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Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Angela DiVeglia, Curatorial Assistant at Providence Public Library Special Collections.


Research_consultations.jpgWhat is your role at Providence Public Library?


My job title is Curatorial Assistant; I work under the Head Curator of Collections, as one of four members of the Special Collections Department. I work on exhibitions and loans, do the bulk of our rare book cataloging, process the odd (sometimes very odd) archival collection, teach classes, coordinate our annual Creative Fellowship, and act as the liaison to the local arts and design community.


How did you get started in rare books?


In the early 2000’s, I was living in Boston and working in public education, as well as working with an awesome collective of people to start the Papercut Zine Library. We began with a few boxes of zines and comic books, creating our own custom cataloging system and hand-illustrated library cards. (The library still exists, and now has over 16,000 items in its collection!) Our collection grew rapidly through donations from zine authors, comics artists, bookstores and distros, and collectors; alongside the usual materials, donors would occasionally approach us with incredible ephemera and printed materials documenting social movements and underground music in and around Boston. We often couldn’t accept these historical materials (we didn’t have climate control, we had irregular open hours--while our values aligned with our donors’, we frequently weren’t the most appropriate home for these materials), but this planted a deep seed in me as I realized that 1. Someone desperately needed to be documenting social movements and subcultures, and the impetus had to come from the communities being documented, and 2. I wanted to build the skill set to do this kind of work!


I began researching MLS programs that year, with encouragement from an anonymous reference librarian at the Boston Public Library. Before that, I had only been vaguely aware of archives as a field. I wish it had been on my career radar earlier! After working in a number of community libraries and infoshops in New England and in the mid-south, earning an MLS, processing incredible working archival collections on-site at The Highlander Center (a popular education center in East Tennessee) and Bread and Puppet Theater (a political puppet theater in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont), and working as a tech services and reference librarian, I finally ended up in my current position at the Providence Public Library. Phew! It’s amazing to have a job where I make use of all the disparate knowledge and skills that I’ve acquired through my atypical career trajectory.


Where did you earn your MLS?


I got my MLS at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, with a focus in archives. While I was there, I was fortunate to have a graduate assistantship working on the North Carolina Maps project, which still heavily informs my ideas about metadata and access points. I also spent a year working as the graduate intern in the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University’s Rubenstein Library. It was a fantastic experience, and exposed me to all the different aspects of hands-on archival work, from processing enormous archival collections to meeting with donors to helping researchers with extensive projects. (One particularly memorable project involved a researcher recreating an art installation from an artist whose papers are in Duke’s collections; I somehow ended up pushing a book cart of half-dressed mannequin parts through the library, which remains a real career highlight.) 


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


This is an impossible question to answer! I feel like I discover new and incredible things in our collections almost every day.


Some books at PPL that I return to over and over are early 20th century folios of pochoir prints by E. A. Séguy depicting nature-based and geometric patterns. Pochoir prints are made using layers--sometimes dozens or even hundreds of layers--of highly-detailed stencils, colored with super-pigmented ink using oversized pompom-esque brushes. The colors in these folios are unbelievably vibrant given their age, and the “wow” factor is high--everyone who sees them gasps! (We put together a really fun exhibit in 2015 where we had local artists look at these and other pattern books, and then use them as the basis for new creative work.)


What do you personally collect?


I live in a very small house, so my collecting capacity is limited. I do have a sizeable collection of antique bottles and sea glass; I’m a huge fan of historical trash. I like how much old bottles can tell us about the consumption habits and day-to-day lives of people in the past.


What do you like to do outside of work?


I’m an avid urban gardener, which currently means spending the bulk of my non-work daylight hours building increasingly absurd infrastructure to deter my neighborhood’s marauding citified woodchucks. I raise chickens, which are an endless source of entertainment. I also love sewing and knitting, bike riding, and attending Providence’s seemingly endless number of strange and wonderful arts events.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


I’m very excited about books as physical objects. I love the tactile experience of opening a book, and I love being able to share that with researchers, especially ones who are new to special collections research. (Favorite reading room moment in recent memory: someone opening a historic magazine and exclaiming, “I can’t believe I’m allowed to touch this!”) Through my experience at PPL, I’ve found that younger researchers and teens have a kind of reverence for physical materials, and they understand the specialness of unique items in a world of endless digital duplication. As long as we continue developing methods of effective outreach and increasing our collections’ accessibility, I think special collections are in good shape moving forward.


Speaking of outreach and accessibility, I’m incredibly lucky to work at PPL alongside colleagues who share my belief that preservation is futile if it isn’t also tied to accessibility--that we save items so that they can be used, even if the two activities can seem at odds. I’m also delighted to work somewhere that doesn’t prioritize specific kinds of use--a tattoo artist or a teen clothing designer is just as welcome to view our rare materials as a scholar. Use brings materials alive, as they’re touched, incorporated into new scholarly or creative work, and brought into conversation with contemporary ideas.


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


As I mentioned, I believe that special collections have a really, shall I say, special place in a tech-heavy world. In PPL’s outreach, we often refer to the “immersive research experience”, which I think is a huge selling point for our collections. Because of the slower pace of special collections research, our users can spend whole afternoons absorbed in a particular visual or intellectual topic. Also--and I especially find this with our visual researchers and artists--it’s very valuable to see information within its broader context, instead of isolated like it would be in online search results. It’s a much richer experience.


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


I think that one of the most underutilized collections at PPL is our sizeable collection of books and periodicals about textiles and the textile industry. (It’s largely uncataloged, which we hope to change soon, but for now users tend to hear about it through word of mouth.) It was built up as a technical collection for people working in the textile industry, and now is a fantastic record of the history of the New England textile economy. It has information about machines and their operation/ repair, and about fibers, dyeing, and weaving. It includes fiber samples, color samples, and some fabric samples; it also has loads of information about particular mills or mill owners. (Many of the textile magazines were read by mill operatives, and they have announcements sections in the back that were like inter-mill gossip sections: what mills were bought or sold, which workers were promoted or passed away. Truly fascinating! The machinery/systems books written for mill owners, on the other hand, are almost completely silent on the fact that machines were operated by people--workers are barely mentioned, if at all.) I’ve seen contemporary textile artists work with this collection, digging up weaving patterns or natural dye recipes; it is also a fantastic resource for people interested in the history of regional manufacturing.


I’d also love to draw your attention to a recent project that I spearheaded: this past summer, PPL published a comic book called Lizard Ramone in Hot Pursuit: A Guide to Archives for Artists and Makers, written and illustrated by Providence artist Jeremy Ferris. Jeremy and I worked together closely for many months, discussing how archives work, what visual research looks like, useful access points for visual researchers, and common barriers to effective research. Because Jeremy is a hilarious genius, he somehow managed to translate all of this into a comic book that’s as fun to read as it is informative. The comic book was designed it to be useful to our researchers, but also general enough that it could be useful at any archives, special collections library, or historical society. A bookmark-style local insert (illustrated by Providence artist O. Horvath) offers Rhode Island-specific information on local repositories. I think it’s an amazing outreach tool for reaching visual artists in a medium that’s familiar and accessible, and acknowledges the ways that many artists think and work.


 You can read the whole comic book online here; that webpage also includes a link to a print-ready version of the book that you can download and take to your local print shop, and a template for those wanting to make their own local inserts. It’s like a mini toolkit for archivists and special collections librarians!


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


In addition to ongoing, smaller exhibits, PPL has an annual exhibition and program series. Our 2018 exhibition, “HairBrained,” will focus on hairstyles throughout history--braids, curls, facial hair, wigs--and the ways in which hair defines and reflects culture, self-identity, agency, and politics. We’re aiming to represent a variety of cultures and time periods in each exhibit case; items will range from historical postcards to an issue of The Black Panther newspaper, from early 20th century costume books with stunning color lithography to a 1726 history of pirates. You can see the exhibition at the library during the months of March-June 2018. Hair is a surprisingly complex and rich topic, and I anticipate the exhibition being both fun and challenging!


























jsylvestre.jpgOur Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Jay Sylvestre, Special Collections Librarian at the Otto G. Richter Library at the University of Miami.


What is your role at your institution?


My proper title is Special Collections Librarian in Special Collections at the University of Miami; however, I function as the Rare Book Librarian. On any given day, I’m responsible for leading class sessions using select collection materials, processing acquisitions, coordinating cataloging priorities with our Rare Books Cataloger, and conducting outreach activities. I spend time each day looking for items to share on social media, primarily Instagram as @um_spec_coll, with local followers, #librariesofinstagram, and anyone else interested in special collections materials. The community on Instagram has been a great way to share our collections, connect with other libraries and librarians, generate new ideas for hashtag challenges (November featured #rainbowsinthelibrary), and interact with potential users and donors.


How did you get started in rare books?


I spent nearly a decade around rare books as a contract archivist. A few of my early contracts gave me exposure to rare book handling, collecting, and cataloging. I had the opportunity during an early internship to help catalog and even acquire a few rare books, but although rare books were always related to my work when I was an archivist, they were never the focus. My focus shifted to rare books when I started working at UM in 2014. Under the mentorship of Cristina Favretto, Head of Special Collections, and with the help of my colleagues in the department and in cataloging, I’ve had an intense ongoing instruction in rare books librarianship. I’m really enjoying working with rare books, especially since I attended Rare Book School at the University of Virginia this past summer, where I learned about publisher’s bindings. We covered so much in one week at RBS that I’m still processing everything I learned.


Where did you earn your degree?


I earned an M.A. in Public History from Temple University with a specialization in archives. The archives sequence was taught by Martin Levitt at the American Philosophical Society. It was this sequence that sparked my career in special collections.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


I am a bit of a birder and love bird-related puns (especially on Instagram), so I suppose it’s only natural that my favorite item is an 1809 edition, 4-volume, heavily grangerized/extra illustrated edition of Thomas Bewick’s The History of British Birds. This particular set has original drawings of each bird to match Bewick’s descriptions and engravings and contains full sets of feathers for each bird Bewick described. Each set of feathers is labeled by location and function, with some sets recording the hunter and site of each bird’s untimely demise. All of the feathers were collected between 1809-1811, and all still bear their original luster. The highlights of this collection are lustrous peacock feathers, still shiny and bright. Pages facing the feathers all bear marks of ghosting and oil transfer. It’s an incredible set to show to students for the feather collection, provenance marks, book history, and preservation. Perhaps my favorite parts of the set are the unfinished drawings and leftover feathers. Clearly a previous owner was not done with their work on this book.


What do you personally collect?


I have a very small and slowly growing collection of artists’ books. I am especially interested in papercraft - pop-ups and papercutting, in particular. I also have a collection of bobbleheads. As an undergraduate history major, I came across a bobblehead figure of George Washington. I’ve since added several other historical figures, professional athletes, movie and cartoon characters, and school mascots. One of my favorite bobbleheads is the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolf, which Library Dean Steve Rollins gave to me as a parting gift when I left Alaska to come to UM in 2014. I spotted the bobblehead in his office on my first day of work and asked where I could get one. After 2 years of unsuccessful searching, the Dean generously gave me his on my last day.


