Today marks the start of a new occasional series on the FB&C blog called Bright Young Collectors, where we will profile the next generation of book collectors.  The series accompanies our Bright Young Booksellers and Bright Young Librarians series, which remain ongoing. We begin today with Robert Thake in Mosta, Malta:


Where do you live?

Mosta, Malta.

What did you study at University?

During my years at university I first read for a bachelor of laws degree and subsequently read for a doctor of laws degree, both at the University of Malta.

Please introduce us to your book collection.  What areas do you collect in? 

My collection is composed of antiquarian books on Malta and as a consequence, rather than by intention, on the Order of St John, who occupied the island between the years 1530-1798.  Though the two subjects are often considered to be synonymous I keep them as far apart from one another as they were in reality.  My collection is primarily intended to celebrate the literary achievements of numerous unsung Maltese authors whose unwavering desire for both intellectual and actual freedom from oppression gave Malta an identity when the rest of the world believed it to have none.  

How many books are in your collection?

In all I have around a hundred antiquarian volumes.  This does not include contemporary publications of which I have a separate collection of a few hundred volumes.  

What was the first book you bought for your collection?

Leggi e Costituzioni Prammaticali (1724) affectionately known as the Codice de Vilhena, after Grand Master Manoel de Vilhena, who commissioned the publication.  This is the first printed codification of laws to govern the island.  Although the book's imprint states that the book was printed in Malta in 1724 this is in fact false.  The book could not have been printed in Malta since, following a spat with the local diocese and the inquisitor in the 17th century, the only press the island had was closed down and Malta was, as a consequence, plunged into darkness for a century.  The book was in fact published in Naples with a print run of a mere 230 copies.  It contains a beautiful engraving of Grand Master Vilhena executed by Pietro Paulo Troisi, a renowned Maltese silversmith and engraver.  This particular copy belonged to Fra Giuseppe Zammit, the surgeon general during Vilhena's magistracy.

How about the most recent book?

Il Vangelo di nostro Signore Gesù Cristo secondo San Giovanni, the first translation of a biblical text into Maltese, translated by Giuseppe Cannolo and printed in London in 1822.

How about The One that Got Away?

So far I can genuinely say that no book I set my heart on has gotten away.  This may have something to do with the overzealous manner in which I pursue books I want.  On one particular occasion I flew to Paris just a few hours after having found out that a very special book had just surfaced there.   In truth there was no reason why the book couldn't be shipped overnight to me but I felt I needed to chauffeur it home.  It takes all sorts.

What would you consider the Holy Grail for your collection?

Statuta Ordinis Domus Hospitalis Hierusalem (Rome, 1556).  Although this work is one of the few books in my collection not written by a Maltese and which holds a greater affinity to the Order of St John than to Malta, this book is one of the jewels in my collection.  This book contains the first set of statutes belonging to the Order of St John following their expulsion from Rhodes in 1522 and their resettlement on Malta in 1530.  These statutes pre-date the Ottoman siege of Malta by nine years and were compiled ten years before the foundation stone of the Maltese capital city, Valletta, was laid. The work was printed by Antonio Blado (1490-1567) who was also printer of the first edition of the 'Index Librorum Prohibitorum' as well as of Machiavelli's 'Il Principe' and 'Discorsi'.  This exquisite work, still bound in 16th century vellum, contains an engraved title page depicting the cross of the Order in red ink applied in stencil at the time of printing and also contains large historiated capitals throughout. 

Who is your favorite bookseller / bookstore?

I have bought books from all over the world and have had the pleasure of visiting countless bookshops and of having met many booksellers so it is difficult to say.  The bookseller who immediately comes to mind is Bégonia Le Bail.  My favourite bookshop would have to be Librairie Bertran in Rouen.  Though I never actually bought anything from this shop, its internal and external décor, coupled with the fact that it is strategically positioned behind the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen make it, in my opinion, the ideal bookshop.

What about your favorite book-related experience?

In 2010 I was alerted to the appearance of an especially important publication, the highly seditious Mustafà Bassà di Rodi schiavo in Malta (Naples, 1751).  I had been interested in this book since I had first heard of it and was eager to acquire it.  The bookseller who brought it to my attention, a French-Algerian gentleman, told me that I could collect it at the 2010 edition of the Salon du livre ancien de Paris.  Though initially deterred by the fact that I'd be sitting for my law finals just 10 days or so later, this apprehension only lasted a few seconds and I proceeded to book my tickets to Paris.

