By Colleen Theisen, Chief Curator

Syracuse University Libraries is featuring a new sesquicentennial exhibit of milestones of SU Libraries titled “Let the Reader Emerge! Milestones of the Syracuse University Libraries” on the first floor of Bird Library from February 3 until mid-May.

Sebastian Modrow, SCRC’s Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts, curated the exhibition. Modrow also teaches a course in the iSchool on the history of libraries and archives. Reflecting on the experience, Modrow remarked, “The development of this exhibit was so much fun especially because I not only teach and research library history in general, but also work at the Syracuse University Libraries. I learned a lot and I am now looking at our library facilities with very different eyes.”

Below, we’ve gathered a few highlights from the origins of Special Collections, the University Archives, and the Belfer Audio Archive over the last 150 years.

Leopold von Ranke in his library, early 1880s

Leopold von Ranke in his library, early 1880s
Leopold von Ranke Papers,
Special Collections Research Center
This picture of Leopold von Ranke surrounded by his library was taken only a few years before his death in 1886.

Historian Leopold von Ranke’s personal and professional library, consisting of more than 20,000 books, several hundred manuscripts and approximately 5 linear feet of personal papers, was purchased for Syracuse University in 1887 and formed the nucleus of what is now the Syracuse University Special Collections Research Center (SCRC). Von Ranke was a leading figure in focusing on primary source documents for historic research.

 Interior of the von Ranke Library, circa 1900
Interior of the von Ranke Library, circa 1900
Syracuse University Photograph Collection,
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center

After spending approximately a year in the basement of the Hall of Languages, the von Ranke Library was moved during March and April of 1889 into its new home in a purpose-built library (the present Tolley Humanities Building).

 Interior of the von Ranke Library, circa 1900
The Lena R. Arents Rare Book Room at Carnegie Library, 1967
Syracuse University Photograph Collection,
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center

Upon his death in 1960, George Arents, the donor of the Lena R. Arents Rare Book Room, left the University a gift of $2 million towards the construction of a new library. The George Arents Research Library, later the Special Collections Research Center, moved from the Lena R. Arents Rare Book Room at Carnegie into its new home on the sixth floor of Bird Library just over a decade later.

Walter Welch, 1970
Walter Welch, 1970
Syracuse University Photograph Collection,
University Archives, Special Collections Research Center
Curator Walter Welch at work in the basement of the Continental Can building, predecessor to the Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive.

The Diane and Arthur Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive is the first studio ever designed solely for audio preservation, and it became part of the Special Collections Research Center in 2016.

Founded as an audio archive in 1963 with a collection of 150,000 recordings held off-campus under the leadership of Walter L. Welch, the Special Collections Research Center’s collection of sound recordings and related items has grown to over 500,000 items housed in a specially designed, climate-controlled facility on campus. The collection includes formats from the earliest experimental recordings on tinfoil to modern digital media.

Exhibition case with materials from the University Archives' exhibit, 
"150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University"
Exhibition case with materials from the University Archives’ exhibit,
“150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University”

The University Archives also became part of the Special Collections Research Center in 2016. The Archives is dedicated to preserving records that document the history, organization, policies, activities, and people of the University, and making those records available to researchers. The Pan Am 103/ Lockerbie Air Disaster Archives are part of the University Archives.

The Syracuse University Photograph Collection (Syracuse University Photograph Collection, University Archives, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s University Archives collections.

The Leopold von Ranke Papers (Leopold von Ranke Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries) is part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections.


Check out the full exhibit “Let the Reader Emerge! Milestones of the Syracuse University Libraries” which continues until mid-May in the first floor Learning Commons of Bird Library and in the Carnegie Library exhibit cases.

The University Archives sesquicentennial exhibit, “150 Years of Tradition at Syracuse University” continues on the 6th floor of Bird Library, and you can view an online version.

The University Archives’ exhibit, “A Legacy of Leadership: The Chancellors and Presidents of Syracuse University” also continues in first floor Learning Commons of Bird Library.