the top floor of the Pitts
Theology Library, there is a vast room filled with ten-foot-tall
shelves and protected by heavy locks and a security keypad, to
which only a handful of people know the code. Although the building
itself was the first erected on the Emory campus and is nearly
a century old, this rooms lofty ceilings are now equipped
with a high-tech sprinkler system that would, if necessary, squelch
a fire with a special dry chemical agent. Machines monitor the
temperature and humidity, and everyone who works in the building
is well trained to salvage its contents in the case of some unforeseen
scholars of Martin Luther and the sixteenth-century Protestant
Reformation, the contents of this room are equivalent to the
most precious museum holdings anywhere, a place of pilgrimage.
Unbeknownst to many, the Pitts library houses North Americas
largest and most extensive collection of Martin Luthers
early printed works, and is among the top three largest holdings
of German Reformation materials on this continent.
really quite extraordinary, says Pitts library director
Patrick Graham (above). With 520,000 volumes, we are the
second-largest theology library in North America, and make up
20 percent of the holdings of all Emory libraries. By
contrast, Harvards divinity library, another major source
of Reformation materials, constitutes 3 percent of that universitys
Pitts librarys Richard
C. Kessler Reformation Collection was established in 1987
when Richard and Martha Kessler donated their private collection
of forty-nine Reformation imprints and manuscripts to Emory.
Added to materials from the Beck Lutherana Collection purchased
in 1975, these formed the foundation for the holdings amassed
by then-director Channing Jeschke and now Graham, who has been
with the library for sixteen years.
the collection began under the stewardship of Jeschke and then-President
James T. Laney, Graham says, the idea was not to collect a handful
of the rarest books in the world but to identify areas of critical
significancesuch as the Reformationand build collections
numbering in the thousands. The collection is now valued at
about $4 million.
anchored by some 850 original works composed by Martin Lutherincluding
a copy of the rare and highly influential September Testament
of 1522, Luthers translation of the Greek New Testament
into Germanthe Kessler collection of twenty-eight hundred
books, pamphlets, and manuscripts focuses on the pivotal Reformation
years 1500-1570. One aspect that makes it special, Graham says,
is that it seeks to illuminate the full range of dialogue surrounding
the Reformation, featuring not only Luthers words but
those of his colleagues and his opponents.
of our themes is to provide context for these important figures,
Graham says. We have been very interested in materials
by the Catholics who attacked Martin Luther. Of the thirty to
a hundred Reformation items we buy each year, probably about
20 percent are Roman Catholic.
total, the Pitts library might purchase seven thousand books
in a year, two thousand of which are placed in the rare book
vault. Graham maintains time-honored relationships with some
two dozen rare book houses in the U.S., Germany, Switzerland,
and the Netherlands, which publish catalogues a few times annually.
When the catalogues appear, Graham says, he drops anything else
hes doing in order to comb through whats being offered,
looking for potential additions that fit the Pitts niche. When
he makes his selections, he places the order within twenty-four
hoursone advantage of being a relatively small operation.
Other times, Graham bids by phone at prestigious auctions in
Germany and New York. Competition for these materials is stiff.
also distinguishes itself through its use of information technology.
Thanks to a series of grants, the library is in the process
of developing a massive digital image archive where anyone with
a computer can access some eight thousand graphic images from
the collection, mainly woodcuts. Graphic artist Margaret Peddle
works upstairs in the Pitts Librarys Special Collections
in front of a huge computer screen, painstakingly scanning,
manipulating, and posting these images one by one, at a rate
of about fifty a week. They can be viewed and downloaded for
free, and are available to scholars, religious leaders, and
book publishers in high-resolution form for a modest fee. When
enlarged, the detail of these pictures is remarkable.
digital archive is Emorys gift to the world, Graham
says. Anyone who is interested can pay ten dollars per image
to help give this gift, and their name will appear along with
the image every time it is viewed.
addition to digitizing, the library works with Emorys
preservation office to have its materials microfilmed, a process
that can cost about $175 a book. Many of the books are half
a millennium old and even kid-glove handling cant make
them last forever, so its important to capture them on
film, Graham says.
through the rare book vault, Graham can pluck beloved treasures
from its shelves seemingly at random. One favorite is what the
library staff jokingly calls a Readers Digest version
of the Bible, a heavy tome bound in expensive pigskin with an
intricate pattern pressed onto its covers by a metal tool. Entitled
Summary About the Entire Bible, the books inside cover
tells a colorful story of its history, from its publication
in 1548 to its travels through East Germany to a bookseller
another shelf Graham pulls a small, scarlet Methodist hymnal
with a gilded design, quite ornate for its time. On its cover,
a crudely inked black cross covers the name of some former owner.
The Pitts librarys music collection is very extensive
and an important resource for the study of hymns and hymnody.
Our collection of English and American hymnals is exceeded
only by the Library of Congress, Graham says.
has an obvious fondness for these aged objects, which he has
spent much of his career gathering. But despite their need for
careful handling, Graham wants the librarys materials
to be widely available to anyone who might be interested. The
Pitts library staff offers about fifty presentations each year
to college and seminary classes, rotary clubs, art classes,
and various church and community groups. Recently, the library
was featured on Atlantas Channel 11 news.
do not view these materials as a kind of museum where they have
to be protected, but as a resource library where we bring people
and materials together, Graham says. Our mission
is to collect broadly in theology, to create what is really
a treasure in American and religious scholarship.P.P.P.
scholars of Martin Luther and the sixteenth-century Protestant
Reformation, the contents of this room are equivalent
to the most precious museum holdings anywhere, a place