What do you like to do outside of work?


Inspired by my work with our artists’ books collection, I’ve taken up papercraft. I’ve made some fairly intricate paper-based Halloween costumes over the last two years (low polygon masks of a pink elephant last year with an articulated trunk and a duck mask for this year’s Dark Wing Duck costume), and I’ve recently started making pop-up cards for friends and family. I also like to find new and unusual craft beers to try; Florida is full of unique ingredients and people, which make this activity quite rewarding. I’m also fond of making desserts, primarily cookies and ice cream, and finding new foods to sample. Finally, beyond spending time with friends, my wife and I also really love the outdoors. When we lived in Alaska, we used to go hiking, kayaking, and whale watching, and we even learned to dog sled and ice skate. Since moving to Florida, we’ve started to enjoy kayaking, bird watching, looking for manatees, and occasionally go snorkeling.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


Sharing. My day isn’t complete until I talk about, post, or show a book to a student or colleague. I never tire of showing or being shown something new. I’m always learning new things about our collections and librarianship. I try always to convey what I’ve learned and what I know to students and visitors. There is nothing quite like the look on students’ faces when I hand them a book from the 14th century and assure them that they can not only touch, but also hold and look through it.


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


Special collections and libraries in general are extremely vital. As a profession, we are facing a crucial moment to affirm our commitment to inclusivity, accessibility, and freedom of information. I am thrilled to see so many conversations taking place about the role of the library being beyond a neutral space for sharing ideas but rather as a space for education, justice, community, and advancing change. The continued focus on connecting and documenting the histories of underrepresented groups and engaging with students, faculty, and our communities give me hope that special collections can be a partner in positive change.


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


When Allison Jai O’Dell was featured in 2014, she mentioned two of the collections that had become some of my personal favorites: the Jackie Gleason Collection on the occult and paranormal, and our zine collections. The books collected by Gleason represent the comedian’s serious interest in the unseen world. Our zine collections include a range of materials, from early 20th century science fiction zines to student-created works inspired by visits to Special Collections. We’ve also begun collecting education and socially conscious board games. Inspired by “What Shall I Be?,” a 1966 career game for girls that features a flight attendant in a Pan Am uniform (UM also has the Pan Am Airlines collection), we’ve expanded our collection to include games that critically examine race, gender, sexuality, and class. Our current UGrow graduate fellow recently put together a fantastic exhibit for our reading room using the games collection. We also selected several of our games to play during International Games Day in November. Students and faculty were amazed at the topics covered by the games. Woman and Man: The Classic Confrontation from 1971 engaged players and generated productive conversation about gender equality and sexism and the game’s attempt to educate players.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


We have a few exhibits coming up in 2017. The first exhibit, “We Were Pioneers: University of Miami’s African-American Students, Faculty, and Administrators in the 60s and 70s,” will share the history of integration at the University of Miami. Our University Archives, Special Collections, and History Department faculty have been working with the Black Alumni Society’s First Black Graduates Project to curate the exhibit.


Following this exhibit will be a look at the environment in Florida and the Caribbean. Our exhibit will be paired with the National Parks Service “Piecing Together a Changing Planet” travelling exhibit and will feature the natural environment, built environment, and destroyed environment. Climate change and sea level rise are essential areas of study at the University of Miami and southern Florida. Special Collections is working to document the work of scientists and activists to address and raise awareness of sea level rise and climate change. This exhibit will help establish the library as a resource and place of discussion for these issues. I’m looking forward to curating the environmental exhibit with partners in the library, school, and community.


Finally, Special Collections will be moving into a new space in late 2017. To celebrate the move we are planning a spectacular inaugural exhibit. Stay tuned, we have big plans for this year!


Image Courtesy of Jay Sylvestre.




















Finebooks_photo_BobMacLean.jpgOur Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Robert MacLean, Assistant Librarian in Archives & Special Collections at the University of Glasgow in Scotland:


What is your role at your institution?


I am an assistant librarian in the University of Glasgow Library Archives and Special Collections. My primary role is overseeing and carrying out teaching sessions using our collections, something I’m now doing in concert with my archivist colleague Claire Daniel following Special Collections’ recent merger with the University Archives. But like so many folk working in special collections I have all sorts of “hats” and enjoy carrying out a range of other activities too. These include working on the Glasgow Incunabula Project - our big programme of cataloguing in detail the thousand-plus incunables in our care - rare book cataloguing, enquiry response (particularly detailed ones relating to historical bibliography), blogging and collection promotion, and supervision of placement students and interns.


How did you get started in rare books?


I became interested while still a Geography undergraduate (I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2001). One of our honours assignments included a visit to the Library to look at Victorian documents on “slum clearance” and handling these strange things with their odd orthography, unfamiliar typefaces and strange smell gave me the bug. On graduation I got a temporary contract in the University of Glasgow Library cataloguing nineteenth century books for the online catalogue. Subsequently I managed to swing a transfer and permanent post in Special Collections, as a library assistant involved with reading room supervision, enquiry response and rare book cataloguing and I’ve been there ever since, eventually being promoted to assistant librarian.


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?


At the University of Strathclyde, also in Glasgow. I studied for the Masters part-time over two years, attending lectures one day a week, whilst still working in Special Collections full time, making up the hours I missed by working evenings and weekends. It was hard work to be honest but definitely worthwhile since I learned a lot about wider library issues beyond my own experience and it also gave me that bit of extra confidence that I hadn’t missed any basic lessons from the ‘Big Book of Librarianship’ during my on-the-job training!


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


Wow that’s such an unfair question to ask. In fact, I’m inclined not to believe a special collections librarian that comes up with just one answer to this! The things I favour tend not to be the shiny, illuminated or finely bound (although obviously I love those too!) but the grubby, cheap, broken or very well used. Books that - going beyond their text - can tell you a story through provenance, marginalia, binding and any other copy-specific material feature are what really interest me. That all said my current favourite item is mostly interesting for its text rather than any paratext! It’s a nineteenth century manuscript travel diary of a Scottish gentleman who travelled to the South of France for the winter. It’s far more interesting than its catalogue record would lead you to believe, and is one of those gems that you occasionally just stumble across in the book stacks by chance while looking for something else. The diary is studded with original photographs and fantastic pen-and-ink sketches. The author is hilarious: hugely grumpy about all sorts of things from his wife and daughter’s proclivity for packing too much, French railways, French restaurants, French bureaucrats questioning his “unexceptionable” mastery of the French language, and of course, the French weather. Brits abroad eh? Plus ça change. I’ve taken photos of each page and I’m slowly transcribing the whole diary and I’ll blog about it from the Archives & Special Collection blog at some point soon.


What do you personally collect?


Well I’m not really much of a collector at the moment. I mostly seem to collect lots of books about books - book history etc. However I did recently buy my very first early printed book. I was on holiday seeing my sister, who lives in the south of France, and found a small collection of late eighteenth-century French schoolbooks sitting out in the sun at a car boot sale! I successfully impressed my sister with the “I bet I can guess the publication date just by looking at the binding” game - just a couple of years out for the first volume - only to be punished for my hubris by guessing the other volumes’ dates wildly wrongly, to my sister’s great amusement. I bought my lucky guess for just three euros, a 12mo guide to “Good Christian living” printed in Narbonne, bound in tanned sheepskin and with a charming nineteenth-century school prize-giving inscription.


What do you like to do outside of work?


I like to keep busy and play plenty of tennis. I also love hill walking. Glasgow is only an hour’s drive from some spectacular mountains and I love nothing more than getting out into the hills on the, admittedly rare, occasions that we get some sunny weather. 


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


Showing things to people. Every single day working in special collections you come across something cool and interesting that you just need to share. Actually I expect my colleagues are secretly delighted that, now Twitter is around, I don’t feel the need to chap on their doors all the time to say “COME LOOK AT THIS!!” since I post stuff online instead! This thrill in showing, sharing, contextualising and talking about rare books is one of the things I enjoy most about my teaching role; being able to share these wonderful things with people and explain why they’re interesting and exciting is so much fun and a great privilege. And seeing as I caught the rare book bug while still an undergraduate student, I always hope that my teaching sessions might offer a similar experience to others.


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


From an academic special collections standpoint there has surely never been a better time. The “material turn” in the arts and humanities has made the rare books we care for valuable to researchers as never before. Each and every surviving copy of a book has potential interest for researchers exploring the production and consumption of texts. It’s vital therefore that we care for and - as far as we are able - describe these books, copy-specifics and all, to make them findable. This interest is also feeding into undergraduate teaching with primary source sessions increasingly sought after, which is fabulous to see. The power and reach of various social media platforms - Twitter [@UofGlasgowASC] being just one example - is also allowing us to share and enthuse about our collections to a non-traditional audience as never before, generating much interest from the general public in the process. It’s a really exciting time to be working in special collections. Yet not everything is rosy. There’s rarely enough money around for most to easily do all the things they’d like and all that their various, enthusiastic, users want them to do. There are probably fewer professional-grade librarians around than there have ever been before and new professionals are often not appointed at the same grade as retiring colleagues. With lots to do the temptation will increasingly be to fill the gap with unpaid internships; while these will doubtless be great experience for the intern, they effectively slam the door of the profession to those unsupported by the “Bank of Mum and Dad”, which won’t be great for the future diversity of the profession.


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


Well there are so many possibilities but one which I really should plug is our incunabula collection. Numbering in excess of one thousand, it is the largest collection in Scotland and one of the largest in Britain. We’ve catalogued each one in a huge amount of detail going beyond the basics to some in-depth description of provenance, marginalia, decoration, binding, the whole works, with each entry illustrated with a few images. The Glasgow Incunabula Project site - which is now a city-wide project, including the incunable holdings of other Glasgow institutions - allows you to search through the whole lot using a range of indexed entry points. We hope that it’s going to be really useful for all sorts of researchers.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


Well we’ve recently renovated the ground floor of the Library installing a publicly accessible “virtual” exhibition space, so hopefully we’ll be populating that space soon with some interesting and attractive visuals of our holdings. And 2018 will see the 300th anniversary of the birth of William Hunter, one of the University of Glasgow’s great benefactors. He studied at the University before going on to become a very successful physician, man-midwife and collector. His amazing collections were bequeathed to the University of Glasgow following his death in 1783, becoming The Hunterian, the first public museum in Scotland, the 10,000 volume library of which now resides in Archives and Special Collections. Along with our colleagues at The Hunterian, and throughout the University, we’ll be collaborating to celebrate this anniversary with various events throughout the year, so look out for announcements about that.


Image Courtesy of Robert MacLean.




















Head shot Emily Dourish.jpgOur Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Dr. Emily Dourish, Deputy Head of Rare Books at Cambridge University Library.


What is your role at your institution?


