Burton Barr Library Rare Book Room

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We take you to the Phoenix Burton Barr Library’s rare book room, which houses some 3,500 items, including 4,000-year-old clay tablets from Mesopotamia.

TED SIMONS: THE PHOENIX BURTON BARR LIBRARY HOLDS 1 MILLION BOOKS, AND ALSO INCLUDES EDITIONS THAT MOST PEOPLE NEVER SEE. THOSE TITLES ARE HELD IN THE LIBRARY'S RARE BOOK ROOM.

ALLYSA ADAMS: IN A SMALL CORNER OF THE FOURTH FLOOR OF THE LIBRARY IS A TREASURE TROVE OF HISTORY.

HEATHER KENDALL: I CARE FOR EVERYTHING. I MAKE SURE IT'S AN IDEAL CONDITION AND TREATED PROPERLY.

ALLYSA ADAMS: HEATHER KENDALL IS THE RARE BOOK ROOM LIBRARIAN, HOSTING THREE COLLECTIONS.

HEATHER KENDALL: THE RARE BOOKS ARE SO SPECIAL TO THE LIBRARY, BECAUSE THERE ARE VERY FEW LIBRARIES WHO HAVE SUCH A COLLECTION.

ALLYSA ADAMS: THE 3,500 ITEMS WERE LEFT BY ALFRED E. KNIGHT IN THE 1950s, INCLUDING 4,000-YEAR-OLD TABLETS FROM MESOPOTAMIA.

HEATHER KENDALL: THOSE TABLETS ARE JUST SMALL REPRESENTATIONS OF THE FIRST FORM OF WHAT I CALL PORTABLE WRITING. SO PEOPLE WERE ABLE TO WRITE DOWN WHAT THEY NEEDED TO COMMUNICATE AND CARRY IT FROM PLACE TO PLACE, AND THAT WAS THE FORMAT.

ALLYSA ADAMS: THERE'S ALSO THIS LEAF OR PAGE FROM THE GUTTENBERG BIBLE, THE FIRST BOOK USING METAL TYPE, ONE OF ONLY 49 COPIES LEFT IN THE WORLD.

HEATHER KENDALL: YOU CAN READ ALL ABOUT YOHAN GUTTENBERG AND THE INVENTION OF MOVABLE TYPE, BUT UNTIL YOU ACTUALLY SEE THE PIECE OF THE BIBLE THAT HE PUT TOGETHER, THE FIRST EXPERIENCED WORK, YOU DON'T REALLY EXPERIENCE HISTORY.

ALLYSA ADAMS: SO HOW DOES A LIBRARY DETERMINE IF A BOOK IS RARE?

HEATHER KENDALL: THAT ACTUALLY CAN JUST COME DOWN TO ECONOMICS, SUPPLY AND DEMAND. SO AN ITEM THAT WAS OF GREAT SIGNIFICANCE, AND THERE ARE VERY FEW OF THEM LEFT, CAN BE CONSIDERED RARE, OR BECAUSE OF ITS SUBJECT MATTER, IT CAN BE THOUGHT OF AS RARE, OR ITS AGE, AGE AND CONDITION.

ALLYSA ADAMS: THE NEWEST COLLECTION CONTAINS ARTIST MADE BOOKS. A CITY LIBRARIAN IN THE 1980s STARTED IT AS A WAY TO INTRODUCE BOOK ART.

HEATHER KENDALL: THE MEANING OF IT ISN'T JUST LIMITED TO THE WORDS. IT CAN BE EXPRESSED THROUGH THE ACTUAL FORMAT OF IT. IT CAN BE ACTUALLY SOUND ORIENTED. THERE'S ALSO DIFFERENT TYPES OF SHAPES AND SIZES AND MATERIALS.

ALLYSA ADAMS: ARTIST BOOKS CAN BE INTERACTIVE LIKE THIS ONE. WHEN YOU PLACE THE CYLINDER IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PAGE, YOU CAN SEE HOW THE IMAGE OF THE TREE TRANSFERS TO THE CYLINDER. OTHER BOOKS ARE MORE PERSONAL. 50 YEARS OF SILENCE TELLS THE STORY OF HER PARENTS THAT ARE BOTH HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS. KENDALL DISPLAYS SOME OF THE RARE FIRST EDITIONS ON SHELVES. OTHERS ARE KEPT IN A TEMPERATURE SENSITIVE VAULT, AND NOT ALL ITEMS IN THIS ROOM ARE BOOKS.

HEATHER KENDALL: WE HAVE SOME WONDERFUL ITEMS FROM THESE TABLES THAT WE KEEP IN THE ROOM THAT WERE FROM THE ORIGINAL CARNEGIE LIBRARY, THE FIRST LIBRARY AND PARK DOWNTOWN. THEY ARE FROM THE LATE 1800s. THE PRINTING PRESS IS FROM 1895. IT'S AN ORIGINAL PRESS, AND WE DO USE IT ON OCCASION.

ALLYSA ADAMS: WITH SO MANY BEAUTIFUL AND HISTORIC PIECES, KENDALL SAYS EVERY DAY SHE SPENDS HERE, SHE LEARNS SOMETHING NEW.

HEATHER KENDALL: MY FAVORITE ITEM IN HERE IS THE FIRST EDITION GONE WITH THE WIND. IT IS ABSOLUTELY MY FAVORITE BOOK. EVERY TIME YOU ASK ME THAT QUESTION, I MAY HAVE A DIFFERENT ANSWER, BECAUSE WE HAVE SOME REALLY INCREDIBLE HISTORICAL MATERIALS AND PIECES OF ART THAT REALLY MOVE YOU.

TED SIMONS: THE LIBRARY OFFERS TOURS OF THE ROOM TWICE A MONTH. THEY ARE FREE, BUT SPACE IS LIMITED. FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT THE BURTON BARR BRANCH.

I'M TED SIMONS. THAT'S IT FOR NOW. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING.

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