Uncovering the University's 'X-Files'

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By Robin Dean

Tucked behind a quiet study area, an array of books signaling a variety of literature situate themselves on the bookshelves within the Social Sciences, Health and Education Library. Camouflaged between this collection are books that reveal unique, paranormal phenomena, like palmistry or mysticism, and the University is one of the only college library systems in the country that owns them.

University students are provided with the option to gain a holistic view of the occult sciences through the Merten J. Mandeville Collection housed within the Main LibraryRB. With over 16,000 items RBthat reveal supernatural beliefs or phenomena, those on campus are able to actively interact and browse the unique collection.

“There are very few libraries in the United States that have occult science collections,” said Nancy O’ Brien, head of the Social Sciences, Health and Education Library. “It is something that people from other parts of the country come to us for. I’ve even had people from other countries contact me for assistance with the collection.”

The Mandeville Collection was instilled on campus in 1966 through the retiring professor of commerce Merten J. MandevilleRB. He donated his personal collection of 400 titles while also providing a fund for new acquisitions. The titles detailed a diverse amount of topics to get the collection started, but mostly, Mandeville’s books talked about astrology. 

“(Mandeville) felt that individuals really didn’t have easy access to this type of material unless they collected it themselves,” O’Brien said. “He also wanted to make it more comfortably available for people to research these aspects.”

With his endowment, Mandeville created two stipulations: none of his funding be used to purchase any materials on black magic, and also asked for the collection to always remain available to the public.RB

“He was very clear that he did not want the library to purchase material that could make it possible for somebody to do harm to others,” O’Brien said.

Apart from black magic, supernatural topics have a strong influence in media. For John Potts, sophomore in Engineering, the occult sciences library allows students to engage with this fascination. With a deep interest in learning about UFOs and alien life, Potts believes the collection can enhance the campus experience.

“I feel as though every person has a deep fascination with mysteries and the unknown. You can see this with the famous poster from ‘X-Files,’ ‘I Want to Believe.’ I really think it’s true, and that’s why people of all ages like to see magic or hear of the far-fetched possibilities,” Potts said. “It feeds the mind with bizarre possibilities.”

Like other students, Anto Sagayaraj, junior in Engineering, hopes to use the collection to help gain a better understanding of the occult sciences. He also thinks that having the collection on campus can expand the impact the Main Library has on students and their academic journey.

“I always was super interested in ghost stories and movies growing up and always thought about the legitimacy of their claims,” Sagayaraj said. “We should have the occult collection for the Main Library because the library is a place for people to entertain their thoughts and be more educated.”

While most of the collection is kept within the Main Library book stacks, new acquisitions to the collection are located in the Social Sciences, Health and Education Library, and some items can even be found within the Rare Book & Manuscript LibraryRB.

“I think libraries should have a wide variety of categories so something could appeal to every person,” Potts said. “Having an occult collection is a good idea because reading about the different theories and ‘interactions’ with aliens makes for a good read.”

From tarot card decks to journals on astrology, all are invited to browse the Main Library for any items that suit their interest.

“We are not doing harm by learning more about a subject of belief and feeding our curiosity,” Sagayaraj said. “It just helps us to be rounded in our education of all subjects.”

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