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Integration of a Distinctive Collection

May 7, 2018

It has been 175 years since the Order of Saint Augustine (OSA) established Villanova University. The major library for the University, Falvey Memorial Library, is a complex of three interconnected structures. Thought of as a single entity, the building hosts a variety of offices, classrooms and conference spaces designed to support various campus activities and academic services; some not typically affiliated with the traditional function of a library. This however has increasingly become the new norm for a lot of libraries, particularly on university campuses where space is at a premium. Learning support centers, IT and communication-related areas, innovation and makerspaces, even a virtual reality laboratory have been incorporated into the main university library at Villanova.

In the process, every nook and cranny has been evaluated for maximum utilization. Nevertheless, for multiple reasons and for many years, one space existed in a kind of bubble. Its location was considered remote and its purpose was obscure. Off the beaten path and inaccessible to many, “The Augustinian Room” was the home of the Augustinian Historical Institute (AHI) at Villanova University. Its situation recalls something from the musical “The Music Man.” In that show, the library building belongs to the town, but the books belong to the head-strong librarian. In the case of the AHI, the room is in the library and is the property of the University, but its contents are owned by the OSA.

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Room 301 Falvey Hall, formerly the “The Augustinian Room,” is currently being used as student
study space and an occasional conference room. Photo taken by Justin D’Agnese, 25 August 17.

A few years ago, several Augustinian provinces in North America corporately agreed the books and other materials in the AHI collection be held collectively, to maintain ownership by the OSA. The collection would merely be housed by Villanova University in its library. Even though the AHI had a storied past, producing scholarship and even sponsoring archaeological digs, in recent years it had basically become a non-circulating research collection focused on the OSA. The Augustinian presence is still very strong at Villanova, as seen by the development of another institute for the study of the life and writings of St. Augustine, and other initiatives associated with the heritage of the OSA by the Office for Mission and Ministry at the University. A long-standing body of materials collected to gather scholarly resources relevant to the study of the OSA at one of the Augustinians’ flagship insititutions, what haunted the AHI was that it was too little known, including by folks at Villanova, and too little used by the scholarly community in general.

The OSA founded the University in the mid-19th century. The seminal AHI collection was originally in Riverdale, N.Y. and brought to Villanova in the early 1970s. It was in the library but maintained a separate identity until 2016. Integration began when items were identified in the Library’s catalog as: “On deposit from the Order of Saint Augustine as part of the Augustinian Historical Institute.” However, even this potential online visibility did not show it as anything more than more holdings. The greater solution is still getting worked out, through the active collaboration of the subject librarian who curates the collection, and the heads of special collections, access services, and cataloging. Cross-departmental cooperation and internal communication are key to integrating a distinctive collection, and this is an excellent example of the kind of protected but hidden special collection that are good for a library’s identity, but which vex librarians.

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