I was the fourth person to enter the fair - the three before me being members of the press.  I rushed to the stand, bought the book, did a couple of rounds, and ran back to my hotel room as if I had stolen it.  That night I was meant to be flying back to Malta but little did I know that Mother Nature had other plans.  While browsing through the BBC website I came across a rather inconvenient article, the headline of which read 'Airspace over Charles de Gaulle airport closed'. After almost breaking the F5 key on my keyboard the headline refused to go away and instead now read 'Airspace over Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports closed'.  Ordinarily I wouldn't mind being trapped in Paris, however, with finals now mere days away, an indefinite holiday was not quite on.  A friend of mine at the airline told me that the cause was an ash cloud caused by an uncooperative volcano in Iceland and that there was no telling how long Parisian airspace would be closed for.  He suggested that I make a dash to Marseille as the ash cloud had apparently not reached there yet.  I left for Marseille first thing the next morning only to discover that the ash cloud had beaten me to it.  I'd have seen the funny side had I not been carrying a valuable, fragile book in my backpack.  Subsequent advice suggested that I go further south still - to Rome.  My thirst for adventure (read: crippling fear of failing exams) was overwhelming, and before long I had in my hand a train ticket to Rome.  After a picturesque train-ride through the Alps, a night in Nice, a brief stay in Monte Carlo, and an eight hour trip along the western coast of Italy, I finally arrived in Rome and then Malta, with the book still intact.  I've never been happier while placing a book on the shelf for the first time.

And your favorite book in your collection?

For a number of reasons, my favourite book is the one I bought in Paris, Mustafà Bassà di Rodi schiavo in Malta.  Apart from taking it on a weird sort of honeymoon just a day or so after having bought it, I also wrote a history about its publication, circulation and prohibition.  This wonderful publication was composed in the months following the bloody massacre of the slaves in Malta in July 1749.  Since it saw the light in Naples in 1751, the book was the source of much speculation and controversy.  The book was printed under the name 'Michele Acciard' but had been widely attributed to the Maltese priest, Francesco Agius de Soldanis, on the strength of various contemporary documents suggesting his authorship. When the book was first conceived it was intended to recount the failed uprising of the slaves, however, following alleged manipulation of the manuscript, the book was printed not as a mere history book, but rather as a work of significant political importance, due to the numerous subversive statements which had been added.  The author challenged the legitimacy of the Order's occupation of the Maltese islands and instigated the Maltese to rise up in arms against their rulers.  As a result, the book was mercilessly scoured from the Maltese islands and beyond by the Grand Master, causing the book to almost disappear entirely.

Have you ever published anything yourself?

Yes.  I have written a number of papers of the history of various prohibited and anonymous books in my collection and last year I wrote my first monograph on the history of Mustafà Bassà di Rodi schiavo mentioned above.  I am currently composing my second monograph. 

What would you collect if you didn't collect books?

I'd probably collect Maltese ephemera or eighteenth century French political caricatures. 

JaneAusten_final_300dpi.jpgTo be an Austen completist would be quite a diabolical endeavor! I spent the weekend paging through a new book called Jane Austen Cover to Cover: 200 Years of Classic Covers (Quirk Books, $24.95), a well designed book about book jacket design. From the first edition of Sense and Sensibility in 1811, in what appears to be bland, half-bound calf, to the 2009 Penguin PBS/BBC tie-in edition of Emma with actress Romola Garai gracing the cover, this book presents full-color illustrations of Austen cover art. The point is to see how Austen--both her work and her personal image--gets interpreted and re-interpreted, and how book packaging gets better (or worse) over time. It's heavy on the post-1980s flurry of Austen reprints, with every 'classics' publisher out there trying to cash in on Austen's popularity (thank you, Colin Firth).

Some of my favorite examples in the book: the 1894 "Peacock Edition" of Pride and Prejudice, with its lovely gilded cover design by Hugh Thomson; the 1930 World's Classics edition from OUP may be "shocking red," but is quite perfect in its compactness and simplicity; and a 2007 Daily Telegraph edition of Mansfield Park dons an "Edward Gorey-esque cast of black-clad characters, a butterfly with groovy sixties brightness, and snaking roses" by Brett Ryder. The book's author, Margaret C. Sullivan, who has also written The Jane Austen Handbook and edits, comments on her favorite reprint: a 1960s Gothic Revival design of Northanger Abbey that presents the novel as a Gothic novel, full of terror and menace. She writes, "It's hilariously wrong and I think Jane Austen would have loved it!"