I am Deputy Head of Rare Books at Cambridge University Library, working with a team of three professional curators and four reading room superintendents; I’ve been at the UL for 12 years. I also worked for nearly ten years as Joint Exhibitions Officer, working with colleagues from across the Library to co-ordinate and curate our programme of major public exhibitions.


How did you get started in rare books?


My first encounter with early books came as an undergraduate studying History at Cambridge. At that time the Rare Books department was housed in the Anderson Room, our most traditionally historic-looking reading room (now the Music department) and on the open shelves was a set of the Acta Sanctorum, beginning in 1643; they’re bound in vellum-covered wooden boards. I didn’t really need to use them for my studies but they just looked so tempting! A book that was on a different scale to anything I’d used before, and several hundred years older; I wanted to know more about why someone would use this and not a modern edition of the text.


A couple of years later while I was studying for my PhD my college, Jesus, employed postgrads in the Old Library undertaking some very basic restoration work on the early collections; handling these books was a great privilege and encouraged me to feel that these books were for everyone, not only the senior academics who were publishing on them. My first library role was creating collection-level descriptions at the Mander and Mitchenson Theatre archive, and after working there for a year a post came up at the UL so I moved back.


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?


I studied part-time for the University College London MA in Library and Information Studies while working at the UL. It was a great opportunity to formalise the things I had been learning on the job and included historical bibliography sessions in the National Art Library at the V&A; such a beautiful place to work, though walking through the gift shop every week was dangerously tempting! My dissertation gave recommendations to make possible the cataloguing of the Old Library at Jesus College, to give back something to the place where my interest really took off.  I’ve also been fortunate to attend Nicholas Pickwoad’s remarkable course on bindings at the London Rare Books School.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


This is such a difficult question! I’ve been lucky to pass some of the most amazing books to our readers, and to show visitors some of our greatest treasures and my favourite item changes from week to week. An incunable prayer book with annotations by a sixteenth-century nun, or a miniature library printed for children around 1800, or a set of almanacs belonging to an 18th-century bishop with his notes of medical recipes and his marriage to his wife have all gripped me over recent months. One that I’m really looking forward to doing some more work on is a Greek volume of Luther printed in Basel in 1567, in a somewhat damaged binding; both its boards are detached and the manuscript pastedowns are no longer pasted down , but this means we can see the sheets of an early printed volume that are hiding within the paper boards. I haven’t yet identified exactly what that early printed book is, and it will be one of those really enjoyable bits of librarian detective work to discover it. It amazes me that there are so many things still to be found in the books in this library, which have been in our collections for hundreds of years.


What do you personally collect?


I would love to collect incunabula but the budget sadly does not permit! I have a slowly growing collection of early language phrasebooks for travellers; it is fascinating to see what was considered important to be able to say. I also have a number of early children’s books, which I share with my own children.


What do you like to do outside of work?


I sing with several choirs, primarily unaccompanied music; I love the complete focus it requires. It’s impossible to think about anything else while you’re singing, which is a valuable space in a sometimes over-busy world. I also have two young daughters who take up the remainder of my time! The younger one is just beginning to read, and sitting listening to her make her way through a story book is an enormous pleasure.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


Having the chance to work with such fantastic books and to share them with other people. Finding out something new every day in books that might be hundreds of years old. The satisfaction of creating a really good catalogue record!


I really do love this job and the variety it offers. One of the best parts is public outreach work with schools and community groups, and seeing a child understand that yes, that is Darwin’s own handwriting, or yes, that book was printed five hundred years ago, and yes, you can touch it (and no you don’t need white gloves!).  You can see a light go on inside their head and perhaps an interest sparked that might stay with them and bring them back in future years to find out more.


I also really want to get other students to have that same experience I had, of understanding that special collections are for them too. We’re working closely with our academic colleagues to bring undergraduates into the reading room early in their university careers so they will want to come back and use our books more often, and it’s great when we see a student who has chosen to write their dissertation on one of our volumes.


I love that our readers are so excited about their work; walking through the reading room and looking over people’s shoulders to find out what they’re looking at, they are always happy to share their discoveries or the little details of what they are investigating.


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


In times of limited budgets we all have to prove our worth to our institutions, and while special collections by their nature are perhaps better protected than other areas we are all increasingly involved in new ways to promote and enhance our collections. The creation of online resources like the Cambridge Digital Library enables us all to share what we have with users around the world, giving access to these often fragile artefacts in a way that wouldn’t have been possible a few decades ago. This kind of resource offers much greater value to the user than a simple Google Books scan, and I think a lot more attention will be given to how to increase these digital collections and their usage.


Other forms of new media are making engagement possible with a much wider range of non-traditional groups; Colour our Collections was a brilliant project to catch a trend and bring library collections to the public in a new way. While our books, manuscripts and archives may mostly be physically contained within our libraries, we can take them out digitally to meet people where they are rather than needing them to come to us.


There’s so much great work going on around the world in large and small collections, and I’d love to see even more co-operation and collaboration with other librarians. As a profession we’re already good at helping each other and sharing ideas; it’s a collaborative rather than competitive field and I’m proud to be a part of that. Within the UL we are breaking down some of the barriers between the various special collections and seeing rare books and manuscripts as part of the same broader Library so that we are more flexible in our promotion and use of the collections. I see the future for large collections like ours as adopting the approach of smaller libraries, where we are not narrow experts in one area but able to offer guidance in many; our readers are the real experts in the material they study and we can learn so much from them.


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


We are currently actively creating a new collection of ephemeral material relating to the EU referendum vote (‘Brexit’). A century ago University Librarian Francis Jenkinson wrote an article and letters to contacts worldwide asking them to send the Library examples of any ephemeral material relating to the First World War, noting that it was intended ‘For the historian of the future’. This formed a remarkable and unique resource for scholars of the early twentieth century. We hope that the Brexit collection will form a similar resource for the events around the vote and the political times of the early twenty-first century. If any of your readers has material that could be contributed, we’d be very grateful to receive it.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


We’re celebrating our 600th birthday this year with two major exhibitions. The first, Lines of thought, looks at six themes in which we have outstanding holdings and makes them accessible to a wider audience; having Newton’s annotated Principia alongside the Gutenberg Bible, the Codex Bezae and Darwin’s manuscript sketches for Origin of Species is pretty exciting! This exhibition runs until the end of September. After that comes Curious objects, a display of some of the more intriguing non-book items in our collections which tells the story of how they came to be in the Library over the last 600 years. We’ve also created an interactive book app for iPad to mark this anniversary with six Cambridge specialists discussing six of the greatest treasures of our collections; it can be downloaded free from the app store.

 



























Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Cassie Brand, Methodist Library Associate and Special Collections Cataloger and, at the moment, Interim Head of Special Collections, at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey.

 

Cassie Brand.JPGWhat is your role at your institution?

 

I am currently serving as Interim Head of Special Collections, University Archives and Methodist Librarian, but my normal job title is Methodist Library Associate and Special Collections Cataloger, which is still a mouthful. I am in charge of overseeing the reading room, supervising student workers, answering reference requests, and cataloging rare books. I have a lot of variety in my job, which I really like. I get to work with a lot of different collections and a lot of different researchers, which keeps things interesting and makes certain I am always learning.

 

My position is interesting in that I work for both Drew University Library Special Collections and the United Methodist Archives and History Center. The Methodist Center consists of the Methodist Library of Drew University and the Archive of the General Commission on Archives and History of the Methodist Church. Together we have arguably (and we do argue) the largest collection of global Methodism in the world. The Methodist Collections are amazing and so full of history. We also have amazing religious collections that are non-Methodist, as well as literary collections, science fiction, popular culture, and so much more. And I get to work with all of them.


How did you get started in rare books?

 

I always knew I was going to work with books in some way, but I had always planned on going into publishing. I had an internship with a local publishing company and especially enjoyed learning about the decisions that were made to create a physical object appropriate for the text it would hold. I spoke about my interest in these decisions with Arnie Sanders, a professor at Goucher College were I did my undergrad. He invited me to join him in the rare book room where he was working on studying a sammelband from 1495. He put the book into my hands and I was hooked. I joined his research team as a volunteer and then later became a student worker for Special Collections and Archives at Goucher. From that point, I couldn’t imagine doing anything but becoming a rare book librarian.


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree? 

 

I attended Indiana University for my library degree and concentrated in Rare Books and Special Collections. I took every class offered by Joel Silver or taught at the Lilly Library and I was fortunate enough to have a student position at the Lilly. It was amazing to work at the Lilly Library, as the staff is so knowledgeable and the collections are amazing. I am currently working on a PhD in History and Culture, with a concentration in Book History at Drew University.

 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


This answer changes with my mood, the day, and what I’ve handled most recently. It’s so hard to choose! However, I will never forget this one Bible at the Library of Congress. It was 13th century, written in Hungary, but illustrated in an Italian style. It was so beautiful and unique I feel I could have stared at it for hours.

 

My favorite book in the collections at Drew is probably the Nuremberg Chronicle. Our copy is beautifully preserved and professionally hand colored. It’s such a great example of printing, early illustration techniques, history, and the view of the world in that time period. Because there are so many great aspects to the book, I pull it out for teaching in lots of different classes.

 

What do you personally collect?

 

I mainly collect books about books. I have been working to build a good reference library for myself as well as collecting bibliomysteries, which I love to read. I also have a small collection of etiquette books from the late 19th/early 20th century, as etiquette and social rules fascinate me.


What do you like to do outside of work?

 

Most of my time spent outside of work is devoted to my PhD work, but in rare moments of free time, I like to visit museums, hang out with friends, sew, knit, and of course read!

 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?


I love introducing people to rare books and book history. Introducing students to rare books for the first time and handing them a book that’s over 400 years old is just plain fun. I get to see the misconceptions fall away as they handle an incunable that isn’t falling apart or dusty and I get to teach about the materials that were used to make a book that lasts that long.

 

One of my favorite moments in the reading room was when several undergraduate students from a class were working with rare books for an assignment. They had to describe the book as a physical object and discuss its importance. There were probably 4 or 5 from the class in at one time and they kept calling each other over to share what they were finding. I ended up bouncing around from table to table answering questions and explaining signatures, binding and illustration techniques, and helping to read marginalia.

 

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

 

People tell me that we should just digitize everything and get rid of the books, or ask if books are going away, or wonder if people still read anymore. The great thing about being a rare book librarian now is that we get to pair the technology from 1450 with the new digital technologies. We have several programs and classes in which the professors are working with special collections to integrate rare books into digital humanities projects, so I’ve been learning a lot more about the digital tools we can use to both study and showcase our collections. Moving into the future, we will be able to use technology to develop even more ways to learn about and understand our rare books and special collections.

 

I’m also excited about the ways in which special collections are becoming more open and accessible. Librarians and faculty are inviting more classes in to work with rare books, teaching about them and making them more open and welcoming. At the same time, digital tools are making collections available across the world, which allows them to be used and discovered more widely. The increased openness and ability for people to work with the collections will make for interest research in the future.


