by Shannon to not require gloves by library patrons, as she felt that they remove the sensitivity of touch and often cause more damage to the materials through rough handling. The books and documents are living pieces of history and allowing the public to have direct interaction with the collection offers them a direct, personal link to the past.