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Downstate library's archive yields rare treasures
Associated Press
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Published: 5/17/2010 7:40 AM

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CLINTON -- Jenny Freed spends her days sorting through time.

Walking among floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with books, the archivist at Vespasian Warner Public Library said, "Our pride and joy is the C.H. Moore collection.

"Moore had the largest circulating collection of books outside of Chicago," Freed said, something pretty extraordinary for the 19th century.

When Moore died at the beginning of the 20th century, the friend and associate of Abraham Lincoln gave his 5,000 books to the community with the understanding a library would be built to house them, she said. And Vespasian Warner, Moore's son-in-law, paid for the library and gave the land for it, she added, with the library opening its doors in 1908.

No one knows for certain if Lincoln read from Moore's collection, but it is known that he gave Moore at least one of the books the library has, Freed said. That book was a gift to Moore before Lincoln began his first term as president.

The collection was catalogued by author and title cards in the 19-teens, according to Tom Rudasill, co-director of the Warner library. In the mid-1990s, he said he shelved the collection into one location, doing some simple cleaning, after finding the collection scattered throughout the library.

"We're keeping absolutely everything in the C.H. Moore collection," Freed said.

Her plans include digitalizing the information to make it available on the Internet. None of the Moore collection has ever been sold legally, Freed said, adding that each is marked with a specific stamp on its title page.

"There are probably 100 books, maybe more, missing," Freed said.

For example, the library has records that the collection once included a first edition copy of "The Book of Mormon" that can no longer be found, she said.

Freed's time, however, is not solely devoted to the Moore collection.

Among her surprise finds were some works of art.

Opening an art storage box, she carefully revealed 29 prints, all works created by artists with the Work Projects Administration.

"They are different, different styles. Some are black and white. Some are color. Some are rural Illinois scenes. Some are industrial scenes.

"These were just in a box on the floor," Freed said.

She also found an 1862 book on the "Treatment of Gunshot Wounds," a couple of vintage circus books and another on "Myths of the Dark Continent."

The archives also contain aerial and historic photographs along with historic information of the area, Freed said. One of the historic finds is a book of handwritten letters and records of local people who fought in the Civil War, said Bobbi Perryman, adult services librarian.

And, then, there's "Evangeline."

The library has a hand-illuminated copy of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, one of a limited number produced and published in 1903. That book came as a gift from the Ohio estate of Margaret Jackson, who had a connection to the Warner family, said Rudisill.

Freed's work often involves disturbing the dust collected on the books, and sometimes the books have to be vacuumed before they can even be assessed. It's on those days that Freed dons her $1 plastic apron found in a garage sale, along with a dust-filtering mask for her face and a hair cover. Then, before going home, she bags her clothing, sealing them until she has a chance to throw everything into the laundry.

"On some (books), I have discovered mold. On some, I have discovered book rot," Freed said. "We're working with 19th century leather here. It wasn't always the best."

Sometimes Freed can stop the progression of time for the books, sometimes not.

"It's painful have to get rid of my books. I call it euthanizing," she said.