Michael Lora, curator of The Blade Rare Book Room, started working at the library in 1979 when he was hired to survey the rare-book collection.
Scholars come from all over the country to view materials housed in The Blade Rare Book Room at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
The visits include one from a University of Iowa student who was working on his doctorate in English.
“His dissertation concerned the reaction of the Progressive Movement to the poetry of Walt Whitman,” said Michael Lora, the library’s special collections coordinator and the Rare Book Room curator. “He examined the six volumes written by Whitman in the personal library of Samuel ‘Golden Rule’ Jones, Toledo mayor and early proponent of the Progressive Movement. “
Mr. Jones’ personal library is housed in The Blade Rare Book Room. The fact that he marginalized and underlined much of his reading makes it useful to scholars studying him or the Progressive Movement, Mr. Lora said.
The Blade Rare Book Room gets about 10 visitors each week, he said.
Both the wood-paneled reading room and the vault behind it where about 1,500 books are stored are climate-controlled for temperature and humidity to better preserve the materials. Books in the vault, which only library staff can enter, are stored on their sides to better preserve the bindings.
The collection began when Edward Drummond Libbey died in 1925 and left a bequest for reference books that would stay in the collection. He also left his personal book collection to the library.
The current space the collection is housed in dates to the library’s major renovation and addition in 2001. Most of the third-floor space where the room is was once storage.
The reading room has comfortable black leather chairs and elegant study tables.
An Armenian Bible produced in 1356 is the oldest volume in The Blade Rare Book Room at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.
“It’s a delightful place to work,” said curator Mr. Lora, whose desk is in the reading room, the outer room where the rare books are brought out of the vault for visitors to examine.
Mr. Lora started working at the library in 1979 when he was hired to survey the rare-book collection.
“I was amazed at the things that I found,” he said. “It was an extremely unusual collection for a public library of this size.”
Although the oldest book in the Main Library's Local History and Genealogy Blade Rare Book Room collection (a hand-written Armenian Bible) is dated 1356, the oldest writings in the system’s collection are much older.
In 1925, Edgar J. Banks, field director of the University of Chicago’s Babylonian expeditions, offered Carl Vitz, then director of the Toledo Public Library, seven B.C. clay tablets from which Mr. Vitz selected three.
One of these cuneiform tablets remains in the Blade Rare Book Room vault and can be viewed upon request by the public.
Besides books, the collection consists of maps and posters. A historical autograph collection includes letters signed by such notables as Helen Keller, Robert F. Kennedy, and actress Lillian Gish.
A recent addition includes first editions with dust jackets of the entire Nancy Drew collection, which the library acquired for $6,000. The author of the series, Carolyn Keene, was actually Blade reporter Mildred Benson.
The collection includes 18th, 19th, and 20th Century illustrated books, Indian captivity narratives, early Ohio imprints, and the book arts. In addition, the reading room houses reference materials including bibliographies, auction catalogs, periodicals about rare books, and histories of printing, bookbinding, and book collecting.
The Blade is part of the name of the room as a result of the support the Block family has given to it over the years, especially in the creation of the collection’s current location, which is based on design elements of the Boston Public Library.
“People don't realize how much expertise there is at the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, but in particular in the department that Mr. Lora has headed. He really is a first-rate book curator,” said John Robinson Block, publisher and editor-in-chief of The Blade.
A historical autograph collection includes letters signed by such notables as Helen Keller.
Special displays and exhibits are planned on a regular basis.
The value, condition, and format of materials housed in The Blade Rare Book Room vault requires certain security procedures to be followed when using the collection.
Books from the locked shelves of the reading room may be used without a librarian remaining in the room. Use of material from the vault requires the presence of a librarian in the room at all times.
No ink pens, highlighters, or paper clips are permitted in the room. Previously cotton gloves were required and were provided, but the latest thinking is that the roughness of the cotton is actually hard on delicate pages and bindings, Mr. Lora said.
Currently, users of the books are instructed to turn the pages using a paper knife.
“No matter how careful you are, you are going to degrade the object minutely,” Mr. Lora said.
Call 419-259-5233 in advance for an appointment or more information.