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

 

We have really amazing collections for such a small school and there are so many things in the Methodist Collections you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in a library. We have African tribal masks, John Wesley’s death mask, and a bone from George Whitfield’s thumb. We also have every first edition from Lord Byron and Walt Whitman, as well as some great collections of prayer books, hymnbooks, graphic arts, and science fiction. And of course, I have to mention our famous recently rediscovered first edition of the King James Bible.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

 

I’m really excited about our upcoming exhibit schedule. Like so many other libraries, we will be celebrating the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death with the First Folio on loan from the Folger Shakespeare Library. I am curating a concurrent exhibit Books in the Time of Shakespeare that will look at the materiality of the book and book production in that time period. We also have started planning an exhibit for early 2018 in which we will collaborate with a local artist who works with the language of flowers and pair her work with our collection of botanical books.

 






Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Mattie Taormina, Director of Sutro Library in San Francisco, a branch of the California State Library.


Crop head shot.pngWhat is your role at your institution?


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.

























Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Kate Wells, Rhode Island Collection Librarian within the Special Collections Department at the Providence Public Library.

katewellsportrait.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?


I am the Rhode Island Collection Librarian within the Special Collections Department at the Providence Public Library. PPL has collected materials about the history of Rhode Island and City of Providence since it’s inception in 1874. These materials have been known as the “Rhode Island Collection” since 1901 as part of the non-circulating reference collection, but were only designated as a special collection in 2012. The careful work that librarians did for over a century to accumulate these resources has resulted in a collection that now includes unique and rare items as well as very commonplace ones.


I work as a lone arranger in an urban public library. On behalf of the Rhode Island Collection, I coordinate new acquisitions, catalog published items, process archival and visual materials, coordinate digitization projects, supervise volunteers and interns, provide research services, curate exhibitions, and do a lot of outreach within our community including promoting the collection via social media and programming. While I manage the collection on my own, I could never get things done if I didn’t collaborate with excellent colleagues both inside the PPL and with other cultural heritage and arts organizations here in Providence. I wear a lot of hats, but I never get bored.


How did you get started in rare books?


I was working in the corporate world and was not particularly happy with the work or with the career path open to me. Maybe I watched Say Anything too many times as a teenager, but I felt like Lloyd Dobler when he says “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.”  I wanted a career that I felt good about when I went home at the end of the day.

 

It took me some time to have the courage to make a full career change, but I quit my job and went to Simmons College full-time for a dual degree with a Masters in History and MLIS with an archives concentration. I must’ve been totally naive and/or very stupid to make that jump without ever having worked in a library or archive!  I was lucky to have my internships at the Houghton Library at Harvard University where I got great work practice with very good archivists and got to work with amazing collections.


Since graduating, I’ve never had a job where I was able to just process archival collections all day! I’ve worked in for a municipal city clerk’s office saving vital records from dark corners of basements and attics. I’ve spent time as a cataloging librarian, a reference librarian, and an archivist within university libraries. I’ve supported the research of thousands of scholars, students, genealogists and enthusiasts. I’ve written and managed grants, set up digital repositories and major scanning projects, taught classes and workshops. All of that experience has been invaluable to my current position where I do a bit of everything.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


That is an impossible question. That changes each month as it’s usually related to whatever I’m working with in the moment. I started our @rhodeislandcollection Instagram account partly so that I could remember the interesting and quirky items that I pull for researchers as part of my daily work.


The PPL Special Collections has some incredibly beautiful rare books and ephemera - items that are beautiful to handle because of their craftsmanship, their exquisite materials, or their provenance.  But what I love most are the items that give me a sense of the daily life of regular people.  One item that never fails to amaze me is from our Harris Collection on the Civil War and Slavery.  A ledger from the gunboat U.S.S. LaFayette, 1859-1863, as it participated in the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi documents the contraband slaves that they took on board from various plantations as they made their way up the Mississippi River. These lists include the full list of each individual, by name and age, that were freed on board. These mundane, administrative records document this totally amazing moment - when entire families of people were given freedom, but also taken away from the only sense of community that many of them had ever known. It’s incredible to imagine that experience and to know that, in many cases, this list may be the first time that these people can be identified in documented history.


What do you personally collect?


The funny thing is that at home I’m actually not very sentimental about my own collections. I do have a small collection of early 20th century children’s illustrations and block prints, but mainly I have vintage fabric, buttons and sewing notions that I have collected with the intention to use for various sewing projects. The problem is that I just can’t seem to bring myself to cut into vintage fabric and so I just hoard it!


What do you like to do outside of work?


My husband and I just bought our first house so we’re currently spending most of our free time on renovation or gardening projects. I also love hiking with our dog, cocktails and meals with friends, scouting for finds in estate sales and antique stores and working on various knitting and sewing projects.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


I have never been more excited about it than in my current job at PPL. This is my first experience working in a public library and the opportunity to introduce special collections to people who may otherwise feel intimidated to work with rare materials has been incredibly rewarding. Core to our mission is to provide access to any patron who comes in our doors or visits our website. I work with an amazing group of colleagues who are all passionate about making our rare books and archival material relevant to a wide audience. No matter who you are and what your interests, if you walk in our doors we want to get you engaged.  We don’t want you to just come in and look; we want you to DO something with what you find and tell us all about it.


We’ve collaborated with high school students, artists, zine writers and musicians, tradespeople and artisans, and community organizers to bring our materials to life in new ways. I always love working with serious scholars, but there’s a different energy that comes from working with people who use rare books and archival materials to adapt to their own interests. Seeing a teenager get impassioned for social justice after working with activist materials from the 1970s; working with a professional sign painter to find historic advertising references for a new client; or collaborating with a community organizer to teach young people how to conduct oral history interviews and document their own community - these have been incredibly fun opportunities. As special collections librarians, we have the opportunity to know about these incredible resources and to share them.


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


We all get the question - are libraries even relevant anymore? And of course, we are in many, many ways. The uniqueness of special collections is what will ensure its relevance. What will draw visitors to a particular library will continue to be what makes that particular institution unique. That might be the staff’s subject expertise, engaging programming or the unique collections of materials that are only available at that particular library. In that sense, I think that special collections may be the area of librarianship with the most stability.


But I think that the future of our work requires that we reach beyond our comfort zones to engage a much larger audience than we traditionally have. We can’t expect people to just come to us. We need to make it easier for them to know what we have and they need to be encouraged to use it in ways relevant to their own personal interests. Whenever possible, we need to do more than just put scans up online.  We need to engage people to actively do something with them - to reinvent, adapt, and create new products. The more barriers we put up to use, the most we put our collections and own relevance at risk.


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


We recently got the first delivery installment of a new acquisition that I am really excited about.  The Lou Costa Collection documents the Cape Verdean community in the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence in the 20th century. This community has been completely dispersed by a combination of urban development and gentrification since the 1980s. The bulk of the collection includes photographs collected by Mr. Costa from family, friends and old neighborhood residents.  This collection documents an incredibly diverse neighborhood that has had a huge influence on the region’s history. Growing our Rhode Island Collection’s holdings for mid to late 20th century materials and related to under-documented people and neighborhoods has been my primary collecting goal and I’m so thrilled to see this collection come here.  Not only that, but the collector has so much information to impart to us about the people and locations in each photograph. His descriptions are invaluable to identifying the people, businesses and locations in each image. He describes a lively and close knit neighborhood. My favorite part of working with him is that he identifies everyone by their local nickname as well as their birth name. We have the most gorgeous early 20th century portrait of an eight year old boy labeled “Porkchop Alves” which tickles me every time I see it.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


I’m currently in the middle of curating an exhibition for Spring 2017 that will examine changes in American foodways and dining culture through the lens of setting the table. This exhibition will be part of a larger PPL theme examining the culture of food which we are working on with a number of other Rhode Island organizations.  Our hope is to spark a state-wide conversation about the role of food in our lives and communities. The challenge is thinking about how to make an engaging exhibition about food when you can’t smell or taste it! My goal for the exhibition is to think about the way economies, routines, traditions, and etiquette root us to food and people who share a meal with us. We’ll look at various place settings and dinnerware as entry points into larger themes of race, class, and social justice. That’s the goal anyways; we’ll see how it all pans out.























Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Elizabeth DeBold, Curatorial Assistant at The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC.


DeBold_photo.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?

 

My official title is Curatorial Assistant. We currently have two curators--a Curator of Early Modern Books and Prints and a Curator of Manuscripts.

 

Curatorial responsibilities range across all aspects of the Folger’s Central Library, so I work both directly with them on their many projects as well as liaising on their behalf with other Central Library departments. In the past year I’ve helped in developing exhibition materials, presentations, and digital humanities initiatives, as well as supporting their duties providing general collections care, selecting new items to acquire, and working with library patrons and the public locally, nationally, and internationally. Luckily, I’ve always enjoyed jobs where I get to wear many different “hats” and work on multiple projects at once. During a typical week, I may be proof-reading exhibition labels, planning staff trainings on collection disaster preparedness, working on the logistics for a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, coordinating a digitization project, answering reference questions, pulling and preparing collection items for a curator-led tour, reviewing upcoming auctions, and/or consulting with our conservators about treatment possibilities. I never know what will come up when I walk in the door on a Monday!

 

How did you get started in rare books?

 

I built my own major in Medieval Studies as an undergraduate at Skidmore College, and it was through this interdisciplinary course and the support of the several wonderful medievalists who supervised me that I was first able to work with rare books and manuscripts.

 

If I had to pick a moment when I realized I wanted to work with special collections as a career, it would be when my main advisor sent me in her stead to the Bodleian Library to transcribe a manuscript on the life of a German female mystic that she needed for her own research. I was studying abroad in the UK at the time, but hadn’t had the opportunity to call up any rare materials for my courses at that point. I have a vivid memory of sitting in Duke Humfrey’s library, absolutely floored by where I was, what I was holding, and the possibilities extending from that manuscript. I have experienced other moments like this since then, working with materials from letters written during the Civil War to obscure 20th-century religious pamphlets to the first printed books, which re-affirm this path to me, but everything first crystallized for me there.

 

I went on to library school and had later, formal training in special collections librarianship, but without my undergraduate advisor’s enthusiasm, trust, and guidance (not only in that instance but in many others), I may not have had the experiences that put me where I am today.    

 

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree? 

 

In addition to my B.A. in Medieval Studies from Skidmore College, I have a Master’s in Library Science with a concentration in Archives and Records Management and a Certificate in Non-Profit Leadership from UNC-Chapel Hill.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

 

As others have said, it’s so hard to pick just one! We have so many incredible collections and items at the Folger, and I feel extremely spoiled and gleeful every day.

