Action Comics #1, better known as the first ever Superman comic, is currently up for auction on eBay. With five days left in the auction, the bidding has already reached $1,850,101. (As of 10:30 p.m. PST on August 18th). The auction will likely exceed $2m, perhaps by a significant amount. The original price for the comic when it was released in 1938? $0.10.

Long considered the "holy grail" for comic book collectors, approximately 50 - 100 copies of Action Comics #1 are thought to still be in existence. The last time the comic came to auction was in 2011 when actor Nicholas Cage sold his copy for $2.1m.

The copy up for auction is owned by comic book dealer Darren Adams, who purchased it a few years ago from a collector. That collector in turn purchased the comic from its original owner who had housed it in a cedar box since the day he purchased it in 1938. As a result, the comic is in exceptionally nice condition, rated a 9 out of 10 on a comic book rating scale.

Adams already turned down an offer for $3m for the comic book, so he is clearly anticipating a record-breaker with this eBay auction.

A portion of the sale's proceeds will be donated to The Reeve Foundation, a charity set up by actor Christopher Reeve after a horse riding accident left him paralyzed.
Charlie.jpgIt's not often that book jacket art makes headlines, but such is the case with Penguin UK's fiftieth anniversary edition of Roald Dahl's classic of children's literature, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The new cover art for the 144-page paperback, seen here at left, was unveiled on August 6. It has been called "creepy" and over-sexualized, and, honestly, it hard not to see "Toddlers & Tiaras" in this image of a doll-eyed little blonde draped in a pink feather boa. Sarah Kaplan wrote in the Washington Post, " was controversial enough that bookworms worldwide tore their eyes from their reading to register their outrage."

In an attempt at clarification (or rationalization), a company blog post notes that this new edition is packaged under the "Modern Classics" imprint, and its design should be more mature (as opposed to the whimsical children's editions that feature the illustrations of Quentin Blake). "This new image for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory looks at the children at the centre of the story, and highlights the way Roald Dahl's writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life, ready for Charlie's debut amongst the adult titles in the Penguin Modern Classics series."

Penguin releases the new edition on September 4. For a view of the various covers used for the perennially popular novel over the past fifty years, check out the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Facebook page. You can even vote for your favorite through Sept. 15.

Image via Penguin. 

Happy Birthday Julia Child

English: American cook, author, and television...

English: American cook, author, and television personality (August 15, 1912 - August 13, 2004). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today Julia Child would be 102, and were she still alive to celebrate it, no doubt she would toast the occasion with a decadent Lobster Thermidor served with a chilled glass of pinot blanc.  When she died in 2004, the world recognized the loss of a tireless culinary and cultural visionary who reshaped the way Americans think about food.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961 and brought about a sea change in American cuisine. The hefty 761-page tome is filled with over five hundred classic French recipes of varying degrees of complexity. To render these meals accessible to the average American home cook, Child took great care to painstakingly explain each step so that anyone willing to follow the directions could replicate a gourmet meal.  Child knew firsthand that through endless practice and relentless attention to detail one could master the epitome of grand cuisine.  Indeed, reading through the book reveals an author devoted to sharing best practices and takes care not to speak down to her readers, writing with a passion that ensured her everlasting popularity. Tastes have changed in forty years, and some dishes (aspics, perhaps?) may have fallen out of style, but Mastering remains a wonderful kitchen resource for basic knife techniques, identifying cuts of meat and providing measurement equivalents.  I find her charts for timing for hard-boiled eggs and pan-fried steaks never fail. 

After the success of Mastering, Child continued to write, and published nineteen books on cooking and baking throughout the rest of her career. There were also thirteen television series, starting in 1963 with The French Chef, for which she received a Peabody Award in 1965. TV Guide even named her one of television's greatest stars to ever grace the small screen.

The kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Child prepared countless meals is as iconic as the woman herself. Husband Paul Child had specifically designed the countertops to accommodate his wife's impressive six-foot two inch frame. When she moved to California in 2001, Child donated the kitchen to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.  Child considered kitchens to be the "beating heart and social center of the household," and in hers sought to enlighten our palates while taming Americans' fear of butter and cream. As she said in a 1990 interview with The New York Times, "We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life." 


Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Marie Elia, Processing Archivist with The Poetry Collection at University of Buffalo, State University of New York.


How did you get started in rare books?

