Precious Materials: Rare Books and Special Collections at the MSU Library

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Where can you go to find cookbooks, comics and cuneiform receipts for sheep? Michigan State University’s Rare Books and Special Collections, of course. This library of obscure, ancient, unique or otherwise critical books and documents is nationally regarded and crucial to researchers of all fields. 

Besides the obvious candidates for collection, like 13th century songbooks and illuminated Bibles, the collection is also home to thousands of more modern works that are rare in different ways. These include the nationally respected collections of comics and cookbooks, which are sourced from America as well as the rest of the world. You can also find novels printed by Virginia Woolf in her own home and unique “art books” that look more like salads or underwater caves than manuscripts.   

Another rare item is the 1800 A.D. cuneiform tablet, on which is inscribed a receipt for livestock. You can take home your own 3D printed copy for around $5. The collection also houses connections to past MSU faculty. Dr. Shao Chang Lee was the first director of the International Center in 1944 and began the tradition of hosting tea parties for American and international students to get to know one another. He made many generous donations to the Rare Books and Special Collections, and his personal seal can be found on much of the Chinese material in the collection.

Anyone, whether they’re affiliated with the university or not, can access the collection for free in the reading room that has recently moved to the first floor of the library. So, whether you’re looking for primary sources on Nigerian history or an alchemy manual, you’ll find it in the Rare Books and Special Collections.

Visit the collection on the first floor of the library from 1-8 p.m. Sundays through Tuesdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays.