The Archbishop Ireland Memorial Library Special Collection Restored and Preserved

September 18, 2015

The Archbishop Ireland Memorial Library (AIML) owns a collection of rare books that reflect the spread of Christianity. The collection is rich in Bibles and prayer books, and holds a considerable body of single titles and large sets in many languages, particularly Latin and French, that feature sermons, essays, histories, biographies, etc. Segments of the collection include missionary catechisms and songbooks used by Catholic and Protestant missionaries with the Sioux Indians on the Minnesota frontier; other segments include a significant body of original imprints bearing on the Reformed tradition of the Protestant Reformation, and Catholic Americana.

The mission of AIML’s Special Collections is to collect significant theological and historic texts for scholarly research or that represent local and long-standing works of Catholic History. In so doing, we provide primary sources to stimulate, enrich, and support research, teaching, learning.  We make these resources available to a broad constituency as part of the University's engagement with the larger community of scholars and independent researchers.

In August 2013 blooms of a waxy substance, called spew, contaminated many books in our Rare Book Collection. Curt LeMay, Director of the Archbishop Ireland Memorial Library, approached the Chemistry department for help in identifying white film forming on the surface of leather bound 300-year-old books. Meghan Talbot, chemistry major and a research student under Dr. Marites Guino-o, was glad to help. The endeavor is a great example of the partnerships and cooperation that can be found in the University community.

 “Being able to work on a project such as this was a great honor. It was a very interesting experience to be able to work with a book that was evidence of a time in which I had learned about in previous history classes. I am glad that the work that I was able to do has the ability to help the library preserve books, such as this one, as they are such a crucial connection to our past.” ~Meghan Talbot

Once the substance was identified, LeMay consulted the Minnesota Art Conservation Center and developed a treatment plan to treat the entire collection which had varying levels of impact.

As spew is very likely to re-occur, the books were transferred to a specialized compact shelving unit in the O’Shaughnessy Frey Library’s Department of Special Collections and Archives in June 2015. They are now housed in appropriate environmental conditions. As a closed collection, the staff of the special collections department will retrieve the requested volume, and the patron will be able to view it in the special collections department.

LeMay emphasizes the importance of preserving this collection as it represents our heritage, “the collection serves as our own crown jewels.” John Ireland, founder of St. Thomas and The Saint Paul Seminary brought much of the collection here to Minnesota from France. The collection is an important expression of the history of our faith as well as fine book making.