While I was in the poetry MFA program at Columbia University, I got a job assisting the Rare Books Librarian at the New York Society Library. They were in the middle of a post-retrospective conversion project, and my job was to compare the card catalog to the MARC record; if there were discrepancies, I pulled the book to verify the information. I have to admit that I disappeared into closed stacks more often than was necessary to do my job. Although I had worked in libraries before (my undergraduate library, Poets House), the work I did for the NYSL really illuminated the history of library work and the value of cataloging. I felt that I was connecting people to books in a tangible way, that I was helping to give people the experience of discovery.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh's MLIS program with the goal of becoming a library cataloger, preferably in a rare books collection. There were no rare books-specific courses, though, so I took on internships and volunteered anywhere that would take me to get experience. When I graduated in 2008, there were barely any jobs, and funding for positions was being cut everywhere. I was lucky to land an archival cataloging position with the Time Capsules Cataloging Project at the Andy Warhol Museum, where I got a crash course in archival processing. I had no experience in museums or archives before that job, but I think my work with rare books translated well to working with art and artifacts. I think all of these experiences gave me a really good special collections education.

What is your role at your institution?

I am the processing archivist in the Poetry Collection, the library of record for 20th- and 21st-century poetry in English. The collection was founded in 1937, but I am the first full-time archivist, so there is a lot of backlog!

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?

Drafts of Paterson that William Carlos Williams wrote on his prescription pads. Williams was one of the first poets I loved, and I remember learning in high school that he was a doctor and would sneak in his writing between patients. To hold those fragments, to see the everyday reality of a figure that holds a mythological place in literature--that makes for a pretty good day at work.

What do you personally collect?

I collect books about botany. Of course, the visual component is a draw, but I am really fascinated by the development of botanical classification as well as the history of the use of plants in medicine and everyday life. After checking it out of the library three times, I finally bought Anna Pavord's The Naming of Names: The Search for Order in the World of Plants.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

In an age when information can be rendered in the most convenient format--a newspaper on your phone, a paperback on your e-reader--rare books and archives let you stop and look. They give you a break, a chance to see what is in front of you. And they connect you to your own history, as a writer or a doctor or just as a human. You cannot help but think about the person who made the book, the person who wrote the letter. I like pulling out rare books and manuscript material because I watch people go from awe to intimacy. They will ask, "Can I touch it?" And when they pick it up and look at it, you can tell they are thinking about other people who have held it, and how it came to be in their hands. I think rare books librarians and archivists connect people to each other in that way. 

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

I think special collections are inherently interdisciplinary; even a collection with the narrowest collecting policy will appeal to interest outside the scope. To continue to broaden our relevance, we have to explore our capacity to serve unexpected needs and to inspire new inquiry. As a processing archivist, I think I do this by creating rich documentation for collections so that people can find our materials through multiple access points. In addition to traditional exhibitions and outreach, I think good cataloging and sharing of resources will be the best way to bring our collections to new users. 

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

The Poetry Collection prides itself on its inclusivity, and it represents a broad range of poetry. I am currently working on our Victor E. Reichert Robert Frost Collection, recently donated by Victor's son Jonathan. Victor Reichert and Robert Frost were close friends, and this material provides a really great personal view of Frost. The first collection I processed here was the Harry Jacobus Collection: Jacobus and Robert Duncan and Duncan's partner Jess started the King Ubu Gallery in San Francisco, which later became the legendary Six Gallery. We have a great variety of collections here, from James Joyce to Mail Art.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We have loaned artwork and visual poetry to Art=Text=Art, opening at University at Buffalo's Anderson Gallery in September. We also loan items for exhibition around the world: Materials from our Dylan Thomas Collection are currently on display at the National Library of Wales and the Dylan Thomas Centre as part of a yearlong centennial celebration of Thomas; they will return for exhibition at UB next year. Some of our Robert Duncan and Jess artwork is on loan for the traveling exhibition "An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle," which started at The Crocker Art Museum, traveled to New York University's Grey Art Gallery and American University, and will move on to the Pasadena Museum of California Art in September.