 

If I absolutely had to choose, one of my favorite items in our collection is a small bound volume containing 25 small watercolor drawings on mica, depicting costumes and hairstyles worn by the 19th-century actress Fanny Kemble while performing mostly Shakespearean roles. The faces of the paintings are left blank, and the owner would have been able to place the transparent mica sheets over a portrait of Fanny to see how the costumes looked on her. It’s incredibly unique and detailed, and I think says a lot as an object about the cult of celebrity, as well as the continuing rise of women in the theater. It also gives us another glimpse of what costuming looked like at the time.

 

Besides the beauty of the paintings, I love this item so much because I think it’s such a strong representation of other types of collection items that we have here in addition to our printed books and manuscript collections. A lot of people don’t realize that in addition to the latter, we have some fascinating objects, costumes, figurines, and other sorts of items that illustrate the growth of Shakespeare-worship over time, and the ways that people interacted with and consumed the content of his plays.   

    

What do you personally collect?

 

I have unintentionally become a collector of assorted pinback buttons--they always seemed like a good souvenir to me, so I have different ones from places I’ve traveled, or that have been given to me by family members, or that I’ve even found on the ground. My favorite is from an organ festival I attended a few years ago (the instrument, not body parts!) I also love the late children’s illustrator Trina Schart Hyman, and have bought a number of her books over the years. If I had the funds, I would definitely collect her artwork more actively.  

 

What do you like to do outside of work?

 

I’m really lucky in that D.C. is such a great place for music--I currently sing with a local chorus, and when I’m able, take advantage of the excellent performances at Strathmore and the Kennedy Center. I’m also taking some time outside of work to improve my language skills. I’m focusing on Latin at the moment, but planning to brush up on my reading knowledge of German and French as well. I’d also be lying if I didn’t say I like to just hang out on my couch with my cats sometimes!  

 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

 

One of my favorite things about my job is being able to spend time in the stacks and handle items from such a wide variety of periods and people, that are important and valuable for so many different reasons and in so many different ways.  I also really enjoy being able to dip into others’ research through answering reference queries--it doesn’t matter what I’m working on, I’m always learning something new and interesting, every day. What more could anyone want from a job?


From a professional standpoint, I’m excited about where the field is going as much as what it is. I’m excited about what new and different materials are finally getting the recognition they deserve as “special” and worthy of attention, preservation, and care as much as the works of someone like William Shakespeare, as well as focusing on how best to collect and document different movements and populations that have heretofore been ignored by the archival record. I’m excited about working with my fellow early career librarians, who are so enthusiastic about the new and different ways in which we can provide better, deeper access to materials, and who are finding their way to careers in special collections librarianship from more diverse backgrounds. Some people (most of them non-librarians) talk about the “death” of the physical book, and besides this being completely untrue in general, it feels especially untrue for special collections--technological advancements are only making our collections and activities richer and improving our understanding of these items, their history, and what we’re able to say about them and how we’re able to connect with them. That’s incredibly exciting.  

 

Finally, of course, I love the sheer thrill of working with items of historical and cultural significance. It’s just cool to look over and see a script of Henry V signed by Laurence Olivier, or know that the book you’re holding came off of William Jaggard’s press in 1623.     

Thoughts on the future of special collections?

 

I hope that we continue pushing, as a profession. Pushing our collections into the public eye, encouraging access, and promoting new ways of thinking about and engaging with our materials. Since I got my start with rare books through academics who were passionate about using rare materials and spoke so highly of libraries and special collections, connecting younger users with rare items is deeply meaningful to me. Teaching primary source literacy is so important in building a foundation not just for scholarship, but for living in the world and knowing how to think and interrogate information that comes our way. Special collections librarians have as much of a duty as any librarian does to promote our collections and teach patrons different ways to engage with the materials.

 

As mentioned above, I also think that we’re operating in a time where what is “special” and what deserves to be collected and preserved has undergone a radical redefinition. I hope we continue to talk about how we can increase the diversity of our holdings, our patrons, and the field of special collections librarians in the profession. We need to create opportunity and space for groups that have been traditionally been excluded from the archives and special collections libraries on a variety of levels, including patrons outside of the academy, people of color, and marginalized communities.  

 

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

 

One part of our collections that I always love having the chance to interact with is what we call our “case files.” Henry and Emily Folger had the hearts and souls of librarians, and kept really well-documented records of most items they collected. Henry kept much of his correspondence with dealers and auction houses, as well as his annotated catalogs and even shipping ephemera, while Emily did an enormous amount of cataloging and bibliographic work that resulted in a personalized card catalog. It’s enormously helpful in shedding light on the provenance of items that they collected, as well as providing a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives and thoughts of wealthy collectors who were deeply invested in the book trade at the turn of the 20th century. I’ve enjoyed getting to know Henry Folger’s personality a bit more through his letters and telegrams, and been grateful for knowing more about where a collection item came from and why it was originally included. If anyone comes to work at the Folger and sees a number beginning with “cs” in an item’s catalog record, this means that we may have a case file available. Unfortunately it doesn’t guarantee that there are any notes or materials about the specific item, but there may be something.  


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

 

We have so many exciting things to look forward to this year, especially since it’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Our current exhibition, America’s Shakespeare, is up until July 24th. This exhibition provides a detailed look at the many ways Shakespeare has influenced and been used in American life, from the Revolutionary War to the present day, and includes a wide range of items from our collections such as costumes, video clips, and finger puppets. In the beginning of August we’ll open Will & Jane, an exhibit focusing on Shakespeare and Austen as famous authors who have become cultural idols. The exhibition will compare how we talk about such figures, merchandise them, and consume their content in their afterlives.

 

Finally, we have several ongoing tours and exhibitions. One is called First Folio!: The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare. Since January, we’ve been sending out some of our copies of the First Folio to universities, historical societies, and museums in all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico to go on display to the public. Chances are there’s one near you! The response so far has been incredible, and we’ve been really grateful for all the programming the host sites have done around the Folio.

 

The other is a permanent, digital exhibition called Shakespeare Documented. This is the largest and most authoritative collection of primary source materials documenting Shakespeare’s life, and was formed in partnership with almost thirty institutional partners across the world. It provides detailed images, transcriptions, and information from noted scholars, and provides incredible levels of access for the world to these documents, many of which are digitized for the first time.

 

We have so much going on that’s accessible even if someone can’t make it to D.C., so I hope your readers will all take the opportunity to visit the Folger website and explore what we have!  



Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Sarah Minegar, Special Collections Archivst and Museum Educator at Morristown National Historic Park.

 

Sarah_Minegar.jpgLet’s start by learning about Morristown National Historic Park and its research library. Please introduce us to the institution and its history:


Instituted in 1933 as the first historical park in the Park Service, Morristown NHP marks a watershed moment in Park history and its involvement in the preservation movement of the early twentieth century.  Morristown represents a “coming of age” of sorts for the Park Service--when the agency joined an effort to expand its capacity as a protector of natural and cultural resources of national significance. In the process of acquiring public lands and structures of historical importance, Park Service director Horace Albright stumbled upon a fortuitous preservation project in development in Morristown, New Jersey. Together with Albright, wealthy investment banker Lloyd W. Smith, Morristown Mayor Clyde Potts, and the Washington Association of New Jersey helped secure the sites of George Washington’s 1779-1780 winter encampment, establishing the first historical park. Smith’s affinity for the site and his involvement in the Washington Association led to the eventual establishment of a museum, library, and archives featuring Smith’s personal collections as the foundational research materials. The Lloyd W. Smith Collection, spanning seven centuries and covering thousands of topic areas, is why I am here today.

 

What is your role at Morristown?


In my official capacity, I serve as special collections archivist and museum educator. The reality of a small institution means those roles encompass a whole host of interesting “duties as assigned.” I have had the good fortune of being able to dabble in everything: collections care, cataloging, exhibit prep, minor conservation, internships, packing and rehousing, loans, reference, and historical housekeeping. I am one of three people representing the division of cultural resources and thus a custodian for all things related to research, collections care, and the use of resources.


How did you get started in rare books?


I’d have to say my unofficial journey began while accompanying my parents to many an antique shop as a child. I would rummage through crates of tintypes and thumb stacks of books while I waited. But it wasn’t until graduate school that I even set foot in an archives or rare book repository. Coming from a teaching background, I was intrigued by the potential I saw in this “alternative classroom” setting. I got my first real taste when I responded to a posting for a summer position at Morristown NHP. That summer job became a permanent position and I continued refining my role throughout grad school and continue to do so today. Part of that cultivation process has been to supplement my doctorate in history and literature with specific archival and rare book training courses. It has also involved flexing my educator muscles by piloting new collections-based learning opportunities for patrons.


Where did you earn your degrees?


I earned my undergraduate degrees in education from Oakland City University, a small private liberal arts college in my home state of Indiana. For two years, I taught high school English and social studies. I then moved to New Jersey to pursue my graduate degrees in Modern History and Literature. Both my M.Phil. and Ph.D. are from Drew University. 


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


This is a tough one, especially since I work with so many manuscripts and printed works, but the book that really puts a sparkle in my eye is our 1896 microminiature of Galileo’s letter to Madame Christina di Lorena. This book, measuring 3/4 by 1/2 inch, features 2-point “fly’s eye” type, decorative endpapers, hand-sewn gatherings, and a gold embossed cover. Ruth Adomeit once remarked that this edition was the “greatest marvel of book making in the history of miniature books.” As a scholar, I am drawn in by the craftsmanship and attention to detail--a truly astonishing example of microscopic type foundry and imposition. As an educator, I love how it commands the attention of the room and almost demands intrigue.


What do you personally collect?

 

I have a personal fascination with literary utopia and amassed numerous volumes of English language utopian/dystopian works while writing my dissertation. As a graduation gift, my husband bought me a first edition Walden Two and I proudly display it with my other copies. Though this book is rather contemporary and may not be considered “rare” by any sense, I am delighted to own an early imprint of this controversial tome that ruffled so many feathers. 


What do you like to do outside of work?


I spend most of my weekends outdoors with my husband and dog. If we aren’t out on a trail somewhere, you can find us roaming the halls of a museum. We keep our eyes peeled for temporary exhibits both in the city and more locally. The recent Picasso Sculpture exhibit at the MOMA was a real treat.


What excites you about working with a special collection?

For me, the connection I feel to history is never stronger than when I’m processing or teaching with collections. I find it very empowering to be entrusted with these treasures and I try to endow a little of that charge to my students and researchers. As a collections manager, I get the satisfaction of knowing the work I do today will assist future scholars in their intellectual pursuits--and maybe even contribute to profound historical realizations. I love that my geeky passions are part of a continuum of learning. 


You’re in a unique position working with a special collection located in a National Historic Park. What are your thoughts on working with special collections in atypical settings? How can we bring these “hidden collections” into the light?


