Holiday Break

An update on our holiday hours:

The Special Collections Research Center will be closed Thursday, December 22nd through Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 for the semester break. The Special Collections Research Center will open again on Thursday, January 5th at 10:00 am. Emails sent over the holiday break will not receive a reply until Thursday, January 5th, 2017, at the earliest.

Between January 5, 2017 and the start of the Spring semester on January 23, 2017, our hours will be 10:00 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday. You can find our regular hours on our homepage.

We wish everyone a very happy holiday!

-The SCRC Staff

Marking the Hours


Music for celebrating the Divine Office from the Directoriuvm Chori: Ad Vsvm Omnivm Ecclesiavm Cathedralium & CollegiatarumRare Books Collection, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries, M2153.2 .C36 1665

Sunday, November 27th marks the beginning of Advent in the Western Christian tradition. The season of Advent starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas and is preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day. It also marks the beginning of the liturgical year in the Catholic Church.

In the Special Collections Research Center, we have some examples that allow us to see the ways in which people historically celebrated the Christian liturgical year.

Vellum Leaf from a Missal printed in 1493

Vellum Leaf from a Missal printed in 1493, Rare Books Collection, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries, BX2015 .A2 1493

In medieval Christian Europe, public worship and the liturgical year revolved around the Mass or the Divine Office.

The Mass can be defined as the rituals, hymns, and readings that evolved around the celebration of the Eucharist.

In contrast, the Divine Office is a set of prayers recited at specific hours of the day. The Divine Office is primarily composed of the biblical Psalms with supplemental hymns and readings. In the Middle Ages, singing the Divine Office was the responsibility of monks and nuns. According to John Cassian (d. 435), “The whole purpose of the monk and indeed the perfection of his heart amount to this–total and uninterrupted dedication to prayer.”(1)

The medieval Divine Office was composed of eight “Offices” or “hours.”

In the Middle Ages, each of these forms of worship (Mass & Divine Office) was celebrated using a different type of book:

  • Lectionary: used by priests, it contains the Scriptural readings for use in Mass
  • Breviary: used by monks, the Breviary was a service book containing the texts necessary to celebrate the Divine Office
  • Missal: used by priests, the missal is a service book containing texts (prayers and instructions) necessary for the performance of the Mass.
  • Gradual: used by priests, it contains the musical portions of the Mass, and omits the spoken parts
  • Antiphoner: used by monks, this book would have been large enough for a monastic choir to see it, and contains sung portions of the Divine Office.

One can see how the emergence of the printing press began to change these medieval books with one of the volumes from our Rare Books collection, the Directorivm chori : ad vsvm omnivm ecclesiarvm cathedralium & collegiatarumThe Directorivm Chori is the first post-Tridentine chant book published in Rome, and it contains the basic elements for singing the Divine Office, including the principal Psalms, hymns, verses, lessons and prayers. Unlike medieval antiphoners, however, the Directorivm Chori is small, meant to be held and viewed by one person–not an entire choir.

To search the rare books collection for more interesting items from our collection, search the Mason Catalog, click on “Set Limit” and limit by the location “Fenwick Special Collections.”

  1. John Cassian, Conferences. Trans. Colm Luibheid. (New York: Paulist Press, 1985) 101


E-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have any questions. Appointments are not necessary to view collections.

Fairies and Fairy Tales

The Special Collections Research Center is celebrating Halloween by exploring some of the fairy tales, folklore and fables in our Rare Books Collection.

As it turns out–the stacks are full of magic!

Fairy popping out of a book in Special Collections

Fairy popping out of a book in Special Collections: Fairies and Magical Creatures by Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda, GR 549 .R45 2008

Fairies jump out from the pages of our rare book collection. In the pop-up volume shown here, Fairies and Magical Creatures, the authors Matthew Reinhart and Robert Sabuda discuss the history and nature of fairies. According to the authors, the origins of fairy is in dispute. They write: “Whether fallen angels, the offspring of forgotten gods, or the very spirit of nature, fairies are said to share our world but are usually hidden from view.”

When researching fairies, it is important to remember that all fairies are not the same. Different geographic regions have different traditional stories of their fairy and nature spirits.

Cover art and Table of Contents from The Blue Flower by Henry Van Dyke.

Cover art and Table of Contents from The Blue Flower by Henry Van Dyke, PS 3117 .B6 1902


So, the terrible and beautiful aristocratic sidhe described by Irish poet W.B. Yeats are as different from the woodland nymphs of Ovid as they are different from William Shakespeare’s courtly Titania and Oberon. Despite their differences, these fairies share space in the stacks of the Special Collections Research Center.