Guest Post: My Week At Bookseller Hogwarts
by Megan Bell, First-Year

If bookselling is an extreme sport, as the venerable Messrs. Rob Rulon-Miller and Lorne Bair rousingly declared the first morning, the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) is certainly high-altitude learning. In fact, I would and will go as far as to say it's as extreme as Quidditch and CABS is a classroom overlooking the Pitch.

page3image256.jpgBefore I go on to make some siriusly riddikulus connections between CABS and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, which is exactly what I intend to do, I feel I should provide some context as to why I think this is a reasonable connection to make. For one thing, the future of the book trade depends on future booksellers and future collectors. Though some may bemoan millennials as the digitization generation, I believe it is important to keep in mind that we are also the Harry Potter generation--you don't have to convince us that books are magical.

Through our adolescence and into adulthood, we queued up, dressed in costume, sipped "Butterbeer" from paper cups, and spent hours counting down the minutes to midnight and a new Harry Potter book in our hands. The key idea here is the memory of finally having that book in hand, and that memory is imbued with feelings of excitement and joy and community. Though many of us have gone on to embrace the digitization trend, toting e-readers instead of books around in our bags and backpacks, our love of books began with a physical book, wrapped like a Christmas present in a beautiful dust jacket with illustrations by Mary GrandPré. In comparison to contemporary children's and young adult books, these were fine bindings. The CABS faculty spoke to the sensual nature of books, how books are visual and tangible, of course, but also delightful to smell, and it is distinctly lovely to hear the susurration of page on page. This generation has sense memories of the entire Harry Potter series, and though it was the text that drove us en masse to these release events, we were indoctrinated early with a pleasure in seeing, touching, smelling, and hearing physical books (never tasting, I promise).

Furthermore, Rowling constantly points to the importance of books throughout the series, starting in the first book, where Harry, Hermione, and Ron must conduct serious research in the Hogwarts library to find the identity of Nicholas Flamel, and many events hinge on Hermione's encyclopedic knowledge of Bathilda Bagshot's classic Hogwarts: A History. The series admirably examines the vast landscape of the physical book, from required reading textbooks to Gilderoy Lockhart's mass market titles, from the Restricted Section of the Hogwarts library to Diagon Alley's independent brick-and-mortar Flourish and Blotts. The original handwritten manuscript of Hogwarts: A History is even contained in the Restricted Section and available by appointment only. Throughout the series, the characters must depend on and contend with books, and Hermione's bibliophilia serves them well.

TL;DR: As the explosively successful films and the now multinational "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" attractions attest, the people at Warner Bros. and Universal Studios very smartly recognize and continue to capitalize on the Harry Potter generation, and the book trade would be wise to not discount them.

That said, the CABS experience was for me as full of pure magic as my first reading, at the tender age of eight, of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, from the august and brilliant faculty, full of gravitas and kindness, to the student body, a more enthusiastic bunch has never been witnessed, I'm certain. If you want to learn from the best, from people like Lorne Bair of Lorne Bair Rare Books, Rob Rulon-Miller of Rulon-Miller Books, Terry Belanger (Order of Merlin, First Class) of the University of Virginia and Rare Book School, Sally Burdon of Asia Bookroom, Brian Cassidy of Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, Dan De Simone of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Dan Gregory (formerly) of Between the Covers, Nina Musinsky of Musinsky Rare Books, Inc., and Steve Smith of the University of Tennessee Library, if you want the guidance of Head Girls Zhenya Dzhavgova of ZH BOOKS and Maria Lin of Rulon-Miller Books, if you want to be surrounded by world-class peers and fight side-by-side with them in the battle of antiquarian bookselling, then come to Colorado. By the end of the first day, I truly felt like a first-year muggleborn come to Hogwarts, sitting in the Great Hall on the first night, just after the sorting, looking around and thinking, "These nutters are my people."

CABS covers such subjects as the Care of Magical Creatures (Tips on the Care and Handling of Books), History of Magic (Descriptive Bibliography I and II), Charms (it's duodecimo, not dew-decee-muh), Defense Against the Dark Arts (Fakes, Forgeries & Theft), Arithmancy (Collation), Herbology (printing and binding materials), Potions (Refurbishing Books), Transfiguration (turning a bought book into a sold book), and Divination (Evaluating & Buying Books, Scouting).

There's even a CABS Sorting Hat (of sorts). The houses here are not Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin--you must be brave, ethical, studious, and ambitious to be a bookseller--but as Dan Gregory explained in "Marketing the Antiquarian Book Trade," you may be a scholarly, humorous, service-oriented, or reading bookseller. Or you may belong in explorative, where dwell the brave in heart (the travels in their catalogues set these booksellers apart).

