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Enzerink GS: The great subjects merit more attention

After watching the first Harry Potter film once again, a friend remarked that he wished all libraries had "a badass Restricted Section full of secrets and mysteries to be solved." His sentiment is certainly not unique — who wouldn't want to be the next Harry, stumbling upon references to something as groundbreaking as a life elixir? But the idea that this site of discovery is as fictional as its on-screen surroundings is erroneous. Brown has these libraries, restricted sections included. The only problem is that students don't seem to find them. Both the John Carter Brown and the John Hay libraries are testing online initiatives, such as newsletters, to increase awareness of their collections. They shouldn't have to: Libraries are an invaluable component of the University's knowledge capital, and it should be self-evident that students should use and explore these resources to the fullest.

The Graduate School's introduction days emphasized the importance of creating knowledge rather than simply absorbing it. Many incorrectly associate libraries with the latter type of study. The expansive and balanced collections indeed provide students with a solid base of secondary scholarly works, but these serve only as building blocks. It is what you do with the knowledge presented to you that counts. Many courses, especially in the humanities and in the Graduate School, include components that allow students to set up their own research essays or projects. This is where the libraries come in.

Original research is one of the most obvious ways to generate new information in a meaningful way. Many of the University's special collections contain materials that have remained relatively unexplored and that offer viable ground for interdisciplinary and transnational approaches to history. The John Carter Brown Library is a case in point. While the collection will be of most interest to those in the humanities, the "great subject," as John Carter Brown himself called Americana, merits exploration by all students. The library is a hub of knowledge about the Americas from the 15th century through 1825. As Kim Nusco, reference and manuscript librarian at the John Carter Brown Library, explains, "Within that chronological and geographical focus, the material covers just about every aspect of human activity: exploration, navigation, natural history, anthropology, medicine, travel accounts, trade, literature, government, linguistics, religion, et cetera."

Especially with the transnational or hemispheric turn in academia, this accumulation of materials from a variety of disciplines and international contexts in one building provides unparalleled opportunities. It is an illusion to think that the U.S. or other countries can be understood or studied in isolation, and the library's collection opens up possibilities for interdisciplinary as well as hemispheric research. While John Carter Brown could never have predicted this state of affairs 150 years after his hobby of book collecting started to intensify, the outcome is particularly fortuitous for Brown.

Though for departments of physical sciences the creation of knowledge will naturally also involve practical experiments in a lab, the idea that libraries cater mainly to a humanities audience can be easily debunked. The John Hay is opening an exhibition titled "Unveiling Secrets: The Evolution of Modern Chemistry" Sept. 30, which will draw heavily from the library's history of science collection. It also has a first edition of Newton's "Principia" on display. Both reflect the myriad collections available at the Hay that are of interest to those in the sciences, while the library is also strong in literature, history and culture.

User restrictions, though often cited as a reason to avoid the special collections at the John Carter Brown Library, no longer apply. With two forms of photo identification and a reference from an instructor, the restrictions are lifted and the library is all yours to explore. Since very few professors here share Professor Snape's opposition to individual initiative, the reference should not be too hard to come by.

With materials increasingly available online and indexed in Josiah, vast amounts of knowledge are only a mouse click away. It is thus surprising how little awareness there is of the possibilities on campus. I'm not speaking from my high horse, because my introduction to the libraries too was a happy accident. In testament to their international renown, it was through Professor Wil Verhoeven at my home university of Groningen that I first learned about the John Carter Brown Library and the Hay, years before I would come to Brown. And if people are willing to cross oceans to use its resources, the very least we can do is cross the Main Green.

Suzanne Enzerink GS is a master's student in American studies from the Netherlands. She urges you to capitalize on your advantageous geographical locations by contacting and



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