Libraries, Within Libraries, Within Libraries

The publisher locations of materials held in the Danowski Library

This summer, Emory Alumna Candice Butts 10C, was an intern for the Raymond Danowski Library.

As an Emory alumna, a summer internship with the Danowski Poetry Library has been an exciting opportunity.  By stepping into the world of rare books and archives, I can combine my undergraduate degree in the humanities with the skills learned during my first year in Ga Tech’s Human-Computer Interaction master’s program.  As an art history major and archaeology minor, the Woodruff and Pitts libraries were second homes where I devoted several hours per week searching for research project sources.  Although I became comfortable with Emory’s open stacks libraries, I can say, with some embarrassment, that I was unfamiliar with Emory’s special collections, or archives in general, before embarking on this summer internship.

Undergrad Misconceptions

My unfamiliarity with archives originated from misconceptions gleaned from fellow students. Though experts such as professors and librarians suggested and encouraged archives use among students, I think that undergrads were more likely to listen to each other’s opinions when it came to unfamiliar territory. Unfortunately, many of the student’s opinions were wrong.

There was confusion among students regarding the location of the archives.  Some students believed that all archives were located at Oxford or stored “somewhere” offsite.  Some believed that everything above the 8th floor of the Woodruff Stacks Tower was off-limits, or that the 10th level of the tower was just a look-out point from which to see the Atlanta skyline, and not also home to the Rose Library. Others believed that archives were only for thesis or dissertation level projects, or that one had to be a law, medical, theology, or philosophy student to gain access.  I initially assumed that all Emory archives were structured like the Carlos Museum, were undergraduates could see and handle the materials, but only under archivist and professor supervision.   In my years as an Emory student, it was extremely rare to meet a fellow undergrad who visited the 10th floor archives outside of a guided tour or class trip.

I am sure that most of this confusion came from a lack of familiarity; whether a student knew were the archives where or not the majority were unsure of how or why to use them.  Only when I entered this summer internship with the Danowski Poetry Library did I finally begin to understand the value of these resources. So, what exactly are rare book and manuscript archives, who are they for, and how can they be used?  

What are Archives?

The Danowski Poetry Library is a special collection. But what makes the collection special?  Are special collections archives; and why is Danowski classified as a library? Simply put, both special collections and archives are types of libraries which house significant materials.  According to Webster’s Online Dictionary:

Library: a place in which literary, musical, artistic, or reference materials (such as books, manuscripts, recordings, or films) are kept for use but not for sale

Archive: a place in which public records or historical materials (such as documents) are preserved

Special Collection: an aggregation of printed or other material of an author or on a special subject

Inscription inside Tar Baby by Toni Morrison: “To the Toni [Cade Bambara] whose work I always love, Toni [Morrison].” This classic forms part of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library.

At the commencement of writing this blog, I asked my mom and aunt to describe an archive, and from these two women, I receive three unique answers.  They primarily described archives in the context of libraries.  They are very familiar with libraries, as both work in primary education, but the specifics of archives were less clear. However, what was clear is that all three answers had the same theme in common, lack of access. The information within the archive was in some sense off-limits. This perception of a lack of access is not completely wrong, but it was the defining characteristic of their definitions. Why is this the case? I believe the primary culprit is familiarity, physical familiarity through experience, and cultural familiarity through media.

Where are the Archives?

Raymond Danowski was a voracious collector of modern poetry and associated media.  He amassed a vast resource of creative works by established authors such as Walt Whitman and Gwendolyn Brooks as well as virtually unknown students and activists. Whether a household name or obscure, the variety of rare books, papers, posters, cassette tapes other ephemera make Danowski a unique figure in Atlanta’s academic sphere. The donated collection, the Danowski Poetry Library, lives within the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, which itself is housed within the Robert W. Woodruff Library. This nesting doll configuration of libraries within libraries within libraries is a common feature of the academic landscape, yet this arrangement can make archives difficult to locate and separate from the more accessible departments.

First edition book cover of Tar Baby by Toni Morrison.

