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The Morse Department of Special Collections opens Bluemont Hall reading room

Post-fire, the Richard L. D. & Marjorie J. Morse Department of Special Collections faculty and staff have offices scattered across campus, and their rare books, manuscripts and more have been boxed up and moved to secure storage facilities.

“We were really fortunate that our research materials escaped serious damage,” Cliff Hight, university archivist, said. “The collection has been moved offsite for cleaning and storage until we’re ready to move back into Hale Library.”

But in early October, the department opened a reading room in 116 Bluemont Hall. The space features a small fraction of their collection, including a limited amount of frequently used archival materials plus research tables, a scanner and a microfilm reader.

Multiple open books and large photographs in both color and black and white are spread across a long table.
Materials include photos, yearbooks, news clippings and more that cover K-State’s history.

“We realized within a week or so after the fire that in order to continue providing at least one aspect of our services we would need to have access to some of the collection,” Hight said. “We determined that it made the most sense to offer core materials related to university history. After that, we were in a holding pattern until they could move those items out of Hale Library and clean them so they were free of soot and smoke odors.”

Items available for public use include subject clipping files, photo collection files, yearbooks, catalogs, recent budget books, campus directories, Manhattan directories and commencement programs.

“We’re looking forward to seeing students, faculty and the community engage with our collections again, even if it is on a much smaller scale,” Hight said.

A man wearing glasses and a blazer and tie looks at the camera while sorting through manila file folders in an open filing cabinet drawer.
Patrick Dittamo, special collections employee and graduate student in musicology, searches through subject clipping files in the new reading room.

Visitors can also request to view the St. John’s Bible. If you can’t make it to the reading room but would like to bring the St. John’s Bible to your community, our outreach program remains active. The Libraries’ trained docents regularly bring this work of art to organizations throughout the Kansas region.

A close-up of the interior pages of a book covered with abstract drawings, calligraphy, and gold leaf decorations.
The St. John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press. K-State Libraries was gifted a Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, which is a fine art reproduction of the original.

Additionally, a selection of digitized materials from the department’s primary collecting areas is available online.

So what kinds of things can you find in the reading room? And who might need them?

Let’s say you are a history or journalism student researching the arc of the civil rights movement on the K-State campus. The reading room staff can pull subject clipping files related to your topic. You’d find articles about events, people and conflicts as reported in regional, local and campus publications dating back over many decades. They can also pull files of related photographs, many of which have never been published or digitized.

Of course, professional journalists, professors from K-State and further afield and members of the community can also access these resources.

A student standing behind a table covered in open books, news clippings and photographs hands a black-and-white photo to a student seated next to her.
Special collections student employees Alex Wulfkuhle and Jarrod Kuckleman examine an array of materials related to the 1968 Nichols Gym fire.

How can I contact the reading room? 

If you have questions about the holdings, policies or more, call 785-532-7456, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday or email libsc@ksu.edu.

What types of materials are boxed up and stored offsite?

Well, for starters, the Morse Department is home to more than 38,000 cookbooks and manuscripts that date back as far as 1487.
It might seem arbitrary for a library to have so much focusing on a single subject.

“Libraries that have a special collections department often narrow their focus and collect most heavily in a few specific subject areas,” Lori Goetsch, Dean of Libraries, said. “That means they can develop a collection with depth and breadth to truly serve researchers in that field. At K-State, we’ve developed a great reputation for our cookery collection. People come from all over the country to access everything from 19th century hand-written manuscripts of recipes to regional cookbooks covering different American cuisine.”

A recent addition to the cookery collection, this untitled two-volume set of Austrian manuscript cookbooks dates from about 1790. It was handwritten in German by an anonymous chef who packed nearly 400 pages with recipes of all kinds.

Two other collection highlights include topics related to Kansas history and the consumer movement.

The Consumer Movement Archives (CMA) was established in 1987 through the initiative of Richard L.D. Morse, a prominent leader in the consumer movement and a Kansas State University professor. Broadly defined, the consumer movement consists of individuals and organizations that advocate for the rights and welfare of consumers, especially when those rights are violated by corporations and governments.

This is just a small sampling of the materials included in the department. We look forward to bringing them back to Hale Library once they have a new, improved space.

Where do the materials come from?

The university’s librarians regularly buy and receive donated materials to grow the collection. Funds come from a range of sources, including private gifts and grants from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Humanities.

4 thoughts on “The Morse Department of Special Collections opens Bluemont Hall reading room
  1. You are to be commended for all your hard work, patience and expertise in saving the collections and library in total. CONGRATULATIONS!!

  2. Thank you for following along on our journey!

    We look forward to bringing it all back into a beautiful, renovated space where collections (like yours!) can be highlighted and accessed more easily than ever.

  3. Wow – how lucky to work with treasure everyday! Illuminated Bibles and 200+ year old cookbooks..that’s a dream job..I think I picked the wrong major!

    1. We often think the same thing and love to stop and visit to live vicariously. The public is welcome if you’re on campus!

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