Jane Austen Cover to Cover is obviously a must for Janeites, and it will also be of interest to those interested in book design and popular book history. Although persnickety types might have preferred more in the way of bibliographical descriptions of size, binding material, etc. for each edition in addition the artistic details she offers, beginning and intermediate collectors will value Sullivan's book as a guide to an author so perennially in vogue that tracking her many editions would seem an impossible task.

Dylan Thomas at 100

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) is being fêted in his homeland and abroad on the eve of what would be his 100th birthday. Thomas' works include 'Do not go gentle into that good night' and 'The hunchback in the park.'  The subject of much literary criticism and commentary over the years, he has also been compared to giants like T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden.

Most events will take place at Swansea's Dylan Thomas National Literature Centre. The Centre is housed in the Guildhall, a Victorian-era building extensively refurbished and opened to the public in 1995 by former president Jimmy Carter. The building itself is worth a visit to Swansea and as the city's cultural and literary epicenter, it epitomizes the Welsh phrase Tŷ Llên, "A House of Literature."

Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas, with h...

Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas, with his wife Caitlin (nee Macnamara) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Activities such as hikes along Thomas' favorite trails, music festivals and exhibitions commence on October 27, the poet's birthday, and run through the date of his death on November 9th. 

A two day "Do Not Go Gentle" music and literary festival will take place at the Centre from October 24 through the 26th. The program includes local musical and artistic performances that the promoters believe would have pleased Thomas, who often found inspiration among the people of his beloved city. Thomas loved a good Welsh ale too, and so there will be plenty of local libations available.

The Centre recently opened an exhibit showcasing manuscripts of poems, lists of rhyming words and photographs of Thomas. These items are on loan from SUNY Buffalo Special Collections Library, which is also commemorating Thomas' centennial. The university's Thomas holdings are in good company at SUNY's Poetry Collection, one of world's the largest collections of English language poetry, broadsides and anthologies from the 20th and 21st centuries. 

For Thomas fans unable to attend the festivities in Wales, plenty of activities abound in New York City, where the poet conducted reading tours over the last four years of his life. Thomas' last public engagement was on October 29th, when, after conducting a lunchtime reading at City College, New York, he visited the literary hotspot, The White Horse Tavern.  Thomas mysteriously collapsed in the Chelsea Hotel a few days later, and died at St. Vincent's Hospital on November 9th. Tourists can visit these and other places associated with the poet by following the self-guided walking tour promoted by The Greenwich Village Walking Tour.  A BBC made for TV movie about the poet's life in New York will premiere in America on October 29th.  At one hundred, it certainly appears that Thomas' legacy continues to 'rage, rage against the dying of the light.' 

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The Carnegie Free Library staff in Connellsville, Pennsylvania made a startling discovery when they removed a large bush from library grounds and revealed a stone hiding a time capsule.  Library officials knew that a time capsule had been placed when the library was built in 1901, but records did not reveal its exact location. After discovering the time capsule, the library hosted a public reception for its opening.  

Inside the time capsule, library members found a very well-preserved cache including newspapers and meeting minutes from the town council relating to the construction of the library. They also found business cards, photographs, medallions from military service, a phone directory, and an Indian head penny, amongst a variety of other objects that offered a detailed snapshot of early 20th century life in Connellsville.

Connellsville was at that point peaking as a coke manufacturer and could brag that more millionaires per capita resided there than anywhere else in the world.

Karen Heckler, president of the Connellsville Area Historical Society, said, "It's very exciting to be present when this time capsule from the early 20th century will be opened and see what people from that time felt best represented their era.''

After examination by scholars, the materials discovered in the time capsule will be put on display in the library.

[Image from Wikipedia]
Screen Shot 2014-10-14 at 9.40.36 PM.pngChris Loker, a San Francisco bookseller specializing in antiquarian children's books from 1750-1950, has published an essay in a new Scholastic anthology called Open a World of Possible: Real Stories about the Joy and Power of Reading (free ebook available). Alongside authors, illustrators, and educators, Loker writes about a book that made a big difference in her life. In her essay, "Picture Books Across the Ages," she writes, "there is always a shimmer of pure joy in a fine picture book."

Loker is a member of the Book Club of California and the Grolier Club, where she is also the curator of the One Hundred Books Famous in Children's Literature exhibit, which opens on December 9. More on that in our winter issue. Loker is a member (and past board member) of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, and serves on the board of the children's literacy organization Bring Me A Book. She is married to bookseller John Windle.
Next year commemorates the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta and events are already being planned, including a exhibit at the British Library that we previously profiled on this blog. Of course, most commemorative events require the attendee to live near a major institution hosting an exhibition.  To help spread the celebrations further afield, the academics at Royal Holloway - a college of the University of London - are hosting a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) about the Magna Carta that anyone around the world can enroll in.

