Indiana University
November 30th, 2011

The Lilly Library at Indiana University is a hidden treasure. I have been at this university for almost three years now and I am just now discovering how cool this library is.

The Lilly Library is a very special institution at IU. It is the home of thousand of manuscripts and thousands more rare and ancient texts. While you may be saying, “Big deal, old books, who cares”, guess what… It is a big deal!

Yesterday I was working on a research paper for my history class on the Black Death. My assignment: go into Lilly Library and work with a few texts from the era and comment on medical practices and views of the time and how those views changed.

I was a little overwhelmed when I walked in to the Lilly. I had been in once before to see the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle/ Sherlock Holmes exhibit they had on display, but that was a long time ago. I turned my bag over to the locker room, pulled out my pencil and paper and proceeded to the reading room. Security is tight in Lilly. With all of the old texts and manuscripts, it has to be. You document what you take into the reading room and it gets checked when you leave. There is a list of procedures that you must read before you are permitted to work in the reading room governing the use of the materials.

When I got into the reading room the librarians got the two ancient books that I needed, set them up on cushions for me and let me peruse. I worked first with a book from 1493 by Johannes de Ketham. This book showed basic medical drawings and ideas surrounding the medical practice. Forgive the pun but it was fairly medieval.

The next piece that I looked at was Vesalius’s medical book. It was fascinating! Vesalius performed many dissections as well as did a lot of observation in his time. He showed the bodily systems in detail. He worked on observing the circulatory system. He depicted skeletons. His book was not only very interesting to read but the book object itself was really cool. The book was a monster. It was huge- the librarians had to pull out the big cushions to support it. It was very old, the pages were fragile, and the binding was starting to deteriorate. I felt so cool being able to handle this amazing lasting legacy.

Needless to say, my experience in the Lilly Library is one that I won’t forget. I felt like such a scholar; and all it took was two old texts. I hope to get back into the Lilly and find more reasons to spend time in the reading room because I truly enjoyed the opportunity that I got there. Before I left I took a look at the King James and the American Bible exhibit on display and finished with a long look at the Gutenberg Bible on display.

I could not have found a better way to spend an afternoon if I had tried.

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