Tufts Libraries: One Book at a Time

At Tisch Library, you can see a thirteenth century Bible—and check out a bike while you are there, too

Ray Bradbury once said in an interview, “Without libraries, what have we? We have no past and no future.” For a series on libraries at the university, we’ve asked the librarians at Tufts’ many libraries to tell us about their collections—their most unusual items and best-kept secrets. Read about Ginn Library, the SMFA Library, the Webster Family Library, the Hirsh Health Sciences Library, Digital Collections and Archives, and the Lilly Music Library, too.

We start with Tisch Library, the university’s central library on the Medford/Somerville campus, where the librarians did a deep dive into the collection to fill us in.

Focus of collection. We have a well-rounded collection with every subject from anthropology to zoology across the whole breadth of the liberal arts. We collect print books, data sets, the New York Times online, medieval manuscripts, environmental justice websites, zines & graphic novels, scholarly journals, textbooks, and more.

Oldest item in the collection. The oldest complete book we have is Manuscript 21, a beautifully illustrated Latin Vulgate Bible from Paris, which dates to around 1240. 

The oldest item we have is a manuscript fragment from mid-twelfth century Austria or southern Germany. This piece of paper has had many lives. It started as handwritten religious text used for private devotion. It was later repurposed as part of the binding material for an early printed book on a completely different topic. More than 100 years ago, it was “rescued” from the book it had been pasted into and sold through dealers as a single piece of parchment. It was donated to Tufts by Walter Welch, A28, as part of his quest to provide Tufts students with a teaching library to understand the history of print and writing across time.

Most checked out book. The book from the main stacks with the most check outs this year is Histoire naturelle, a French/Latin edition of the classic work by Pliny the Elder. But it looks like Hamilton fever continues. The second most checked out book from the stacks is The Papers of Alexander Hamilton.


A well preserved specimen at Tisch LibraryA well preserved specimen at Tisch Library

Most unusual item in collection. A pocket-sized, medical book from 1676, Severall chirurgicall treatises, which has at least one blood-colored stain on the pages.  However, many would regard a book about Martha’s Vineyard with the wings of a flying fish preserved inside by an earlier owner—earlier than Tufts, to be clear—as the strangest. Ask our Curator of Rare Books about that one.

And not strange, but surprising: bikes. We partner with Tufts Bikes to check out free bikes to the campus community.

Best-kept secret in the collection. Our new leisure reading collection features books selected by the local, independent bookstore, Porter Square Books, located in the corridor leading to the Tower Café.

Most interesting new addition to the collection. Something digital: an online exhibit highlighting some of our New England almanacs collection, which is part of our larger pamphlets collection. Something print: Reading & Rebellion: An Anthology of Radical Writing for Children 1900-1960. Arriving imminently: Professor Daniel Dennett’s new book The Four Horsemen: The Conversation That Sparked an Atheist Revolution.

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