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

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 Roomand 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.

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

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.