Off the Beaten Path: William L. Clements Library

BY GRACELIN BASKARAN
For the Daily
Published September 21, 2009

One afternoon, William L. Clements Library volunteer Tom Dziuszko spotted a political science student looking over a copy of the Federalist Papers before class.

He was able to show her a better copy.

Original copies of the Federalist Papers are just one of the historical jewels the library located on South University Avenue houses. There are also eyewitness accounts of the deaths of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, a note from Frederick Douglass that was carried through the Underground Railroad and Christopher Columbus’s written report to Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of his first expedition.

The earliest published piece of writing in the library is from 1108, and the furniture seems just as historic as the literature. With antique desks and couches, the library itself looks like it could’ve been Lincoln’s study.

The Clements Library, which opened in 1923, was the gift of the library’s namesake, a University regent and alumnus. The historical collection has more than 75,000 rare books, 2,000 volumes of early newspapers, 40,000 maps and over 3,000 individual photos and manuscripts.

The library attracts people from across the world like Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough who used the Clements Library archives to write his book, "1776."

“The library may be more famous internationally than it is on South University,” said Ann Rock, the library’s director of development. “People come from all over the world to see this. To students, it is just a little building on South University.”

On a good day, only 12 people will be in the downstairs research section of the library, though sometimes, according to Dziuszko, the exhibits draw larger crowds.

In addition to historical artifacts, the library also has one of the nation’s largest culinary collections — the Longone Center for American Culinary Research.

The library will close its doors next school year and will stay closed for a year and a half while it undergoes its first renovation since it was built 86 years ago. The University will contribute $10 million to the project.