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To Preserve Scholarship

When the great library at Alexandria in Egypt first burned in 47 B.C.E., more than 40,000 papyrus and linen manuscripts went up in smoke. It would have been a greater tragedy had it not been for the scholars who had copied and translated the texts into many languages and sent them throughout the world. When water pipes burst in USC's Thomas Cooper Library in 1989, flooding many of the lower stack areas, a great many holdings were lost, but many more were saved by the heroic work of library staff and conservationists.

Spanning more than 2,000 years, the two events underscore the historic importance of conservation — preserving and restoring library material so it will be available to future generations of students and faculty. Today at USC, the ravages of time, moisture, and a host of other enemies will reduce our treasured resources to dust if they are not carefully tended by experts who understand their value and know how to preserve them and still keep them accessible.

Extremely rare and valuable items can, of course, be digitized and microfilmed for day-to-day use, but true scholars and bibliophiles believe that there is nothing like the thrill of actually holding a priceless book or manuscript and knowing that centuries of scholars have held that same volume. To preserve that experience is a costly but essential function of libraries that increasingly requires private support.

The first title acquired by the South Carolina College library in 1802 was the three-volume History of England from the Accession of King George III to the Conclusion of Peace in 1783 (shown at left). Worn, torn, and mutilated by early generations of students, the books were recently restored by noted conservationist Don Etherington. Pages were mended, the covers were reattached using Japanese adhesive paper developed for book restoration, and the books were placed in a specially made "clamshell" box. In recognition of the books' symbolic importance to the University, the $600 cost was paid by the Thomas Cooper Society, the library's support organization of friends.

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This page was last updated on 4 February 1999.