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Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief


The Marian Library was founded in 1943 by the Society of Mary, the Catholic religious order which also founded the University of Dayton in 1850. Those two dates are significant because the library was established to mark the centennial of the university’s founding. With exemplary forethought, the Society of Mary allowed seven years to build a library collection so that it would be ready for the official centennial. This deliberate mindset and commitment to education is still apparent today, even as the decline in vocations means fewer Marianists and more laypeople filling the offices on campus. From the beginning, the mission of the Marian Library was “to make the Blessed Virgin Mary better known, loved, and served.” This has meant that the library collects broadly, with collections representing both the “three Ds” (dogma, doctrine, and discipline) of Catholicism and also traditions that have more popular origins.

In the early years, the Marian Library focused on books, but its scope soon expanded to include visual materials and other ephemera. Today, the collections include archival materials such as holy cards, postcards, stamps, scrapbooks, photographs, and, in a more recent approach to collection development, archived websites of Marian shrines. The collection includes approximately 100,000 volumes of circulating books and about 12,000 non-circulating rare volumes dating back to the fifteenth century. There is devotional realia such as rosaries, medals, and even several relics. The art collection includes approximately 14,000 items, some of which are fine art (original prints from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) and some of which fall more into the categories of kitsch or illustration (catechetical posters or framed replicas of original artwork). The best-known collection in the Marian Library is the nativity set collection, a subset of the art collection numbering around 3,600 sets.

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