"We are home to some of the world's experts on Magna Carta in its thirteenth century context and on its reinterpretation and reinvigoration in the seventeenth century, so we're invested in making the commemorations of the 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta as successful as possible," wrote Emm Barnes Johnstone, a historian of medicine at Royal Holloway.

"A Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) seemed an obvious choice to help us connect with people interested in Magna Carta wherever they live."

The free six week course will examine why the Magna Carta was radical in its day, why it has been the subject of numerous debates, and why it remains important and relevant today.  Interested people can find out more and sign up for the course entitled "The Magna Carta and Its Legacy" online at Coursera.

[Image from Wikipedia]
Coming up this week on Friday, the winners of the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest will be feted at the Library of Congress. With encouragement from Fine Books & Collections, which launched the contest back in 2005, the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America (ABAA) now carries the baton for this competition, with support from the Fellowship of American Bibliophilic Societies (FABS), the Center for the Book and the Rare Book and Special Collections Division (Library of Congress), and the Jay I. Kislak Foundation. Our longtime featured columnist and author, most recently, of On Paper, Nick Basbanes, will give this year's talk on the dynamics of collecting over the last 25 years, as he's witnessed it. A grand time will surely be had by all.

To be honored are the following young collectors:

First Prize: Katya Soll, University of Kansas, Dictatorship, Recovery, and Innovation: Contemporary Theatre of the Southern Cone
Second Prize: Hanna Kipnis King, Swarthmore, "Plucked from a holy book": Ashkenazim on the margins
Third Prize: Audrey Golden, University of Virginia, Pablo Neruda and the Global Politics of Poetry
Another trio of important prizes was given out last week at the LOC. The 2014 Library of Congress Literacy Awards, held on October 8, were originated and are supported by philanthropist (and book collector) David M. Rubenstein, and he gave the keynote address. Michael Suarez, director of Rare Book School, also delivered remarks.

During the ceremony, John Cole, the director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, and Dr. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress, recognized organizations that have shown exemplary progress in literacy programs and promotion. Each of these three winners gave presentations about their work:

David M. Rubenstein Prize ($150,000): Room to Read
Room to Read, founded in 2001, believes that world change starts with educated children and that the best way to create long-term systemic change in the developing world is through literacy and gender equality in education. It focuses on literacy  as the foundation of all other learning by developing reading skills and the habit of reading among primary-school children. To achieve this goal, Room to Read increases access to culturally relevant, age-appropriate reading materials; increases the effectiveness of instructors teaching literacy skills; and improves the existing school environment so that it is more conducive to learning. The organization also aims to equalize the educational experience for girls by supporting them in completing secondary school with the academic and life skills necessary to succeed in school and beyond. Room to Read's service area
is Africa and Southeast Asia.

The American Prize ($50,000): SMART
The third-grade reading level is widely recognized as a key indicator of a child's future educational success. A student who  cannot read on grade level by third grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently in third grade. In 1992, the Oregon Children's Foundation created a program to address the growing number of elementary school children who were reading significantly below grade level. Start Making a Reader Today (SMART) now operates at more than 250 program sites throughout the U.S. and serves approximately 9,000 children each year.

The International Prize ($50,000): Mother Child Education Foundation
The Mother Child Education Foundation (AÇEV) was started in 1993 and is the largest literacy organization in Turkey. Its mission is to empower the Turkish people through education and enable them to improve the quality of their lives. It operates a variety of projects designed to address family, adult and early childhood literacy. At the time of AÇEV's founding, only one in 10 children received any form of preschool education before starting primary school, resulting in large deficits in readiness to learn. AÇEV developed the Mother Child Education Program (MOCEP) for low-income mothers and children without access to preschool education. However, early MOCEP trials revealed that not all participating mothers were literate and therefore many were unable to carry out the collaborative cognitive exercises with their children, pushing AÇEV into a complementary area of need, adult literacy.

The Tomahawk: Poe & Criticism, Then and Now

Poe fans have much to celebrate - there was last Sunday's statue dedication in Boston, Susan Jaffe Tane's Poe collection is on exhibit at the Grolier Club, and a movie based on his short story "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" will appear in theaters just in time for Halloween. While Poe's popularity endures as the father of the modern detective genre, in his lifetime, he was better known as a critic.

