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Editorial: Taking advantage of the library’s archival collections

Unfortunately for many undergraduates, reading a recent Herald article (“Library special collections reveal trove of scientific writing, history,” Oct. 20) may be the extent to which they experience the impressive array of archival materials stored in our library system. Contrary to popular belief, the archived books, materials and other items in our library’s collections are not accessible solely to faculty or graduate students. Instead, undergraduate students interested in incorporating original archival research into their academic or extracurricular work are only one conversation with a subject librarian away from doing so.

Many students see a trip to the library as one of the requisite stops on caffeine-fueled late nights. The library provides them merely a physical space to do work that could be completed anywhere else with an Internet connection, a desk and a chair. In their minds, the library’s stacks represent a space for quiet study, rather than fertile grounds for intellectual exploration.

We are writing to remind students that there is more to our library system than open desks and quiet spaces. The University is home to some incredibly impressive collections of materials spanning modern and early modern history. These resources can provide a wonderful supplement to the papers, midterms and extracurricular activities whose content can sometimes feel remote or disconnected. In a digital world, there is still something special about discovering treasures lying within yellowed pages and bound volumes.

Part of the perceived inaccessibility of our library materials may be confusion surrounding where to begin. In addition to lacking knowledge of what lies within our archives, many students are unaware of the fact that subject librarians are excited and ready to help students make use of the library’s expansive resources. Subject librarians are experts in the fields connected to the collections for which they are responsible, and they are therefore valuable resources for students unfamiliar with the archives.

Exploring Brown’s collections can yield all sorts of important finds. Perhaps most importantly, it can be an educational exercise in and of itself. There is always the possibility that a student happens upon a new and inspirational idea, buried deep in materials that have long been locked away.

We hope more Brown students will make use of the expansive resources that lie within the libraries, beyond just their desks and long nights. There’s a world of opportunity outside the reading rooms in our libraries, and it is about time that undergraduate students take advantage of them.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to



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