Public libraries are ubiquitous, a fact displayed by their 1.35 billion visits in 2016.[1]  If one drives through a town, they are likely to pass by one if not multiple libraries, I know the location of a dozen public libraries as a result of my travels around the city. Yet my daily commutes have revealed only one archive. The physical invisibility of archives is also mirrored on the web of popular culture.

Popular media has embraced libraries, though still often stereotypically, in settings for a variety of media.[2]  Of course, Wikipedia has several entries on libraries and their subset archives but on the subject of media representation, only librarians and libraries have unique pages on their representation in movies, music, and games.[3] There is also a list of several external websites and blogs (the majority are currently defunct) dedicated to cataloging the phenomenon of libraries in popular culture. But a specific focus on archivists and archives is largely missing. Archivist Samantha Cross’ blog POP Archives seeks to fill the gap but thus far it stands alone.[4]

“Oh, Like Indiana Jones”?[5]

Comparing manuscript and book archives to public libraries is one way to understand them. But unlike public libraries, access to archives is deliberately limited, borrowing materials are disallowed, and most materials are unpublished – limiting online access. Thus, a more apt, yet still incomplete view, is to compare rare book archives to another type of archive – museum and archaeological collections.

Besides the materials located on the museum floor for guest viewing, these institutions frequently have archived materials stored behind the scenes for conservation, study, or other reasons. Like museum databases, manuscript archives use a standardized method to catalog all items, providing a physical description when appropriate, provenance, and categorization. Many museums such as the MET and Michael C. Carlos have accompanying photographs for cataloged items and display these images online for public access. This act is often difficult to accomplish with rare books and manuscripts as each page would have to be handled and scanned for upload, and the vast amount of material would be impossible for programs with limited staff. There is also the issue of copyright. A fresco from the year 25, even if the artist’s name is known, has no copyright claim; however, a first edition book of poetry from 25 years ago does have a claim, and uploading the entirety of its contents would become a legal affair.

Museums are primarily concerned with exhibiting their holdings, and although many archives do present curated exhibits – this is not their primary purpose. Rather, archives such as the Danowski Library are available for any individual, with permission, to physically interact with selected items. This level of familiarity is highly irregular in museum settings. As a student, I have handled and examined archaeological findings on several occasions, but never via my request to the museum. Permission is granted by the museum to the teaching professor in the context of a class session, with the only other option for materials handling provided via a summer conservation internship. If a student, or layman, wishes to examine materials within the Rose or Danowski libraries they would not need to go through an intermediary, such as a professor, but could make requests on their own.

Through such a request, primary materials are viewed for the annotated notes they may contain, the type of binding or print methods utilized, or to explore the artistic prowess little-known female illustrator, for example. Like archaeology, accessing rare book archives is a means to further understand a society through its material culture; and if visiting a site is too high of a commitment, archives are eagerly providing access to digital materials when possible.

Annotations by Toni Cade Bambara inside Tar Baby.

My summer partnership with the Danowski Poetry Library was created with current and future library patrons in mind. The goal is to make the world of special collections and archives a bit more familiar and accessible through user-centered design. Even in an academic setting, a lack of expertise with archival records can create an overwhelming experience when searching for new materials. Therefore, the team that cares and advocates for the Danowski Library is dedicated to creating a system that will make navigating archives and special collections enjoyable and edifying. My role on this journey is to research best practices, ways in which the wealth of information collected by Raymond Danowski can be discovered with ease, in preparation for a system which will embolden and inspire both tenured professors and a curious public alike to delve into Danowski and discover something new.

[1] “Public Libraries Survey,” Institute of Museum and Library Services, accessed July 14, 2020,

[2] Gretchen Keer. “The Stereotype Stereotype: Our Obsession with Library Representation,” American Libraries October 30, 2015.

[3] “Librarians in popular culture,” Wikipedia, last modified July 4, 2020,

[4] Samantha Cross, POP Archives: Archives and Archivists in Pop Culture, accessed July 14, 2020,

[5] Samantha Cross, “Archival Identity and Popular Culture: An Interview with Samantha Cross, Creator of The Pop Archives Blog,” interviewed by Nick Pavlik, Archives Aware, April 14, 2020,