So I say to my fellow millennial bibliophiles, stop straining your ears for the sound of owl's wings and consider this your letter of acceptance to CABS School of Bookcraft and Bibliography. If your Gringotts vault isn't gleaming with galleons, you need only consult the scholarship page, as I did. It is with great and ongoing gratitude to the ABAA Wizengamot that I was able to attend CABS this year.

--Megan Bell co-owns Underground Books in Carrollton, Georgia, with her husband, former CABS seminarian and "Bright Young Thing," Josh Niesse.

Image of the author, courtesy of Zhenya Dzhavgova.
lincoln inscription in race book.jpg

The Vespasian Warner Public Library in Clinton, Illinois confirmed last week what its librarians had long suspected: one of the books in its circulating collection bore an inscription from President Lincoln. What's more, the controversial book - "Types of Mankind" published in 1854 - provides a pseudo-scientific justification for racism.

Joan Rhodes, director of Vespasian Warner, brought the 700 page book to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, where state historians confirmed that Lincoln's handwriting did indeed grace the inside of the book. The curators were quick to stress, however, that Lincoln did not subscribe to the racial theories presented in the book, but instead likely read the book to better familiarize himself with his opponents' arguments.

While the inscription doesn't bear Lincoln's signature, it notes that the copy belonged to Clifton Moore, a colleague of Lincoln's and a local attorney. Below the inscription is a note from another attorney stating that Lincoln wrote the inscription in 1861 shortly before he left for Washington to assume the presidency. Clifton Moore donated the book - along with thousands of others - to the Vespasian Warner Public Library when it opened in the early 1900s.

The book circulated for decades before finally being withdrawn, its binding worn from years of borrowing. (If it passed through the hands of any Lincolniana collectors, they certainly passed the test of temptation).

Now the book is resting in a safety deposit box where it awaits eventual restoration and display.

privatelife-cover.jpgI received a review copy of a startling book that pairs the poetry of Henry Wessells and the photography of Paul Schütze. The Private Life of Books, printed in an edition of 226 copies by Temporary Culture, is beautiful in every way: the words, the images, and the production.

Wessells is a true bookman--a writer, a reader, a publisher, and a bookseller, known to many in the trade as a rare book dealer for James Cummins Bookseller in New York City. The six poems printed here on the topics of reading, memory, and books will inspirit any bookish soul. Take for example, these lines: "All perfect books the acid gaze of time devours,/And only spoken words of love renewed endure."

The eight tipped-in, duotone photos by Schütze show books on shelves, a bookshop at night, and close-ups of book edges. The images are otherworldly--and the viewer (at least, this viewer) comes away feeling that something odd and magical may be going on in that dark bookshop at night.

The text is printed on Mohawk Via Vellum Jute. It was set in original foundry Centaur types and digitized by the Nonpareil Typefoundry. Jerry Kelly designed the 24-page volume and the pages are hand-sewn in heavy card covers. A pictorial dust jacket with duotone photos (seen above) completes the package.

Prior to August 15, subscribers can snag a copy for $125. The price will then increase to $150. Tuck one of these away for the holidays--a bibliophile in your life will thank you.

Image via Endless Bookshelf.

Prison Noir with Joyce Carol Oates


From Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo to Piper Kerman's Orange is the New Black, tales of jailbirds and their confines have long captivated readers.  Prison Noir, due out in September, is the latest in the award-winning Noir series from Brooklyn-based independent publisher Akashic Books.  This anthology, dedicated to prison literature, includes work by fifteen current and former inmates. One story is published posthumously: the author, William Van Poyck, was executed last June for the 1987 murder of a guard during a failed prison break.  Three of the contributors have been recognized for their achievements by the PEN Prison Writing Program. All the stories, set within jailhouse walls, explore anguish, lunacy, and sometimes, a desire for redemption.  Others offer an unsettling and unvarnished look at life in the clink. Akashic Books received almost one hundred submissions for the anthology.  Interestingly, most of the writing came from convicts in the Michigan penitentiary system, which supports various inmate writing programs. None other than literary luminary Joyce Carol Oates curated the collection and wrote the introduction.

