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Written by: Mary Catherine Santoro
Monday February 10, 2014

The Bailey-Law Collection is one of the Special Collections housed at Virginia Tech’s Carol M. Newman Library.  In a library, a special collection is something set aside from the general collection, often organized around a particular topic or person.  The materials included in it are frequently rare and of special value, whether that value is momentary, as artifacts, or to the organization.

The Bailey-Law Collection consists of books, papers, notes, photographs, and correspondence that document the work of two noted ornithologists and naturalists: Harold H. Bailey and John Eugene Law.  Bailey and Law worked and collected specimens in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Nest and eggs from the Bailey-Law Collection, now housed at VMNH.

In fact, many of the specimens they collected are now housed here at VMNH.  They include not only birds (and nests and eggs as seen above) but also mammals.  These biological collections were transferred from Virginia Tech to our care about ten years ago.  Before their arrival at Virginia Tech, they were held by Bailey, who married Law’s widow, Laura, connecting the men and their collections. 

There are many reasons an organization may seek a new home for some part of its collections, including such things as a change in the institution’s focus or priorities, the interested staff’s retirement or other departure, or simply a matter of insufficient storage space.  In this case, VMNH took in many of the biological specimens, while much of the paper-based collection remained safely stored and neatly organized at the Newman Library.

The more a scientist knows about a specimen (like how and when and where it was collected), the more valuable it has the capacity to be for research.  Dr. Nancy Moncrief (Curator of Mammalogy), Haley Cartmell (Collections Manager), and I therefore recently visited the Special Collections Department at Newman Library to look at some of the Bailey-Law documents.  In addition to getting a general feel for the collection’s contents on this visit, we found information that will help us answer some questions we’ve had about things in our own collection. We received much-appreciated assistance from Virginia Tech’s Public Services and Reference Archivist, Marc Brodsky, and the wonderful finding aid the department has created for this collection.

Looking through the materials at Virginia Tech’s Special Collections Department.

And, of course, as on any proper visit to an archive, we took a few fascinating side trips into topics other than the one we had come to research, browsing through other files and folders to see what we would find there.  The Bailey-Law Collections, both documents and specimens, are treasure troves of natural history information.  We’re looking forward to seeing what other answers they will provide, and glad that they have found excellent homes.

Tags: Bailey-Law Collections, Birds, Library, Mary Catherine Santoro, Research and Collections, Virginia Tech

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