Emory Report

Feb. 22, 1999

 Volume 51, No. 21

Pitts Library widens access to rare book collection

Doorways to the past are opening wider these days at Pitts Library. Librarian Patrick Graham and his staff have created a program called "Interpretation and Promotion" that allows a growing number of people inside and outside of Emory to have firsthand encounters with the theology library's rare books. The choices are plentiful too, because the library houses more than 94,000 volumes in its special collections.

The Rev. Jimmy Dube, a master of theology student at Candler and a United Methodist pastor in Zimbabwe, was moved by his encounter with items from the library's strong Wesleyana collection. "This chance to see the original documents--it was like slicing across time," he said. "Now when I'm talking with others I know I've handled Wesley's prayers."

Dube took a directed study in the fall with W. Stephen Gunter, Arthur J. Moore Associate Professor of Evangelism, who said he's not surprised at Dube's reaction. "I remember 25 years ago when I first put my hands on an original letter of Wesley's," Gunter said. "I've never gotten over the power of that experience. Now I've seen that power replicated in the lives of many of the students [who visit Pitts]."

Some 27 groups visited Pitts special collections and the "Interpretation and Promotion" program from July to early December, more than half from outside Candler. Typically Graham displays relevant items from the Kessler Reformation Collection, the English religious history collection, the hymnody collection or the emerging Thomas Merton collection and speaks to groups about them.

The Rev. Steve Chenoweth, associate pastor at McDonough United Methodist Church, brought 18 people from his church as part of a Methodist heritage day tour in Atlanta. "That library is such a house of treasures," he said. "Pat pulled Methodist-related things of all kinds--hymnbooks, published sermons, a home remedy advice book--and did a marvelous job presenting it."

Adjunct instructor and Candler PhD student Elaine Robinson taught "Theology of Wesley and Methodism" last fall, and all 20 of her students gave high marks to their encounter with rare books. "A lot of them couldn't believe they could touch anything that old," she said. Robinson hopes more classes will use this avenue because it welcomes students to the library and to Wesley's world.

Already the interpretation program has spawned unanticipated benefits. Christina Bray, a master of theological studies student, artist and art instructor, became interested in Pitts' woodcuts during a visit with her Liturgical Theology class. She turned her interest into a thesis project, and she is scanning woodcuts and posting them on the Pitts web site at <www.pitts.emory.edu>.

Graham said Pitts aims "to build the finest research collection for theological study in the United States," and that requires large amounts of special materials. The collection needs to have older materials that include early voices in a period, whether they represent Methodism, Lutheranism or some other religion. Often the binding and arrangement of content as well as the margin notes are valuable assets for research.

Pitts will use Emory's resources and expertise to avail itself of the best in information technology, such as the woodcuts and Merton projects," Graham said. "We believe Emory is an excellent place to bring together the old and the new."

--Dan Howell

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