Oates is no stranger to the gritty horror found in Prison Noir, having explored the depths and intricacies of modern life throughout her lauded career. Recipient of the National Medal of  Humanities and the National Book Award, she has spent a lifetime writing about the mythic pursuit of the American dream. For equally as long, she has encouraged others to share their thoughts on paper.  Oates believes firmly that writing is essential to maintaining one's humanity, and provides opportunities for people to cultivate their written voice. In addition to teaching creative writing at Princeton University,  Oates has led writing various workshops in prisons across America, including California's oldest state prison, San Quentin. 

As Oates writes in the book's preface, "We may feel revulsion for some of the acts described in these stories, but we are likely to feel a startled, even stunned sympathy for the perpetrators."  It would certainly be difficult to say that these stories are enjoyable to read. They aren't. The stories are not poorly written, but some are searingly violent and difficult to get through. (Linda Michelle Marquardt's "Milk and Tea" is particularly horrific in its description of a sadistic husband whose acts push his wife to commit murder.) Still, they offer a view of a secluded world that 2.2 million Americans call home. Perhaps most importantly, the book gives inmates a voice: their own. 

Prison Noir, edited by Joyce Carol Oates and published by Akashic Books, is 260 pages and will be available on September 2nd for $26.95 in hardcover, $15.95 in paperback, and in e-format for $9.99.  

credit: Charles Gross

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Daryl Green, Rare Books Librarian in the Special Collections Division at University of St Andrews Library in Scotland. 

daryl portrait 2014 8 -1.jpg

How did you get started in rare books?

It was a bit of a sideways step for me during my MA year at the University of York (UK); I had decided to take on some part-time work during my dissertation write up period in the summer of 2007 and landed an assistant librarian job at York Minster Library. The Minster Library was where I cut my librarian teeth: learning how to catalogue early and rare printed works, how to manage a collection within the environment in a historic (read: uncontrollable) building, etc. I went to full-time after my Master's dissertation (Medieval Studies) was finished and worked for another year and a half. Many a happy afternoon was spent that summer amongst the stacks of the Upper Hall Library, cataloguing and reporting ESTC books and losing myself in the moment; the aura of the old stacks, the sounds of the Minster Gardens, the smell of the books on wooden shelves, it was pretty idyllic. This was at a time when I was trying to decide if academia was the right thing for me, I had seen a number of my friends go on to happy career-starting positions but only after incredible amounts of time commitment and sacrifice. I saw special collections work as a way to stay connected to the primary materials and to the research community in a very real way, but also a career where I could punch out at 5 or 6 in the evening and have a life outside of work. I could also focus my academic interests into my subject specialities as a developing reference librarian, but still have the opportunity to delve into books, and the history surrounding them, from all centuries and all places; special collections work would allow me to be a specialist and a generalist at the same time.

daryl yml.jpg


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?


I decided to head back to the States for my MLS, partly because I wasn't finished with the Midwest (where I grew up) and partly because there were more programs that offered specializations in rare books/special collections work in the States versus the UK. So, I started my degree at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in the fall of 2009, with the plan to finish as quickly as I could to avoid racking up any more student debt than necessary and to jump back into the work force as quickly as possible. I also found a part-time job in UIUC's Rare Book & Manuscript Library, cataloguing on theQuick & Clean Project. I jumped in on the project as they were finishing up some continental imprints and then moving on to a whole swathe of annotated screenplays from 1950s and 60s Hollywood, and then afterwards on to processing their substantial incunabula collection, so the work and experience I got there was extremely varied and wonderful. I piled on the coursework thinking that I could probably finish in a year and-a-half, until a job posting came up at St Andrews in the spring of 2010 for a full-time rare books cataloguer; I interviewed successfully but convinced them to wait until I could finish my degree to start my contract. I sped up my coursework and took on some independent studies during the summer months (including a lovely bibliography seminar with Don Krummel) and managed to finish all of the degree requirements by July 2010, in effect completing the degree in less than a year!


What is your role at your institution?

I'm one of a pair of Rare Book Librarians here at St Andrews. The pair of us share all the facets of a rare books curator and play to each other's strengths. I started off as a rare books cataloguer, and still always have a book which needs cataloguing up on the block in front of my monitors (it's my bit of Zen for the day), and so a lot of what I do is manage the various cataloguing and intellectual control projects we have going on, including retro-conversion programmes, internships and processing new acquisitions. I also am a regular facet of the University's Book History MLitt as an instructor of Material Bibliography as well as a guest lecturer on several courses in the Schools of English, History and Art History. I also do my fair share of fielding enquiries from researchers and students, collections development (which has gotten fun recently due to a substantial grant for acquisitions from the Carnegie Trust!) and all the other fun bits that come with the job. I also am the creator and sometimes-editor/contributor of Echoes from the Vault the Special Collection Division's blog.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you've handled?


