Yesterday was an extra “special” day for Special Collections because we were visited by a wonderful group of 6th graders from The Miami Valley School, an independent school located near Dayton. For over a decade, Miami University Libraries and the Miami Valley School have partnered to create ‘Egypt Camp’, a four day field trip to Miami’s Oxford campus. Jenny Presnell, Miami’s history librarian, and Tana Eikenbery, Miami Valley School’s social science teacher, have been the driving forces behind the success of the Camp. During their time at Miami, the students learn about ancient Egypt from professors and librarians and, also, get a chance to live in a college dorm and experience a little of the college atmosphere. This year we were happy to be included in their busy schedule!
The goal of their visit was to introduce the students to the concept of a Special Collections library and to show them some exciting materials related to ancient Egypt and other fun treasures. Any study of ancient Egypt must, of course, include learning about papyrus, the paper-like, plant-based writing surface used in Egypt and throughout the Mediterranean region during the period. In addition to original fragments of ancient papyrus, we focused our display on how recording information changed over time, from Babylonian clay tablets, to papyrus, to illuminated manuscripts on vellum, to early printed books on handmade paper, and then modern printed books as we know them today. Several students pointed out that to have a complete picture of how reading and writing has changed over time we really have to have some digital “pixels” at the end of our timeline. Very true!
My colleague, Marcus Ladd, and I were very impressed with how intellectually curious the students were and the great questions that they asked during the presentation, which we tried to make as interactive as possible. We’re hoping that next time we can have even more time for the students to study, touch, and engage with the materials. The students and teachers were excited about all of the materials that we were able to show them, but there were some definite highlights: the clay tablets, the papyrus, the illuminated fifteenth century Book of Hours on vellum, a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, and an early nineteenth century elephant folio atlas of Egypt commissioned by Napoleon. In addition, just for fun, we also brought out some of the highlights of our other collections, including a hornbook carved from ivory, a miniature Bible from the 18th century, a fore-edge painting, a first edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and a signed Norwegian edition of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
It’s always a pleasure to talk about the great items in our collections, but hearing the excited exclamations and the detailed questions of the inquisitive 6th graders of The Miami Valley Day School was certainly one of the most rewarding experiences one could have as a special collections librarian. And there were definitely a few budding librarians and archivists in the group, too!
Special Collections Librarian