UI library receives grant to catalog rare book collection

By Faraz Mirza

The University of Illinois’ Rare Book and Manuscript Library received a $498,942 grant to catalog the library’s Cavagna Collection – a collection of more than 20,000 rare Italian books from the 16th to 19th centuries – and make them accessible to scholars.

Funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources, the UIUC Library’s project was one of the 19 out of 92 grant applications that received funding from the Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives grant program in 2014. The grant is also supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Valerie Hotchkiss, director of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, said the books were “unknown to the world” at this point, and making them available to people would be a significant contribution.

“It’s probably the most important collection of books in the United States on northern Italian history, literature and theatre,” Hotchkiss said.

The library, which will also digitize the cataloged collection “eventually,” has already cataloged about 7,000 volumes as a pilot project in preparation for the grant application, Hotchkiss said. The cataloging of this collection will begin in January.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

Although most of the books and manuscripts are in Italian, Hotchkiss said, some are also in Latin because it was a more universally used language during that time period. Many were also written in disappearing Italian dialects and are valuable to linguists.

“It’s really important for students, scholars and researchers that we make this accessible, because in some cases, its the only known copy of a printed book,” Hotchkiss said.

Some of the items in the collection are the sole remaining copies in existence, while others are the last copies in North America. One such item in the collection is a document from 1750 of a well-known legal case in Italy, which involved a husband’s written account criticizing medical treatment received by his wife, who died subsequently. Though he was forced to burn nearly all copies, the Library’s copy is one of two copies that remains.

The collection was purchased by the library in 1921.

“We’re really grateful to the Council on Library and Information Resources for giving us this big grant,” Hotchkiss said.