Tucked into a dark nook in the Reinert Alumni Library lies one of the most mysterious rooms on campus.
“I’ve heard of it, but I didn’t know it was real,” Arts & Sciences sophomore Gina Gilson said.
The rare book room: so unassuming, yet so intriguing. Many are curious, but nobody seems to know much about it.
What’s in there? Is it like Creighton’s restricted section? Who gets to go in?
Most students go four years here without finding out the answers to these questions. Lucky for you, you don’t need to look any further. I have all of the answers; I’ve been there.
What follows is a synopsis of what makes up Creighton’s rare book room, based on information given to me by Arnette Payne, who has been a librarian here for 37 years, and Sally Gibson, the head of Technical Services.
The rare book room was originally meant to be a collection of books centered on Creighton’s history and the history of Omaha. Those plans changed, however, with an unexpected turn of events in the ‘80s.
Around that time, there was a notorious book thief stealing rare books from libraries all over the country.
By using fake faculty IDs and sneaking books away in briefcases, under oversized raincoats and down elevator shafts, the thief managed to accumulate roughly 20,000 highly valuable titles.
The FBI contacted Creighton’s librarians, Payne included, to aid in identifying the libraries from which each book was stolen.
“Those of us who worked on identifying the books got certificates from the FBI,” Payne said. “We were also given shirts that said ‘I took the rare book room adventure.’ It was one of the highlights of working here.”
At the end of the investigation, 3,000 of the books did not have a home. Now they do: Creighton’s rare book room.
These stolen books make up a good portion of the rare book room’s inventory, including a Civil War diary and an original copy of “Paradise Lost.”
Some of the books that are of special interest to students include a signed copy of John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles of Courage”, a hieroglyphic stone, an original Spanish choir book from the 1500s and a Spanish prayer book written in 14 karat gold ink.
These books are so guarded that an invisibility cloak wouldn’t even allow you to gain access.
The books are accessible to students, but appointment is necessary. Students are not able to check the books out, but a secretary will retrieve whatever book the student wants to use.
And don’t even think about bringing a backpack, raincoat, food, drink or ink pens.
Behind a locked door, in locked cabinets, accessible by appointment and under supervision — Why are these books so heavily protected?
After being released from prison in 1995, the thief sent a letter to Creighton’s librarians threatening to come to Creighton and retrieve his contraband. Before the letter, there was no security system. The librarians have been given photos to identify the thief if he follows through on his threat.
Other than the stolen books, the collection is mostly comprised of donated material, books that faculty write, anything about the Creighton family and old Bibles.
Although Gibson and Payne both mentioned that students don’t often need or use the material for projects, it is worth checking out, if only because of how cool the actual room is.
It smells like old books and looks straight out of a movie. There are cool artifacts adorning the walls and a conference table where faculty members hold occasional meetings and interviews. All of the ancient-looking books are behind metal cabinets, the most fragile ones marked with pink ribbons.
It’s not particularly common for students to be able to use the material in the rare book room for research projects, but why not check it out?
“It’s here, we want people to know about it and we want people to use it,” Payne said.