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a...

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a year before his death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

"The Tomahawk" was Poe's well-earned moniker for his notoriously vicious, slashing, brutal book reviews. He was prolific as well--over fourteen years he published almost 1,000 critical essays and reviews--all of which can now be found in a one volume edition published by The Library of America. Adam Gordon, Whitman College English professor and Poe scholar, says the invention of the steam press and the subsequent proliferation of cheap weekly tabloids created massive venues for lousy writers, and that readers needed guidance navigating these vast, uncharted, literary waters. "Poe felt there were too many bad books out there, and that the job of the critic was to separate the weak from the worthwhile." A transatlantic literary conflict known as the 'Paper War' wherein American critics praised anything American while their British counterparts would slam work written stateside, plus a lack of international copyright did little to quell the uptick in poorly written publications. This blindly nationalistic criticism muddied what Poe considered to be America's admirable budding national literature, and so spurred him to hack away at those he deemed unworthy.

Despite publicizing his own eccentric persona through his gambling and drinking habits, Poe dedicated equal amounts of time and dedication to the institutionalisation of literary criticism, legitimizing the discipline. "He cultivated a rigorous vocabulary for understanding poetry and prose, and his work gave rise to professional literary criticism," says Gordon. "Criticism is no longer simply a belletristic hobby."

And what would Poe make of the current state of literary criticism? "We're going through another transitional moment in criticism with the rise of Amazon reviews and personal book blogs, while newspapers and magazines are simultaneously reducing or completely cutting their book review sections," Gordon explains. "A movie review site like Rotten Tomatoes is actually a critical amalgamator. It takes reviews from around the web and reduces them to a thumbs up or a thumbs down and turns the review into a raw score. The assumption is that a review is only supposed to tell a reader if something is good or bad. But anyone who's read a review by A.O. Scott sees that criticism is an art. When you read a really good review, it changes the way you think about things."  

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Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Peter Sjökvist, Librarian at the Section for Early Printed Books and Special Collections, Uppsala University Library in Sweden.

How did you get started in rare books?

Well, I remember that old books fascinated me already as a child, but it was when I studied Latin at the university, specializing in Latin from the early modern period, that my real interest in this wonderful material grew. During my education in library and information science at Uppsala University (Sweden) cataloguing and early printed books were soon the two fields which I really wanted to explore further, and I have continued to do so ever since, in one way or another. Since I have a background as a researcher in neo-Latin, having defended my PhD thesis in Latin at the same university in 2007, I try to combine research and librarianship as much as possible. And the common denominator is rare books.

What is your role at your institution?

As a librarian at the Section for Early Printed Books and Special Collections in the old main building of Uppsala University Library, called Carolina Rediviva, my main responsibility is cataloguing of early printed books. This library has wonderful collections from all ages, so it is really a pleasure. But the work includes so many other things as well: to receive and to show the collections to visiting students and groups, to assist researchers, to arrange seminars, to write articles, etc.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

There is actually a gem among the books that I have been working with so far, which is my personal favorite, although it is of course impossible to select just one in reality. But the book I'm thinking of is a book of hours from 1515, printed in Paris on parchment. It used to belong to the order of the Barnabites in Paris, and was donated to our library in the 1960s by a private person. It contains a large amount of wonderfully charming illuminations made by hand. It is an excellent example from the period of transition from manuscript to print culture, and in addition a very beautiful one.

What do you personally collect?

I do not really collect books personally. I have some old ones, but I actually bought them only to use them as handbooks in my Latin research. They are still highly relevant from that point of view, although they were published in the 17th century.

What do you like to do outside of work?

For the moment I exercise and do sports in one way or another as much as I can. Running is the favorite. Rare books and running, that is a perfect combination.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

It is the fact that you work with and hold history in your hands every day. I never get used to and tired of opening an old book and investigating what it contains, who has owned it, where it has travelled, etc. This is a quite extraordinary thing with our work, and something I try to convey to the visitors I meet at the library. Another thing is of course that rare book librarianship is such a wide field. It is interdisciplinary in its true sense, and presupposes knowledge and interest in subjects ranging from languages and history of all kinds to preservation and practical library management.

Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship in Sweden?

In a time when more and more material is digitized, I think our mission is also to stress the importance of the physical objects and the actual copies that our libraries keep. Digitization is of course good and worth all efforts, from several points of view: access, preservation, etc. But when the actual texts are to a large extent available on the Internet, and when the same issues of early printed books have sometimes been digitized by several different institutions worldwide, the libraries still keep the physical copies. We should therefore more than previously try to investigate the contexts of the single copies, i.e. provenances, their history, annotations in hand, book bindings, etc., and pass the information on to the users in catalogue records and other ways.

