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Published: Sunday, 8/12/2001

Historic document room a rare treat


What they will find tucked away in the center of the local history and genealogy department on the third floor is what some consider the library's crown jewel: the Blade Rare Book Room.

An opulent space with large glass-enclosed display cases, two ceiling lights that gradually change colors, and comfortable chairs, the room will be the home of a growing collection of rare books, manuscripts, and letters.

For a library the size of Toledo's, it is considered as rare as the material it will hold.

“Usually you only find rare book rooms in Denver and Boston - cities like that with large special collections,” said James C. Marshall, manager of the library's local history department.

The room was made possible by a $100,000 donation from The Blade Foundation.

John Robinson Block, The Blade's co-publisher and editor-in-chief, said he is particularly satisfied that the local library will have a repository for northwest Ohio's historical documents.

“It's very important to maintain links with the past,” said Mr. Block, who has collected rare books for 25 years.

“Aside from the scholarly value of preserving the information in letters and rare and very old books, it's important that human beings maintain that physical residue of older people and older times,” Mr. Block said.

Among the collection's highlights:

  • Two letters Anthony Wayne composed while on military campaigns in the area and one from Thomas Jefferson that talks about dealing with the federal deficit.

  • A three-volume set of hand-colored plates of Native Americans.

  • Metal engravings done in 1754 that show different views of Rome that were completed before many of the city's columns were taken down.

  • Numerous books that deal with the settling of northwest Ohio and the Native Americans who populated the area.

    Mr. Marshall said the strength of the collection, which is valued at $1 million, is its emphasis on material pertaining to northwest Ohio.

    He said a collection of what are known as Indian captivity narratives - popular first-hand accounts from the days of settling the frontier by people who had been captured by Native Americans - are especially intriguing.

    “It was very titillating because people were intrigued by that,” he said. “Although the ones I've delved into never deliver on that promise.”

    Viewing the collection won't be possible for just anyone who wanders into the library. Precautions have been taken to protect the collection from careless browsers or thieves.

    Visitors will have to check their bags outside the room before going in. Food and drinks are strictly prohibited. And the credentials of visitors will be checked closely.

    The temperature and humidity levels in the room are regulated to avoid extremes that can cause the glue in books to crumble. A dry fire-control system is in place so sprinklers don't automatically turn on during a fire alarm.

    And the books are handled only by pages and patrons wearing white gloves to avoid getting them dirty or oily, said Michael Lora, assistant manager and curator of rare books.

    “These precautions might be hard to get used to, but I have to do everything I can to make sure these books are available 300 years from now for the patrons' great, great, great grandchildren,” he said.

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