After ten years as the Head of Public Services and Processing Manuscript Librarian at Stanford University, I became the new director of the Sutro Library in March. The Sutro Library is a branch of the California State Library and we hold the 90,000+ volumes amassed by famed book collector, Adolph Sutro. We are a small staff so I get to do a little bit of everything, from collection development to engaging with donors. Since we are a public research library located on a vibrant California State University campus, I am especially excited to grow our outreach and instruction program to the faculty and students of San Francisco State University.
How did you get started in rare books?
I began working with rare books when I was an undergraduate studying at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Keble College, Oxford. Much of my coursework required me to use the book collections at the Bodleian Library, the Rhodes House, and the Oxford Student Union. I vividly remember spending hours poring over the books in the Radcliffe Camera, inhaling their slightly spicy smell. When I joined the staff at Stanford, my interest was rekindled again thanks in large part to the Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, Roberto Trujillo, and the Rare Books Curator, John Mustain. Since I am an archivist by training, I think I’ll forever be a student of rare books.
Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?
I completed my BA in American History at the University of San Francisco. After graduation, I pursued an MA in Public History (concentration in archives and manuscripts) from California State University Sacramento. I completed an MLIS from San Jose State University (concentration on archives and special collections) before that program went to an entirely online format. I also have taken some incredible classes at the California Rare Books School.
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?
I had so many favorite books when I worked at Stanford that it makes it hard to pick just one. A few that come to mind would be a 1737 universal etymological English dictionary owned by John Hancock when he was 11 years old and was signed by him three times. Another is the Golden Cockerel Press’ Four Gospels. Only 12 were printed on vellum and Stanford’s vellum copy is number one.
I suppose the book I enjoyed sharing the most with students was a copy of the first draft of The Star Wars by George Lucas dated 1974. I am a big fan of the original Star Wars movies so having the opportunity to geek out with others over this screenplay was incredibly gratifying. The 1974 story was very different from the one depicted in the final film and students always responded so positively to it.
What do you personally collect?
Any collecting I do is curbed by the size of my house. I do have a small collection pertaining to my travels. The collection started with the original suitcases my grandparents carried when they immigrated to the United States. Over the years, I have purchased something from each country I have visited, with recent objects coming from Cuba, Croatia and Greece.
What do you like to do outside of work?
The lines between my personal and work interests are blurred as I turned my love of cultural heritage into a livelihood. When I am not sitting at work, I can be found visiting a museum, attending a concert or play, or frequenting one of the many outstanding restaurants found in the Bay Area.
I have a bad case of wanderlust so traveling is very important to me. Regardless of where my journeys take me, I always visit libraries, archives and museums.
What excites you about rare book librarianship?
When one hears of preserving born digital content, one naturally thinks of archival materials but technology is changing our rare book access and preservation habits as well. I am intrigued by the challenges I see with some of the new Artists Books being produced that use both analog and technological formats to create a sensory experience. The ones I have seen pose some very unique preservation challenges for rare book librarians: how do we preserve the born-digital content so that it is accessible for future readers while still allowing the artist’s vision of that experience to occur in the manner in which they designed it?
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?
I think the part that excites me most about working in special collections and archives today is as a profession, we are looking at our communities’ current social and civil changes and inviting the community to collaborate with us on collections. Examples of this change can be found in University of Riverside’s University Archivist, Bergis Jules, who is collaborating with community organizers and individuals throughout the United States involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. The special collections librarians at UCLA are another example: they are soliciting 1980s era punk music materials from the Los Angeles community.
These initiatives allow for more holistic and inclusive records to be developed, diversifying traditional collection development policies to not only include the voices in power, but those that are historically marginalized as well. Having the community and other information professionals work alongside curators will broaden the voices found in our holdings for future generations to research, contemplate, and enjoy.
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?
One of the more unique parts of the Sutro Library is our Mexicana collection consisting of forty to fifty thousand books, pamphlets, broadsides, and manuscripts on Mexican culture, religion, and politics from 1540 to 1889. Sutro acquired the collection from famed bookseller, Francisco Abadiano in 1889. Included in this purchase was a sizeable portion of the Colegio Imperal de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco library--the first academic library of the New World. In fact, the Mexicana collection includes the first legal code printed in the Americas.
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
We will have a new exhibit called Into the West that will open in time for the new academic year in August. The exhibit will feature our holdings on Western European travel and exploration of the West from the 1500s-1800s. It will include Adolph Sutro’s scrapbook from when he visited Mexico, various maps and atlases, and other illustrated books on travel.
Since it is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we will end the year by mounting an exhibit of the Shakespeareana parts of Sutro’s collection. On display will be our original first thru fourth Folios and other content related to contemporaries of the Bard.