One of the biggest obstacles we face is one of awareness. Researchers simply do not expect a National Park that commemorates a six month period of the American Revolution to have a diverse library and archival collection. We get a lot of requests for muster roles and Hessian manuscripts while our Susan B. Anthony, Darwin, Louis XVI, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, Booker T. Washington, and Alessandro Scarlatti wait unnoticed. Conversely, some military historians assume we are a more traditional repository with large holdings of materials falling under consecutive series. While we do house small series of family and business papers, we do not actively accession or manage large record groups. Our most unique collection, the Lloyd W. Smith Collection, was the lifetime pursuit of a personal collector and it is sometimes difficult to explain to patrons that as such there are “gaps” in the topics it covers. To mitigate some of these misunderstandings, we maintain a special collections blog featuring unique artifacts and researcher and intern projects. This has not only helped us clarify our holdings but has also provided a space for us to celebrate and share aspects of the collection that are beyond the scope of our traditional gallery exhibit narrative. The other way we bring recognition to a relatively “hidden” resource is through stewardship programming. We have an active internship program and we work with classroom teachers to develop educator-led, place-based object labs and tours. We have found that investing in students directly has the most return. 

 

Any unusual or interesting part of the collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

I would like to simply advocate for our library and archives. Nestled within an historical park that is part of a large agency, I think our fascinating collection gets overlooked. 

Our collections and education blogs might be the best place to get acquainted with our holdings:

http://morristownnhpmuseum.blogspot.com/

http://primarysourceseminar.blogspot.com/


Any upcoming exhibitions?

This year the National Park celebrates its centennial. As part of the centennial #findyourpark mission, we have put together a series of talks, concerts, and exhibits that highlight our collections. This May we will celebrate Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Giuditta by inviting The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey to perform the transcribed 1693 score. This score is one of three known versions of La Giuditta. The two other versions of this oratorio are housed at the National Library of Naples and the University of Cambridge, but the earliest and unabridged version is part of the Morristown NHP collection.  

 












Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Diane Dias DeFazio, Circulation Librarian with The New York Society Library:

 

DDD_headshot_SKot.jpgWhat is your role at your institution (and please introduce our readers as well to the New York Society Library)?


So often we talk of wearing lots of hats where we work, and there’s probably a millinery joke there, somewhere, but I literally have more than one job! I am the Circulation Librarian at the New York Society Library, an Adjunct Librarian for Reference and Digital Initiatives at Brooklyn College, and I write exhibition labels for the Thomas J. Watson Library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The New York Society Library prides itself on some impressive facts: it’s the oldest cultural institution in town (established in 1754), it was briefly the de facto Library of Congress (an early location was inside Federal Hall), it has a storied pedigree of member-readers (more on that later), and it was known as “the City Library” for over 150 years. It is open to the public for research and reference, but from its inception, the Library has been a membership one, and members enjoy borrowing privileges for (most of) our collection of over 300,000 volumes, electronic resources, and attendance at our many yearly exhibition openings and other events. Since 1937, the Library has been located in the former John S. and Catherine Rogers House, an Italianate five-story mansion designed and built by Trowbridge and Livingston in 1917. It’s a New York City landmark, but it’s also a former residence, which gives it a cozy, human-scale feel, I think. I am responsible for overseeing operations at the Library during evening and weekend hours, which includes administration of public services and training junior staff. Every day is fantastically different, and one moment I might be listening to a member’s stories as we look at her grandmother’s eighteenth-century atlas, or teaching a class, or making a Mylar enclosure, or assisting a high school student on a class project.


Brooklyn College was established in 1930 and was the first public institution of higher learning in New York City to have coeducational enrollment. The campus, built during the Great Depression, is rare for an urban setting: red brick Georgian buildings around a tree-lined central quad on a 26-acre site (it’s lovely in the late summer). The student population is diverse, with 60% self-identifying as members of a minority, and most are the first in their families to attend college. The Library began a collaborative program to create open educational resources (OERs) in 2015, and I partner with faculty from different departments to create digital platforms for those resources. Because of my design and tech background, I’m also part of a team that’s rethinking the Library’s LibGuides and its website.


At Watson, I work with the Acquisitions and Book Conservation departments, research materials, and write for the Library’s exhibitions. Every six weeks or so, the Chief Librarian and Assistant Manager for Acquisitions select special collections items to showcase, and, in the past year, that’s meant a variety of items were highlighted, from Japanese counterculture periodicals and interwar French typography sample books to trade publications on elevator cabs and twentieth-century automobile advertisements. 


It’s a lot to fit into a week sometimes, but working for a public college, a membership library, and an art museum offers intensely rewarding experiences and provides me with incredible perspective, so it’s all worthwhile. 


How did you get started in rare books?


Ah, yes, The Origin Story. Wherein we meet our heroine, she gets hit on the head by a copy of Hypnerotomachia polyphili, and wakes up in the most glorious library. (Kidding!)


My story is a two-parter, and, really, it all comes down to a fortuitous set of circumstances. 


By way of introduction, I’m from a very small town, and part of my life story involves local library discrimination, a teacher confiscating my books in junior high, and a general lack of access, but I was lucky--my Mom is curious and committed to broad-based education, and we lived close enough to (and, by that, I mean 72 miles away from) Pittsburgh--and I kind of grew up in museums and libraries there. Fortuitous moment the first. 


I started in libraries as a work-study student at Watson about ten years ago. I don’t remember all the details of how I got to my current role, but I know that my first project was fine bindings from the collection of Jayne Wrightsman, and the experience formed one of the best educations in rare books and connoisseurship I could ever hope for. That was seven years and over 500 book descriptions ago, I subsequently worked as a researcher for six years, the Met inspired me to apply to library school, and I’m eternally indebted to Holly Phillips and Ken Soehner for their continued encouragement, and for giving me so many marvelous opportunities. That’s part one. 


Part two begins as many stories do: I took a class, and it opened my eyes. Mind you, I was fortunate enough to have stellar teachers over the years--Doron S. Ben-Atar and the late Anne Mannion at Fordham, Andrew Dolkart and Norman Weiss at Columbia, Irene Lopatovska--people unafraid to tell it like it is, challenge me, and I think about their advice every day, so ... my pedagogical experiences have been consistently good. Anyway, in my final semester of library school, I signed up for one last course: Rare Books & Special Collections. 


I recently heard Mindy Dubansky characterize the event of finding her calling in bookbinding as like “being hit with Cupid’s arrow,” and, yeah, it was kind of like that. Before I knew it, I was obsessed with Gaskell and Gascoigne (passing mention of the Montgolfiers! printing terms that parallel architectural phraseology! watermarks! mezzotints!). I was excited all the time. I was in deep, and then one day my instructor handed me a descriptive bibliography assignment (The Hermit, 1727), and said, “This is for you.” I’ll probably never know if that was an intentional gesture or not, but from then on, I didn’t look back. 


Where did you earn your advanced degrees?


I have an MS in Historic Preservation from Columbia, and my MSLIS is from Pratt. 


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


I know I’m not alone here, so bear with me: the items that immediately come to mind are associated with meaningful moments. One could say that an item becomes my favorite when I work with it (my Instagram is testament to this), but some things resonate longer. A few resonators are (in no particular order):  the “Ratzer map” and land books at Brooklyn Historical Society, some of the first special collections materials I used in teaching elementary-school students; the Wrightsman miniatures on ballooning; Thomas Lamb’s architectural drawings and the Otis escalator trade catalogs I pored over for my thesis at Columbia; the aforementioned unassuming Cambridge panel style copy of The Hermit; I. N. Phelps Stokes’ notebooks from Brentano’s department store; and the first book I wrote about post-library school (literally the day after Commencement), a sumptuously bound illustrated catalog on, of all things, copper door and window hardware, which reminded me how powerful/thrilling/inspirational a finely crafted book can be. 


If I had to confine my answer to my institutions’ holdings, I’d pick the American publishers bindings--that circulate!--at Brooklyn College, and Vols. I-VI of Histoire de Polybe from the Society Library’s special collections, lovely eighteenth-century cat’s paw calf bindings, which swept me off my feet with their French curl endpapers, Fargeaud-Limousin watermarks, and engravings of Hannibal’s Alpine campaigns. 


What do you personally collect?


My thesis advisor once told me that he had a retirement plan, but his money was “in stuff”--that is, his collections probably held more value than his 401k. I haven’t been at the game as long as Norman, but I try to remember that sentiment every time I buy something. 


I collect books on New York City, architecture history, and the history of photography; architectural fragments; ephemera from the 1939-40 and 1964-65 New York World’s Fairs; and promotional scale model banks ... that are also banks. Also, I have a bunch of stereograph cards.


What do you like to do outside of work?


I’m a New Yorker who cooks! (We exist.) Other than that, I bike (mostly in Prospect Park); stand too close to art in museums; photograph things (mostly architecture); and I hold a semi-regular gathering of archivists, librarians, and other friends at a Japanese restaurant in Brooklyn. 


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


Everything, truly--the materials, the content, a really good catalog record, teaching and bringing new audiences to special collections, the buildings and reading rooms themselves, the collaborations, the community and the special collections Insta-verse, the stories and experience of others in the field, and I love how we talk about our work, and how we seem to all really like what we do. 


Can I tell you a story? There’s one other thing. I was probably seven or eight, and a teacher took our class through a basement corridor at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, and--my memory may be hazy here--but there was, like, an half-excavated archaeopteryx on top of a pallet against the wall, and I remember walking past vases and crates that seemed like something out of Indiana Jones, thinking, “This is amazing! How do I get to be here all the time?” 


And, OK, fine--that story has no books in it, but--that moment! That jaw-dropping moment! That is what excites me about rare books librarianship.


We speak softly of the wonder inherent in this profession--we defend, share, promote, embrace it with all of our senses--but there is something to be said really loudly, I think, for the astounding privilege we all have of waking up every day and knowing that the pieces of history with which we’ve been entrusted can change and enrich other people’s lives. I knew, back then in the Carnegie basement, that I wanted to work with awe-inspiring precious pieces of history, and sometimes I can’t believe I really get to do it.


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


A few thoughts. Let’s please never stop learning or encouraging curiosity.  (Someone once told me, in response to my pursuit of an MSLIS, that “enough education is enough,” and it was such an abhorrent statement I guess it really stuck with me.) I love that this community supports philosophies antipodal to that backward assertion, and I’m so thankful to be a small part of such a world.


Secondly, we’re at a great moment for expanding definitions in the field, and I think the future of special collections can be seen in a willingness to embrace that which is “new” or “weird” or otherwise nontraditional. I like what Arthur Fournier and places like the Interference Archive are doing a lot.


Going forward, I believe that special collections superstars will continue to make the most of alternative platforms in teaching and outreach, and I can’t wait to see what we all come up with next.


So, all of those things, and parenthetically, I have to add that I’ve been listening to Brother David Steindl-Rast lately, and I really admire what he has to say about accepting gratitude. In order to continue to build a generous community of readers, researchers, and the next generation of professionals, I hope we don’t lose sight of how genuine an expression of appreciation can be. 


