USC special collections library
Behind an unassuming office door at the University of South Carolina’s Ernest F. Hollings Library is a “vault” containing the school’s most prized artifacts:
Author F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s ledger. Sumerian cuneiform tablets documenting beer and goat purchases from thousands of years ago. An original Flash comic book. A bold letter author Ernest Hemingway wrote to Martha Gellhorn’s mother in 1945 to give his side of the story in their breakup, and the library’s oldest book: a Latin bible from the year 1240.
Artifacts in the vault — secured by a numeric code and a handprint scanner — are the most closely-guarded of USC’s extensive collection of original source material it stores for research, public viewing and preserving the historical record.
“We’re just the caretakers of stuff we want to be here for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years, something that will outlive us,” said Nicole Carrico, spokeswoman for USC’s libraries.
The “vault” is about half the size of a K-12 classroom and is kept at a constant temperature of 60 degrees and humidity of 40 percent, said Elizabeth Sudduth, the associate dean for the school’s rare and special collections.
But the “vault” isn’t the only place where USC keeps its prized artifacts. In fact, there is an entire temperature-controlled floor (dubbed the “stacks”) that boasts 10-foot tall, electronically controlled shelves and roughly 450,000 items, Sudduth said.
“The upstairs is comfortable for people,” Sudduth said. But, “Our books are in appropriate environmental conditions.”
For those who want to see these priceless artifacts, all you need is “clean hands and a pure heart and a photo ID,” Sudduth said.
All someone has to do is walk through Thomas Cooper Library, straight back through the breezeway and into the reading room. There, he or she can ask for a particular item and wait for a librarian to get it, Sudduth said. That includes the library’s most recent addition of more than 140,000 comic books.
“People can come here with a broad idea of what they’re trying to find and we can help them,” Carrico said.
Those who don’t want to leave home can look up scanned copies of the books, letters and manuscripts online.
On first glance, it looks like the library may have duplicates of a particular book. But look closer and many of them are different editions, published by different editors with slightly different wording, Sudduth said.
A prime example of that is F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald was a “perfectionist” who often changed wording and made minor edits in between printings of the book, Sudduth said.
“That could affect the reader’s interpretation, so there’s always the desire to produce the definitive edition,” Sudduth said.