I know that this can be hard for some people, but for me I've got a shining example of hairs standing on end, lightning strikes, founding moment from my halcyon days amongst the cornfields of Illinois that still haunts me. One of the collections of modern manuscripts that we were trialling MARC cataloguing on was a small collection of Arctic papers. I had the luck of pulling a manuscript copy for cataloguing of The North Georgia Gazette and Winter Chronicle which was produced and circulated in manuscript format by members of the first Parry Expedition for the North-West Passage while they were at their winter quarters in the Arctic; it was later published, in printed form, after the expedition's return to London under the title: North Georgia gazette, and Winter chronicle. Illinois' copy originally belonged to, and was copied out by, Charles Palmer, Midshipman on the H.M.S. Hecla and sometimes bard of the Parry expedition, while camped out at Winter Harbour on what is now called Melville Island in the Northwest Territories. A newspaper, copied out in hand, during an Arctic winter, in the cold and the dark, with uncertainty closing in around you on all sides; this manuscript oozed in atmosphere and history. Turnings its leaves, seeing the sometimes shaky hand, reading the stories, instantly took me to a Lovecraftian alien landscape full of monumental glaciers, everlasting twilight reflecting off of miles of polar-white landscapes and a small crew of two ships stranded in the midst of it all. That manuscript still gives me goosebumps.


What do you personally collect?


Being a student in two countries for the better part of a decade doesn't leave much money or room for collections of anything but work books and academic journals. However, we've recently been developing our photobook collections at St Andrews, and I've really enjoyed learning about the genre. I've decided to start collecting inter-war and post-WWII photobooks by Italian photographers; most of these are still pretty easy to attain on a librarian's salary and having an Italian wife and an excuse to regularly travel to Italian bookshops should make this good fun. I plan to start with Ferdinando Scianna, one of the first Italian Magnum photographers, who has got a pretty solid catalogue to go after.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


The "aha" moment, that moment when you put the right book or manuscript in the right person's hands. The greatest joy of being a rare books librarian/curator is being the conduit through which people get in touch with early, fragile, sensitive or rare materials which, for necessary reasons, are usually kept behind very well closed doors. When I'm in a room with a group of first or second year undergraduates taking them through the history of the codex and skipping around from medieval psalters to incunabula to fine press works can be overwhelming for some, but when you put a first edition of Two stories printed by the hands of Virginia Woolf into the hands of an eager Woolf reader you see the sparks fly, when you let a budding medievalist turn the pages of a manuscript for the first time you see their eyes widen. Creating that connection, fostering that desire to continue to connect to our collections, and learning what other people can tell you about books held in your collections is what it's all about. Everything else about the job is great, but that part is sublime.


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


I think, by now, most libraries have realised that in an age of ever-increasingly homoginized research collections, special collections are what define one library from another. The role of the special collections librarian is to now not only preserve, curate, and develop collections under their care, but also to champion the institutions research strengths both to the home and the away crowd. I'd like to think we might be able to learn a bit from our 'main library' colleagues, though, and develop a more collaborative approach to several problems such as backlog cataloguing, electronic resource development, collections development and storage. Even though most of us special collections librarians are part of a large university or institutional library, we still operate, for most of the year (save that one special weekend in June for Americans, and those few days at the end of August for the Brits), on our own islands promoting our own collections and trying to shout to the world about them. If, instead, we could harness some of the good that comes out of collaboration, I think we'd be all the better for it: discussing regional collection strengths, developing digital resources collaboratively that provide access to a wider array of collections in more dynamic and impactful ways, and defraying the rising financial and environmental costs of collections storage across several institutions.


I'd also love to see more collaborative work which aims to engage contemporary artists with historic collections and archives. The output of artists in residence programs based in libraries and archives can really be electrifying and, in most cases, brings the collections to an audience that wouldn't normally be reached and encourages further engagement. One of the most stunning projects that I've seen recently (and no, this is not just me name-checking an East-Fifer) is the collaboration between film researcher Virginia Heath and musician King Creosote who drew on the motion picture resources from the National Library of Scotland & the Scottish Screen Archive to create A Century in Film: From Scotland With Love; watch it just as soon as you can.  