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


For each institution, I’d like to put the emphasis on interesting: at NYSL, we recently debuted City Readers, a database of historic records, books, and readership that allows researchers to discover and analyze the Library’s role as a social and literary institution in New York at the turn of the nineteenth century (including George Washington’s borrowing history); the music scores and government documents at Brooklyn College Library; and the Alice Cordelia Morse collection, American publishers bindings, and trade catalogs at Watson Library. 


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


The Society Library is currently showing Sarah Parker Goodhue: A Hidden Collection Comes to Light, which illuminates the treasures of this important donor, who left the Library its largest-ever bequest. This exhibition is the first showing of many of these materials. 


I’m really proud of the current selections on view at Watson, which celebrate the Lunar New Year and include Chinese-language books on jades and bronzes. And I’m particularly excited about an exhibition in Fall 2016, spearheaded by Tony White, on the Library’s new acquisitions of artists books and selections from independent publishers.


And, if you’re going to RBMS 2016, I’ll see you there! I’m thrilled to be presenting a poster on publishers’ bindings, diversity, and the collections of Brooklyn College; I’m co-organizing an Instagram meetup with colleagues from the University of Miami Special Collections, American Antiquarian Society, and Southwestern University; and it will all be so much fun.







































Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Nora Epstein, a Special Collections & Archives Librarian with DePaul University in Chicago:


shelfie.jpgWhat is your role at your institution?


In September, I joined the DePaul University Library as a Special Collections and Archives Librarian. Like many Special Collections Librarians, I do a little of everything from outreach and exhibit curation to collection development and reference. However, the aspect of my job I devote the most time to (and perhaps my favorite) is leading rare book instruction sessions. Last year, our small department taught an impressive 71 instructions sessions, the majority of which were for undergraduate students. This regular interaction with mostly first time Special Collections patrons has changed the way I understand Special Collections Librarianship. I now see my role as providing the framework that allows our patrons to question and interpret the primary sources before them.


How did you get started in rare books?


I first became aware of Special Collections Librarianship when I read Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife in ninth grade (you can imagine my excitement when years later, while doing a practicum in the Newberry Library’s conservation lab, I was assigned a project started by Niffenegger decades earlier.) But it was not until I entered Brandeis University’s Special Collections on a whim in my senior year of college that I realized that I could have a career that combined my love of bookbinding and paper arts with my degree in history. That day, I asked to volunteer in the Special Collection and I have never looked back. Since then I have interned or worked for the Brandeis University Archives and Special Collections, the Budapest History Museum, the Newberry Library, the Northwestern University Archives, Northwestern University’s McCormick Library of Special Collections, The Universal Short Title Catalog, Book History Online, and finally, DePaul University’s Special Collections and Archives.


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?  


I completed my MLIS at the Illinois Urbana-Champaign in May of 2014 and shortly thereafter began a Master of Letters degree in Book History at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland. While working on my degree at St Andrews, I was fortunate enough to have my research guided by remarkable historians like Andrew Pettegree, Bridget Heal, and Matthew McLean, and been taught Material Bibliography by fellow Bright Young Librarian, Daryl Green.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


So far nothing has beaten the overwhelming joy of discovery I felt while researching my Master’s thesis in the British Library and turning a page of a 1578 edition of A Booke of Christian Prayer (STC 6429) to see a contemporary marginal note that perfectly supported my thesis. I feel exceptionally privileged that now it is my job to help facilitate those same moments for my patrons.


What do you personally collect?


The amount of light and humidity in my apartment would make it a death trap for the books I would like to collect. Instead, I have a serious collection of fine papers that I justify by telling myself that they are destined for a future bookbinding project, but almost never make it into a book. I also have a hard time passing up a publishers’ binding when I come across them, especially ones that look like they might be in need of repair.


What do you like to do outside of work?


The only thing I do outside of work these days is plan my terrifyingly imminent wedding. But once I am safely down the aisle, I would like to start on a new research project and expand my bookbinding techniques.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


Just about everything about rare book librarianship excites me! I love being able to share my passion for book history through instruction sessions, outreach, and reference questions. Also, having unfettered access to a wide range of texts is a perk that cannot be overlooked.


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


With the increasing availability of digital facsimiles, I think it is our role as stewards to focus on books as physical objects. More and more, it is libraries’ rare holdings that distinguish them from each other and it is our job as librarians to preserve these objects, while championing tactile primary source research. While it is certainly possible to do textual analysis from the comfort of your computer screen, hints about use, market reception, and the cultural impact of a work can often only found when handling the item in person. As someone whose research focuses on the material history of the book, I find this consequence of mass digitization exciting. In my rare book instruction sessions I almost never get questions about the text, rather our students (who for the most part have never engaged with primary sources) inquire about the “old book smell” or why a book has fore-edge clasps.


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


We have quite a few interesting collections that range from Napoleoniana to prison zines. Personally, I think one of our most fascinating works is the commonplace book of Louis de Marillac, the father of St. Louise de Marillac (1573-1632). A section of this unique manuscript was recently added to the Newberry Library’s collaborative French Renaissance Paleography project.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Like many of our colleagues, DePaul will be mounting an exhibit to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The exhibit I am curating, Shakespeare’s Sources, will focus on the works that informed and inspired some of the bard’s most famous works.





















Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Jillian Sparks, Special Collections Librarian with Queen’s University Library in Kingston, Ontario:

  

byl jillian sparks.jpg

What is your role at your institution?


My official title at Queen’s University is Special Collections Librarian. As a Special Collections Librarian I do a bit of everything--collection development, reference, and cataloguing. However, my primary focus is instruction and outreach. Currently we are engaged in making our collection more accessible to faculty and students. To promote awareness of our holdings, I am doing a series of pop-up exhibits over the next few months in conjunction with Robert Burns Day, Valentine’s Day, International Women’s Day, and National Poetry Month. I set up a table with materials and free buttons at the entrance of our main library and talk to students about how they can use our collections. Leaving the reading room to meet the students where they are more comfortable helps prepare them to take the next step and visit us in the reading room as well as presents Special Collection with a more personal face.  With these same goals in mind, I also manage our Instagram and Twitter accounts.

How did you get started in rare books?


I was fortunate enough to be exposed to book history and special collections as an undergraduate at Creighton University. I took a course called “Not Lost in Translation” on the history of the bible that inspired me to think about book transmission and book history. While I was completing my M.A. in English at the University of Victoria I had my epiphany realizing that I loved working with special collections materials and was happiest in that environment. My conversion from English studies to book studies developed through my relationship with one book in particular--Mercury: or the Secret and Swift Messenger by John Wilkins. A secret codebook published in 1641, Mercury is full of unique charts and figures describing how the reader can master the art of secret communication. I first encountered Mercury in a textual studies and methods course which was held in Special Collections. Our wonderful professor, Dr. Erin Kelly introduced us to bibliography. We each chose a book to collate, write signature statements for, examine chain lines, and talk about type setting. The pages of Mercury were dirty and the book had been rebound in a simple grey paper case, but it captured my interest.


Seminar papers and the rigors of graduate school kept me busy until six months later while working with Dr. Janelle Jenstad and special collections staff on a 17th and 18th-century English books exhibit when Wilkins’ book showed up again. Questions on why would someone write a code book in the 17th century and why would someone collect it 200 years later plagued me. Thankfully, Dr. Kelly agreed to supervise a directed study over the summer. During my three-month love affair with Mercury; I would sneak away from my master’s essay at every chance to touch, feel, and smell the pages of that book.  The months of bibliographic study--excavating every detail about publication and John Wilkins’s history--culminated in a comparative study between Mercury and Wilkins’s other work, Essay Towards a Real Character and Philosophical Language (1668), in which I discussed the similarity between the secret codes in the former and universal language in the latter. From then on there was no going back for me, I needed to pursue rare book librarianship.


From the University of Victoria, I headed east to the University of Iowa in order to pursue a joint MLIS degree and Certificate in Book Studies. I was very lucky to be selected as one of the Olson Graduate Research Assistants for Special Collections and University Archives. This two year position prepared me for the many facets of rare book librarianship and allowed me to work with several other Bright Young Librarians--Patrick Olson, Colleen Theisen, Margaret Gamm, and Amy Hildreth Chen--who have all been great mentors!

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree? 


I earned my M.A. in English with a specialization in Medieval and Early Modern Studies from the University of Victoria. My MLIS and Certificate in Book Studies is from the University of Iowa. Iowa’s School of Library and Information Science partners with the Center for the Book to offer a joint program in library science and book studies that involves both book history and book arts. I focused on book binding which has been invaluable in my own research and enabled me to make historical book binding models I use when teaching.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


I am sentimental about Mercury and all of John Wilkins’ works and continue to study them. In general, I am drawn to historical scientific works. I am interested in what language is used to convey scientific knowledge and how it creates scientific community. Similarly, I find scientific diagrams and illustrations beautiful and am fascinated with how the visuals complement the text. The History of Hydraulics collection is my favorite collection at the University of Iowa and I am very excited to begin exploring our scientific collections at Queen’s, especially our botanical collection. We have a herbarium compiled by Catherine Parr Traill that is exquisite.

What do you personally collect?


I have an ever growing collection of Jane Austen books and related materials. Tea with Jane Austen is one of the latest additions. My husband and I also collect cookbooks.

What do you like to do outside of work?


I love to cook, hence the cookbook collection. I live at the confluence of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario and am looking forward to hiking, fishing, camping, and just exploring southeast Ontario this summer.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


Everything about it excites me! It is so satisfying to unravel the provenance, unique textual characteristics, and identify binding features while cataloguing. I think this side appeals to every puzzle lover. Yet at the same time rare book librarianship is all about sharing discoveries and helping to facilitate new ones. I love the outreach side of my job and working with students in the classroom and our reading room.

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


Special collections as a field is going through a very exciting transition. Thanks to social media and a number of digital projects, people are now pushing the traditional boundaries of rare book librarianship. As librarians share materials through Tumblr, Instagram, and various video platforms, people get to learn about collections and see behind the veil of the reading room. Digital projects like crowdsourcing transcription and identifying photographs are also incredibly engaging. As a result, I think administrators look to special collections to lead new digital research opportunities and to provide an active learning environment for students. I am especially excited about the evolution of special collections instruction and the overall impact it will have on undergraduate research. We need to cultivate our future readers and advocates and I think that begins in the classroom.

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


Queen’s is home to an extensive Canadiana collection that covers the early history of Canada to Canadian fine press and artist’s books. We recently received a new collection, the Schulich-Woolf Rare Book Collection, about 400 volumes mostly on British history and culture of the 16th through 18th centuries. We are also home to Canadian writer and journalist Robertson Davies’ personal library and have maintained his library’s original order. Davies collected 19th century theatre history when no one else was really interested. The collection includes tinsel prints of several Victorian actors.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


Our current exhibit is on Vero Wynne-Edwards and the 1937 MacMillan-Thebaud Expedition. In the spring, Kim Bell will be curating an exhibit on magazines produced by prisoners at the Kingston Penitentiary called “Prison Sentences: Penitentiary Literature in Kingston.” Kim has collaborated with Canada’s Penitentiary Museum in order to showcase the full history of the prison press and I think it will be quite fascinating. There will be a digital exhibit as well. We will be featuring books from our Children’s Books collection over the summer and will open in the fall with an exhibit celebrating the 175th anniversary of Queen’s. 

