- How Books Become Library Collections
- Jacksonian Era Subjects
- Featured Items
It may seem to be the end of the road when a book lands in the hands of a researcher, but really the collection building cycle never stops.
The scholarship produced by readers (as researchers are often called in a special collections or research library) continues to help inform future additions to AAS collections. New material is actively sought out because of its relation to projects being worked on in the reading room and to collections recently acquired. Some collectors, such as Mr. Cook, even continue to fund new additions to their collections (see some of the most recent additions to the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection).
The Reference Desk
If the Acquisitions Table is the hub for materials coming into the library, the Reference Desk is the hub for the people. The desk is always staffed by helpful readers’ service personnel. In the mornings, additional coverage is provided by the curators and programming staff who each take one morning a week to be out in the reading room. This gives readers’ services much needed help at the desk, but also provides curators and programming staff with insight into how collections are being used in real time. Conversations over the reference desk—sparked by an item returned with an interesting illustration or leaves tucked into it, for instance—have seeded many projects or conference panels. AAS is known for its helpful and welcoming research environment, a tradition the Society intends to continue far into the future.
Using the Library
AAS is a closed-stack library, which means readers do not browse the shelves themselves. This is because of the age, rarity, and often fragility of the Society’s collections. Instead, readers place requests for materials using AAS's online request system and readers’ services staff members then retrieve the books or newspapers or prints from the twenty-five miles of shelving in the cold, dark, locked vault in back. More information about using the library is on the AAS website.
Besides retrieving and returning each book or collection item used by the public, the readers’ services staff also answer reference questions, of which there are many. The Society has been building collections for more than two hundred years and over that time many quirks have developed in how the collections are arranged; AAS staff members always remind readers if their search strategies are not working to please ask for help. Professional staff stand by, ready to assist. For those interested in using the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection, some starting points have been provided of Jacksonian Era Subjects that may be of interest.
The Ultimate Goal of Collection Building
The American Antiquarian Society’s role is to collect, preserve, and make accessible the primary source materials of early American history; it is up to you to read, understand, and interpret them. Even the architecture of the library speaks to these complementary goals of preservation and access. The printed and handwritten sources of early American history are held safely under the Society’s generous dome, while the new 2018 addition provides an open window to the world that encourages people to engage with the Society’s collections.