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


Oh, yes. A couple of really quirky birds are the Beveridge Collection and the Alchemy Collection. The personal collection of the Rev. John Beveridge donated to the University in the mid-20th century and has three main strengths which reflects the collectors interests: Norway, Esperanto and beekeeping. I'll repeat that: Norway, Esperanto and beekeeping. Fantastic! There are even some items in his collection which cross the boundaries, such as Norwegian Gazettes in Esperanto. The Alchemy Collection was assembled by John Read, professor of chemistry at St Andrews in the second quarter of the 20th century. Read was basically given an envelope full of cash and the remit to build a collection of books and manuscripts on the history of chemistry by the Department of Chemistry, a task which he not only worked at for the rest of his career, but which resulted in some magnificent early printed books and manuscripts (including early editions of Brunschwig, Ulstadius and manuscripts in the hand of Newton).


The collections here at St Andrews are fantastically deep and wide and historically under-exploited; our retro-cataloguing projects are finding wonderful pockets of books in the general reserve 17th and 18th century collections and feel like we've only begun to scratch the surface of what may lie beneath. One of the collections that I have my own "cataloguer's eye" on is the collection of John Sturgeon Mackay, mathematical master at the Edinburgh Academy until his death in 1914. This small but incredibly focussed collection of mathematical works features first editions of Euclid's works in several languages, etc. A nice little project that I hope I can find time for myself soon.     


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


Well, currently St Andrews doesn't have much of a dedicated exhibition space for its Special Collections, due to redevelopment projects, etc. So we've really concentrated our curatorial efforts into our digital presence, to try and widen the impact of our collections across several user groups and the general public. To this extent we've expanded Echoes from the niche rare books blog that it started out as into an admittedly also niche, but very successful, blog highlighting items from all of our collections and with contributions from all of the Division's curators, as well as cataloguers, archivists and guest posts by academics and researchers. The blog, and the activities surrounding it, has been a nice outlet to express our curatorial voice and to reach more diverse audiences (from academics to hobby bakers and from artists to knitters) to than a local exhibition could. The last three years we've been running focussed year-long threads on bindingsillustrations and this year's star has been our historical how-to thread. We've got a few other digital resources coming down the pipe soon, so watch this space.


We do have a small, temporary exhibition facility in our historic King James Library which I'll be mounting a small display on Italian translator and Cardinal Daniele Barbaro in September in conjunction with an academic workshop coming to town, but the space and conditions limit the use of this space to the most temporary of exhibitions.

bloomsbury_cover.jpgWho knew the Bloomsbury Group was known for its discernible palate and not just its literary taste? The Bloomsbury Cookbook: Recipes for Life, Love and Art (Thames & Hudson, $39.95), a new book by Jan Ondaatje Rolls, looks at E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, and others in their literary set from a culinary point of view--perhaps the only view not yet explored. As Anne Chisholm writes in the foreword, "Jan Ondaatje Rolls has indeed found a way to cast new light onto Bloomsbury, not by yet again re-examining their personal or professional lives or analyzing their emotions, but by walking into their kitchens and dining rooms, unearthing their cookbooks, trying out their recipes (even the less tempting ones) and, above all, by immersing herself in their writings and paintings. She has followed the scent of cooking through novels, diaries, letters and memoirs..."

If you wish to make Mrs. Dalloway's dinner, for example, listed here are the ingredients and directions for cucumber vichyssoise, mayonnaise of cold salmon, chicken in aspic, chocolate ice cream, and homemade gateau de pommes. Among the other nearly 300 recipes are Strachey's rice pudding, Vita's [Vita Sackville-West] magnificent Strasbourg pie, Monk's House tea, Hogarth Eccles cakes, Armistice chocolate cream, and marrow and ginger jam.

It's a fresh approach, and one that appeals to both cookbook enthusiasts and lovers of Edwardian and WWI-era English literature. Plus, the book itself is lovely--a generous hardcover with purple endpapers and a ribbon marker, featuring 165 illustrations of artwork by those in the Bloomsbury circle, photographs of them, and original art by British designer (and granddaughter of Vanessa Bell), Cressida Bell.

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