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The rare books collection at Van Pelt Library will see an addition of $20 million worth of medieval and renaissance manuscripts by fall 2012.

Twenty million dollars worth of medieval and renaissance manuscripts will find a home on the 6th floor of Van Pelt Library when it reopens in fall 2012.

On Thursday, Penn Libraries announced that Lawrence Schoenberg, who obtained his bachelor’s degree from the College in 1953 and an MBA from the Wharton School in 1957, donated 280 manuscripts to the rare books collection.

The collection will help launch the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies.

“Larry has had Penn in mind for this collection for many years because the way we run our special collections is distinctive for university libraries,” said Joe Zucca, the director of planning and communication for Penn Libraries.

What sets Penn apart is that its rare documents are easily accessible, said David McKnight, director of the Rare Book and Manuscript Library for Penn Libraries. The library encourages students to seek out primary sources and has one of the first digitized manuscript collections that is accessible through the internet.

As the curator of the Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image, McKnight has helped convert over 1,500 manuscripts to digital formats.

“The Schoenberg collection will transform the existent collection into a comprehensive collection,” he said, adding that many of the University’s 1,000 manuscripts are heavily focused in religion, history or law.

“The manuscripts he has acquired have focused on science, technology and medicine,” McKnight said. Schoenberg has worked to acquire texts that “represent the transformation of knowledge over time.”

The existing manuscripts and the Schoenberg collection will be open to all.

English department lecturer Rosemary O’Neill’s English 20 class, “Literature before 1660,” spent time in the library last week, exploring original manuscripts of William Shakespeare and John Milton.

“The materials are extremely accessible and the librarians really encourage students at all levels, undergraduate and graduate, to make use of the material,” O’Neill said.

College sophomore Erin Nigro, who is enrolled in O’Neill’s class, gained a historical lesson when studying rare books.

“It was interesting to see how the books were produced and how they appeared,” Nigro said. “When you’re looking at the manuscript you learn about its production and how society would treat it.”

Renovations of the Special Collections Center at Van Pelt will accommodate the new Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies.

“Unlike places like Yale or Harvard, our special collections are very conducive to the interest scholars have in physical contact with the material,” Zucca said.

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