Frontispiece from W.B. Yeats' The Celtic Twilight

A poem from W.B. Yeats’ The Celtic Twilight, PR 5904 .C4 1902

In the mythology of the British Isles, there are two different types of fairies: solitary fairies, who are mischievous loners, and trooping fairies, the aristocrats of the Fairy World who appear in amazing, long processions, such as in the fairy tale Tam Lin. Reinhart and Sabuda further specify that “solitary fairies are uncivilized loners who roam the woodlands, letting whim dictate whether they will help or hinder humankind. By contrast, their gregarious cousins, the trooping fairies, live according to fairy laws and etiquette.”
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The cast of characters from Purcell's Fairy Queen, based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

The cast of characters from Purcell’s The Fairy-Queen: An Opera, based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ML 50.2 .F145 P92 1692

Fairy Tales from other geographic regions can be found in Special Collections. This includes a German volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Kinder- und Hausmarchen or Children’s and Household Tales. This volume includes the classics, “The Frog King or Iron Heinrich,” “The Three Spinning Women,” and “Cinderella” or Aschenputtel. The fairies in Grimm’s Fairy Tales are known for their violence. Throughout the different editions, there have been changes made so that the stories are more suitable for children.

The Brothers Grimm, Kinder und Marchen

The Brothers Grimm, Kinder -und Hausmarchen, PT 2281 .G6 1920. Below: illustration from “Der Froschkonig oder der eisnerne Heinrich”









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To search the rare books collection for more fairy tales , search the Mason Catalog, click on “Set Limit” and limit by the location “Fenwick Special Collections.”

E-mail us at or call 703-993-2220 if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have any questions. Appointments are not necessary to view collections.

Ask An Archivist Day – October 5th


On October 5th, GMU Special Collections Research Center will be on Twitter with archivists around the country to answer any and all archives related questions. Sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, this day long event will give you the opportunity to ask the archivists at the Special Collections Research Center about our work, our collections, or anything archives-related!

As professional experts who do the exciting work of protecting and sharing important historic materials, our archivists have many stories to share about the work we do every day in preserving fascinating documents, photographs, audio and visual materials, and artifacts.

No question is too silly . . .

  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve come across in your collections?
  • If your archives had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?
  • What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?

. . . and no question is too practical!

  • What should I do to be sure that my emails won’t get lost?
  • I’ve got loads of digital images on my phone. How should I store them so I can access them later on?
  • How do you decide which items to keep and which to weed out from a collection?
  • As a teacher, how can I get my students more interested in using archives for projects?

So, how does it work?

#AskAnArchivist Day is open to everyone–all you need is a Twitter account. To participate, just tweet a question to @gmuscrc between 10 am and 4:00 pm on Wednesday, October 5 and include the hashtag #AskAnArchivist in your tweet. Your question will be seen instantly by archivists here at the Special Collections Research Center and around the country who will be standing by to respond directly to you. So if we’re not sure how to answer, we bet we can find someone who can! We also may not know every answer right away, but we’ll do some digging and get back to you ASAP. Even if you don’t have a question right away, we hope you’ll search Twitter for #AskAnArchivist and follow along as questions and answers are shared to get a better idea not just of what we do here at the Special Collections Research Center but what archivists are doing around the world.

Records and Information Management: What We Do With Student Records

Graduation season has come again! Most of the colleges here at Mason will be using the quiet months ahead to pack away the files of the spring graduates who have finished their academic career. For some offices, that means small hills of archival boxes packed against the wall until they can get them out of their way to make room for the incoming summer and fall students.

As a state university, Mason is required to follow the Public Records Act policies set forth by the Commonwealth. The Library of Virginia has set specific guidelines for state colleges that certain types of student records need to be retained for specific periods of time before the universities are allowed to dispose of them. Those laws do not just apply to paper records, but our digital-born documentation as well!

University Records Management works with Mason offices to ensure that all faculty and staff are aware of the retention requirements and that there are resources available to help with issues such as long-term storage. Most student documents are temporary records – this means is that the records are eligible for shredding, burning, or pulping after a certain number of years after graduation. Some types of information – such as students’ grades – are considered permanent records, and it is up to University Records Management to ensure that Mason maintains the security and accessibility of these records forever. Not just 100 or 10,000 years, but forever. Or until the Library of Virginia decides that maybe 10,000 is a bit too long.

Starting any day now, Mason faculty and staff will begin sorting through graduates’ files and dividing them up between the different types of records series; some examples of series are admission files, academic counseling files. Once they are aware of how much paper there is, someone usually reaches out to University Records Management to acquire archival boxes to store these records for the remainder of their life cycle. When these boxes are packed and labels with the contents and inclusive records dates, the Records Manager arranges to have them stored at the University Records Center on Fairfax campus. There, the records are kept safe and sound until an office needs to request a file back or until the records meet their retention period.

Then it is time to call in the shredders!

Here are some helpful definitions:

Permanent Record –  Materials created or received in the conduct of affairs that are preserved by the creator because of the enduring historical value or as evidence of the roles and responsibilities of the creator

Records Series – Group of similar or related records that are arranged according to a file system and that are related as the result of being created, received, or used in the same activity

Life Cycle – Distinct phases of a record’s existence, from creation, to use, to maintenance, and finally disposition

(Definitions are from the Library of Virginia Public Records Management Manual)

For more information about SCRC and Records and Information Management look here.

The University Records Manager is Samara Carter. You can reach her at or  703.993.2201.