MARBL Offers World of Research

Students, scholars, and alumni are invited to use MARBL's resources to advance knowledge and research.

By Michelle Valigursky

Long gone are the days of having to show “proof” of your scholarship to enter the library. At Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library (MARBL), a steady flow of students, scholars, and researchers ensures the primary resources available for study “are used by the broadest range of individuals,” says Elizabeth Chase 08G 12PhD, coordinator of research services for MARBL. “Archives have moved away from closed access.” Rosemary Magee 82PhD, vice president and secretary of Emory University has been named MARBL’s director. “There is nowhere I’d rather be than in a library – small, large, public, or research,” Magee wrote in the latest edition of MARBL’s magazine.

Magee’s appreciation is shared by all who experience the strengths of MARBL. Emory’s manuscript and archival collections are particularly strong in modern literature, especially modern poetry; African-American history and culture, focusing on Black print culture and the Civil and post-Civil Rights movement in the South; and Southern history from mid-nineteenth century to the present. On staff are conservationists and archivists whose job it is to restore, repair, and record vital information about collection materials.

With extensive literary manuscript collections, MARBL offers insight into the writer’s thoughts and work process. Chase points out the 2006 acquisition of University Distinguished Professor Sir Salman Rushdie’s papers. “The word ‘papers’ can be somewhat misleading. In today’s age of computers, an author’s work is often largely digital in nature. Salman Rushdie donated four computers along with his physical papers, including the computer he used to write The Moor’s Last Sigh.” Though some files are restricted to preserve Rushdie’s personal data, “the preservation includes an open emulation for researchers to understand how he named and filed documents on his computers. As archivists, it is important to preserve the environment as well as the data.”

MARBL’s storage system is both complex and extremely well organized, designed for ease of access by staff with sliding shelves and meticulously labeled and arranged archival boxes that house a variety of materials. Photos, memorabilia, and other unusual original documents have been archived such as sheet music, art books, and one-of-a-kind manuscripts including one written on a paper bag and framed. In the main reading room, glass-cased displays showcase highlights of the collections. MARBL is also charged with maintaining the university’s historical archives including yearbooks, newspapers, and magazines.

How to Use MARBL

The process for using the materials in MARBL is well defined. Located on the tenth floor of the Robert W. Woodruff Library, “MARBL is open to all researchers who wish to use the materials it houses for their research or teaching, including Emory undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff members, and other researchers from outside the university,” Chase explains. Pre-college research is considered on a case-by-case basis.

Though MARBL does work with walk-in clients, the process can be expedited by email. Requests may be placed in advance for 24-48 hour turnaround in retrieval, depending on where the item is stored. Pulled materials are then stored at the reference desk. Chase recommends researchers refer to the Emory Finding Aids Database which provides centralized access to detailed descriptions of archival and manuscript collections held in various repositories at Emory. In addition, individuals may refer to MARBL’s conduct research site for further information on how to use MARBL resources.

Individuals must present photo identification and complete and sign a researcher registration form. This simple paperwork becomes a documentary record for preservation and security of the collections. Personal items, including pens, must be stored in secure lockers. Though copies can be made by MARBL staff, to ease the research process, use of digital cameras is permitted. Chase explains the multiple benefits of this policy. “Materials are handled less frequently for photocopying, which aids in their preservation. In addition, researchers can spend less time at MARBL and more time at home, studying the materials at length and at their leisure through digital images,” Chase said.

MARBL staff will retrieve the materials which must be used in the reading room. Perhaps even more important to the researcher is the expertise they share on many subjects. “We also help individuals navigate the process for usage of materials with respect to copyright,” Chase explains. “MARBL is open to everyone, and we encourage people to explore the depth and richness of the university’s collections.”

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Michelle Valigursky