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FYS: I Am the Scribe: The Invention of Writing and Books: Southwestern's Treasures

The content will focus on the most ancient songs, poems and passages from epics of a least the following cultures: China, and Japan, Scandinavia (including England), Greece and India.

Collections at Southwestern

Special Collections holds the library's rare books and archival collections including the papers of U.S. Senator (1961-1985), John G. Tower '48. The department holds over 13,000 rare books and 1,400 linear feet of archival manuscript materials. 

Special Collections began in 1939 as a locked area in the then-new Cody Memorial Library. The acquisition of rare Texas and Methodist related materials precluded the beginning of the department. During the 1966 renovation of the library, the collections were large enough to warrant an entire secure room in the new building. When the current library building was built in 1992, the collections were large enough that they required a large reading room for patrons, and several floors for storage, processing, and conservation of the materials in the collection. The space is much the same now as it was in 1992.

Over 4000 works were printed before 1900, the earliest of which is a leaf from a Gutenberg Bible. Special Collections has a number of objects in its collection, as well as codices, maps, and facsimiles relating to literature, art, culture, and history.

To view these objects and learn more about them, please visit Special Collections on the second floor of the Smith Library Center. They have shorter hours of operation than other library departments, so pay close attention to their policies and procedures to ensure you get the most out of your experience there. If you have further questions about the collection, please contact ​Jason W. Dean at

Items in Special Collections

Items in Special Collections

Meet Jason W. Dean, Director of Special Collections with Dr. Robertson

Students, faculty and researchers are increasingly interested in the special collections of university libraries brought about in part by the enhanced discovery access and use of rare materials made possible through digitization. Jason's deep understanding of the relationships among special collections, archives, technologies and scholarship  has already increased the visibility and use of Southwestern's treasures.

His undergraduate degree in history is from Hardin-Simmons University, and his MS LIS is from Syracuse University. Jason has also completed coursework at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia.

Prior to coming to Southwestern, Jason was Head of the Special Formats Cataloging Unit at the University of Arkansas, and was previously the Cataloger and Technical Services Librarian at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, where he started their library.

Jason is a member of the Grolier Club, and a past IMLS-RBS fellow. He is active in several professional organizations related to history, rare books, and archives.


An illuminated manuscript is a book written and decorated completely by hand. Illuminated manuscripts were among the most precious objects produced in the Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, primarily in monasteries and courts. Society's rulers--emperors, kings, dukes, cardinals, and bishops--commissioned the most splendid manuscripts.

For more than a thousand years all manuscripts were written and illustrated by hand. By the Middle Ages, books were being made by folding sheets of parchment, arranging them into gatherings, and assembling and binding them together. This animation from the Getty Museum illustrates how medieval books were constructed--a feat of engineering that remains essentially the same today.

Chancery Papermaking at the University of Iowa's Center for the Book.

From books, to confetti, to origami, our lives wouldn't be the same without paper. Modern day paper making began in ancient China. And even though today most paper is made in factories, there are those who carry on the ancient tradition, with beautiful results. China Uncensored presents another lost episode of Journey to the East.

Take a short visit to Firefly Press in Somerville Massachusetts. John Kristensen, proprietor. This wonderful little documentary speaks to the craftsmanship and love of traditional design that drew many of us into the world of graphic design years ago. Take a moment to slow down and enjoy.

Round scroll box wrapped in silk and  paper with ink sticks, small reservoir for ink and brush.  Courtesy of Frank Smith Library, Special Collections.

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