More typical of rare book librarianship in Sweden is probably one aspect that we recently highlighted in a national seminar at out library. From the wars of the Swedish armies on the continent (especially Poland, Germany and Denmark) in the 17th century, there is in several Swedish libraries a substantial portion of books that were taken as war booty during these campaigns. The question is surely delicate, and not always so pleasant to deal with. Taking cultural objects as war booty is strictly against the international laws of our time, but in the 17th century it was actually allowed, following the principles established by Hugo Grotius. Sometimes restoration of material was also settled in peace treaties. But now when more than three hundred years have passed, we still have to deal with the matter in a way that is respectful to all parts. And here the new technology is extremely helpful. By increased possibilities to give access to material online, we could actually restore these collections to researchers in their countries of origin virtually, when physical restoration is no longer an alternative. To do so could be one of the main priorities for Swedish rare book librarians in the near future, I think.

Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you'd like to draw our attention to?

We have for example a Copernicana-collection, taken as war booty from Frombork (Frauenburg) in Poland in 1626, which contains books once owned by the famous Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Another is the Bodoni-collection, which is the most important collection of printed material produced by the Giambattista Bodoni outside of Parma. In our manuscript department we have for example the Düben-collection, containing music manuscripts and printed items gathered by the Swede Gustav Düben, who was music director at the royal Swedish court in the 17th century. Among other things it contains a big portion of vocal music composed by Buxtehude.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Next year we will arrange two different exhibitions, both celebrating the anniversaries of important historical persons. The first, opening in May next year, will be on the anatomist Andreas Vesalius, who was born in 1514. The second, which will open in the autumn, will be on Aldus Manutius, who died in 1515.
Guest Post: The Book Traces Project in Action at SUNY New Paltz by Brett Barry

Students at the State University of New York at New Paltz had the option this semester to enroll in "Digital Tools for the 21st Century" (DHM 293), led by Professor Annie Swafford, a newcomer to the department of English. A poster advertising the class posed the questions: "Do you want to learn how to read 10,000 books at a time? Create maps of crimes in Sherlock Holmes' London?" I, for one, was intrigued, and as a part-time prof. in the Communication & Media department, I asked Swafford if I could sit in on her class, and she was happy to have me.

summit.pngLast week, we were introduced to Andrew Stauffer's Book Traces project, and following a brief tutorial on 19th-century book publishing, the class set out on a scavenger hunt in NP's Sojourner Truth Library to document marginalia in books published between 1820 and 1923. I set my sights on books by naturalist John Burroughs, and after thumbing through a couple of disappointingly barren volumes, the third book I pulled--a 1922 edition of The Summit of the Years--teamed with notes throughout several of its chapters.

Strangely, the essay, "A Barn-Door Outlook," was copyedited in pen. If this were a first edition, I'd have suspected Burroughs himself of preparing for a second printing. But as this printing was issued nine years after initial publication, I assume these are the markings of a wannabe copyeditor; or perhaps a reader who added his own words and sentence constructions to help make sense of Burroughs.

Another essay, "Nature and Animal Life" is copiously annotated by the same reader, but this time copyedits are replaced with neatly penned marginalia that questions, subscribes to, and expounds upon Burroughs' writing. At one point, the reader dated his (her?) notes with a "1930," eight years following the book's printing.

"Thousands of old library books bear fascinating traces of the past," proclaims And this old John Burroughs, bound in green cloth, is no exception. In addition to the reader's handwritten notes, there's a pasted-in print of Burroughs at his writing desk; a Sojourner Truth Library bookplate revealing Russell H. Waines, dept. of Geological Sciences, as the donor of the book; plus a yellowed card pocket betraying the book's former owner: Windham College, in Putney, VT (which closed its doors in 1978, on the heels of declining enrollment following the Vietnam War, according to the Nashua Telegraph).

If you want to read Burroughs' Summit of the Years, go ahead and download the Google eBook. But for some added value and "traces of the past," check out QH81.B972, in the stacks of Sojourner Truth Library, New Paltz, NY.

--Brett Barry is a professor of audio production and broadcast performance at SUNY New Paltz, a voice-over performer, and the host of public radio's "Sound Beat."

Editor's Note: A profile of the Book Traces project, including an interview with its founder, University of Virginia professor Andrew Stauffer, is available in the fall issue of FB&C.

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