Phoenix Library offers Rare Book Room Tour at Burton Barr Central Library

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, August 17, 2023 - 3:37pm
Updated: Thursday, August 17, 2023 - 4:20pm

Phoenix Public Library
Many items in the Rare Book Room are displayed for preservation and protection.

Visitors to Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix can get a firsthand look at first editions by Henry David Thoreau and Jane Austen, among other items. They’re part of the library’s Rare Book Room and a public tour will take place next week.

The largest collection in the Rare Book Room came from Alfred Knight, a local businessman who left  his personal library, 35,000 objects, to Phoenix when he died in 1958. 

Lee Franklin, community relations manager for Phoenix Public Library, said the oldest items include clay tablets from Babylonia, “These tablets were the first evidence of any script in western civilization and one of the earliest known forms of written expression. It predates paper.”

She said Knight had a particular interest in the lives and work of William Shakespeare and Napoleon Bonaparte, which are some of the items that are in the Knight collection.

Phoenix Public Library
Alfred Knight had a special interest in the life and work of William Shakespeare.

The Rare Book Room, which totals about 5,000 objects, includes historic artwork, furniture and a still functioning 1895 Washington Printing Press built by the Ostrander-Seymour Company in Chicago that was donated by Zeke A. Prust in 1988. Franklin said the library still uses it for special occasions, like printing memento items for Burton Barr’s summer solstice event.

"There’s a number of display cases that we regularly bring out pieces to feature so that people can see them. They are in glass cases that have special glass to protect the items from UV light, so that is one thing to keep in mind when people say yes to a rare book tour or special program, many of the items we’re not able to let people touch them and we have to be careful when we move them,” Franklin said.

Space is limited for the Aug. 24 tour at 5:30 p.m. at Burton Barr, and reservations can be made at the library's website

Phoenix Public Library
The smallest English New Testament printed in the 16th century is part of the Rare Book Room collection at Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix.

Phoenix Public Library
William Shakespeare's "Second Folio" from 1632 and "Fourth Folio" from 1685 are part of the Knight Collection.
Phoenix Public Library
The glass displays protect rare items at Burton Barr Public Library in Phoenix.
Phoenix Public Library
The Rare Book Room is located on the 4th floor of Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix.
Phoenix Public Library
Alfred Knight donated his personal library of 35,000 objects to Phoenix Public Library upon his death in 1958.
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