Last week marked another important milestone in our online cataloging project: we finished cataloging everything in the library’s vault!
As some of you may know, the DHS Library was formerly home to the Market Street branch of Artisans’ Savings Bank, built in 1930. The library still contains many of the bank’s original art-deco-style fixtures and details, including the building’s façade, interior lighting, ornamental wall plaques, and original teller windows. However, it’s a feature hidden from public view in the library’s basement that provides the most telltale clue to the building’s previous occupation: the bank’s original vault, complete with an intimidating two-foot-thick metal door that looks as though it would foil even the most determined thieves!
Retrofitted with a slightly slimmer door, the vault is a bit easier to get in and out of these days – and it’s a good thing, because the online catalog team has been traipsing in and out of it on a daily basis for the past year and a half. The vault is home to our oldest and most valuable collections, with many of the items dating to the 18th or even 17th century – we even have a few rare books from the 1500s! Some of our most important and most popular collections like the Read Family Papers, Rodney collections, Robert Kirkwood Journals, 18th and 19th century church records, and Civil War-related documents are housed in the vault, as are many other unique items including diaries, deeds, letters, rare books, early business records, advertisements, and other documents that help to tell the story of how Delaware grew from a small colony to become the first state and ultimately the place we know today.
Believe us when we say that there is A LOT of stuff in there…almost 900 different collections containing tens of thousands of individual items! Since almost everything is unique to us, fairly fragile, and in some cases, difficult to read and/or organized by people who passed away over 200 years ago, it has taken us quite a while to create records for everything in our online catalog, Ask Caesar. It has been a labor of love, though, and we are thrilled to announce that records for all of our vault collections are now accessible on the web. You can search Ask Caesar from home through our website, or come into the library’s reading room and take advantage of the two new computer stations that we recently set up for researchers to use.
Finishing the vault is by no means the end of the project, though. We have now moved into the main basement storage area, where we are cataloging the library’s newer collections, mainly dating to the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the library’s extensive collection of newspapers. These collections go a little faster, so we are hoping to get through as many of them as possible in the three months of the project that remain. Stay tuned for highlights of some of the neatest (or wackiest) finds from these collections here on the blog!
– Jennifer M.