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Sarah Horowitz, Head of Quaker & Special Collections and Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.

 

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How did you get started in rare books?


When I was an undergraduate, I had a summer job at a local university library where I pasted labels on the spines of books and did inventory. That summer, the library acquired the collection of a nearby seminary which had closed its doors, and the director asked me to look through the books, determine whether the library already owned the titles, and find records in WorldCat or the National Union Catalog for the new materials. The books were mostly from the sixteenth through eighteenth century, and they were like no books I had ever seen before: the paper was thicker, the bindings were plain at first glance but showed signs of both wear and tooling, and the text was a fascinating mix of fonts, languages, and strange spacing. I was unable to read most of the books, and I was not particularly interested in the subject matter, the majority of which was church history and biblical commentaries, but the objects themselves were fascinating to me.

 

Then, my senior year in college, I took a class on the history of the book, which included a lab component. Two days a week we discussed readings and looked at materials from special collections, but on Fridays we went to the print studio and learned to make paper, set type, and create different types of prints. Our final project was to print and bind a book, which was added to the library’s collection.

 

Both these experiences, where I got to think about books as objects and not just texts, led me to decide to apply to library school so that I could work in rare books and special collections.

 

Where did you earn your advanced degrees?


I earned my MLS, with a specialization in rare books librarianship, from Indiana University, where I was privileged to work at the Lilly Library and spend time with their amazing collections. I also have a master’s degree in English from Western Illinois University.

 

What is your role at your institution?


I am the head of Quaker & Special Collections and Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts. Haverford has a small special collections department, so I do a little bit of everything: teaching, collection development, working with researchers in the reading room, overseeing student workers/interns and their projects, working with donors, planning exhibits, and administrative work. One of the things I love about working at a liberal arts college is the ability to be involved in so many different things.

 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


There are so many! I love the Microcosm of London, an 1808-1810 Ackermann publication that documents low and high life in London through text and aquatints. It is fascinating how, in such an expensive publication, time is taken to document asylums and prisons and other places that seem like odd choices for a plate book. Haverford is the home of one of the few extant copies of William Penn’s Excellent Priviledge (1687), which includes the first printing of the Magna Carta in what is now the United States; our copy has great Quaker provenance, as well, having been owned by several generations of the Pemberton family. A bibliography describes it as “the worst specimen of Bradford’s [the printer’s] work I have ever seen,” which is an interesting opening for conversations with students about how something can be important and interesting as an object without being beautiful. I am also very excited about a rare Zapotec catechism, published in Mexico in 1766, that we have recently acquired, around which one of our linguistics professors plans to design a class.   


What do you personally collect?


I collect books illustrated by artists from the Whig and Powder school. These are mostly 1890s publications by illustrators such as Hugh Thompson and Charles and Henry Brock. This started as a working collection, because I was writing on how these illustrators changed the meaning of the novels they were working with through their illustrations, but I now enjoy expanding my collection. I also have a small collection of Roycroft Press books; I grew up not far from East Aurora, NY, where Roycroft was based, and in years past it was quite easy to find them in antique and thrift shops.

 

What do you like to do outside of work?


I love dance and theater, so I try to attend a variety of performances throughout the year; I also take a regular ballet class. I am an avid baker, as my co-workers can attest, so I spend time creating recipes and reading cookbooks and blogs. I can also frequently be found walking or hiking, cooking or dining out with friends, knitting, or playing trivia. As a relatively recent Philadelphia transplant, I have also been exploring the city’s historical sites, libraries, and neighborhoods.

 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?


I enjoy connecting researchers, especially undergraduate students, with rare materials, ones that change their perspective or lead them in new directions. This was something I learned early in library school: that while I love rare books, what I enjoy most about working with them is connecting people to them, and seeing how researchers use our materials in ways I might never dream.

 

One of my favorite things about my job at Haverford is that we have a number of faculty who integrate special collections materials into their classes throughout the semester, so I get to work with students over the course of their research projects and see how they grow as interpreters and readers of the materials, as well as how they put these materials in conversation with their classmates’ projects and the themes of the course.

 

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


Special Collections is a locus for many current trends in higher education, including an increased interest in material culture, an emphasis on visuality and visual studies, and a focus on locality and local resources. Simultaneously, we as a profession have become more open, expanding our collecting areas, especially in ephemera and popular culture; creating digital projects and repositories that allow users to remix and manipulate our materials; and focusing on outreach to new communities, while also deconstructing and rethinking what it means to collect and preserve materials. I think one of the keys for special collections librarianship moving forward is to evaluate how these changes have affected not just what we do day-to-day but also our missions and staffing, and how we can make sure these exciting new opportunities are sustainable. It’s an exciting time to be working in special collections.

 

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


Haverford is best known for its Quaker collections, which are world-renowned and amazing; I continually feel privileged to work with them.  However, I wish people were more aware of some of our holdings beyond Quakerism, which are wide-ranging and eclectic. We have strong holdings in the anti-slavery movement in the U.S. We have a small but exciting collection of Shakespearean literature; collected by an alumnus who was inspired by his English professor, it includes both works of Shakespeare and his contemporaries as well as pieces that Shakespeare may have read. We also have the papers of Murray Freeman, a computer scientist who helped to develop standards for the internet as well as an excellent fine art photography collection, with particular strength in photos of and by African-Americans.

 

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


We just took down one of my favorite exhibits that I’ve ever worked on, about Modernism, pacifism, and the Spanish Civil War. Fortunately, its digital component of student-created material lives on. Our spring exhibit is “Carl Van Vechten: O, Write My Name - Portraits of the Harlem Renaissance and Beyond,” which features materials from our photography and rare books collections, and I’m very much looking forward to a student-curated exhibit next academic year on the history of astronomy and the telescope.

 

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Amy Hildreth Chen, the Special Collections Instruction Librarian at the University of Iowa.


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How did you get started in rare books?

 

My junior year at the University of Iowa, I was reading the New York Times in the cafeteria when I ran across an article discussing Emory University’s acquisition of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library, at the time the largest collection of twentieth century Anglophone poetry in private hands. When I decided pursue a PhD in English a year later, I remembered the article and decided to apply to Emory due to the collection.

 

I wound up working in the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (MARBL, now the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library) for a total of five years, three of which I spent assisting Kevin Young, the curator of the Danowski collection. During this time, I received a well-rounded education: I learned to process collections, create exhibitions, manage the daily influx of acquisitions, talk to donors, and visit with rare book and manuscript dealers. I also brought my library work into the classroom as I designed and taught four courses for the English department focusing on special collections holdings.

 

Due to these experiences, I knew I wanted to seek a career in the field. The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) allowed me to become a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Alabama, where I devoted two years to coordinating their instruction, exhibition, and outreach programs while writing a book about the Wade Hall collection. Wade Hall collected American books, manuscripts, music, and quilts; his collection is the largest at Alabama and the most eclectic. Sadly, Wade Hall passed away this fall, but my work honoring his collection should be forthcoming from New South Books in late 2016.

 

Where did you earn your advanced degree?

 

I have a PhD in English from Emory. My official areas of expertise are twentieth century British, Irish, and American poetry as well as archive theory. My dissertation discussed the American market for twentieth-century literary collections.

 

What is your role at your institution?

 

I became the Special Collections Instruction Librarian at the University of Iowa in June 2015. The department split Colleen Theisen’s role as Outreach and Instruction Librarian to allow her to focus on Outreach while giving someone new the opportunity to manage the rapidly expanding Instruction program.

 

Now, I oversee the daily ins and outs of booking, preparing for, and teaching classes, although I certainly don’t teach them all on my own. To give you a sense of the scale of our program, this fall we taught 119 classes as a department. What I like most about my job is the mandate I’ve been given to develop innovative curricula using rare materials.

 

I also run Archive Journal’s Twitter feed and help edit the Notes and Queries section with Gabrielle Dean and Lauren Coats.

 

Favorite rare book/ephemera that you’ve handled?

 

I work equally with rare books and manuscript collections, so can I cheat and name two?

 

My favorite rare book is Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color (1963). I taught a session for Anne Herbert’s Color Theory class nearly every semester I spent at Alabama. During one visit, Anne mentioned that Yale used the text and images in the book to create an app. So when Sue Hettmansperger from Iowa’s School of Art and Art History just happened to request a session on Albers, I asked her if she’d be willing to stretch her concept of the visit to include a discussion of the app. She graciously agreed. We had a wonderful time analyzing how each plate achieves its surprising effect and then comparing the physical version to its digital adaptation. I appreciate the book’s beauty as well as how it lends itself to a variety of curricular approaches.

 

My favorite manuscript is Lucille Clifton’s typescript of the Book of Days, the poetry collection left unpublished at the time of her death. Every one of those poems is striking. I find the poem “birth-day” especially devastating: “what we will become/ waits in us like an ache.”

 

What do you personally collect?

 

I collect poetry broadsides from the institutions where I’ve been employed. Broadsides represent my interest in poetry and visual art and they are a nice way to chart the timeline of my life. I have quite a few broadsides from Emory as well as a few from Alabama. But, appropriately, the first broadside I picked up was “There is a Gold Light in Certain Old Paintings” by Donald Justice. I was given it for free when I attended a memorial reading at Iowa in 2004. Now that I’ve come full circle and work where I used to study, that broadside has a place of pride in my living room.

 

What do you like to do outside of work?

 

I continue to pursue my academic research and I do some creative writing as well. When I need to turn my brain off, I practice Pilates. My husband and I also like to try out new restaurants.

 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

 

I believe rare book librarianship, and special collections as a whole, is at the vanguard of research and teaching in higher education. Jacques Derrida may have popularized the concept of the “archival turn,” but rare book librarians and archivists are the ones who get the credit for the profession’s development in the past decade.

 

Since I teach where I went to school, I have an intimate perspective on this shift. I watch how courses I took over a decade ago that didn’t come to special collections now dedicate two or more sessions to working with rare materials. It’s an honor to participate in this more inclusive vision of special collections.

 

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

 

It’s going to be great. Colleges and universities realize that using rare books and manuscripts in the classroom generates richer educational experiences. Students light up when they read a letter from the past or hold a book from centuries ago. That delight helps them tolerate some of the challenges that naturally arise when working with our materials. As individual teaching faculty become more aware of what’s possible pedagogically, their interest only grows. The key for us is to continue to build sustainable instruction programs that offer quality curricula to our campuses while balancing the preservation needs of our holdings and working well with our colleagues in other sectors of the academic library.

 

More broadly, the future of special collections librarianship also depends on the future of higher education. As we shift to new methods of inquiry in the humanities, and more people move into alt-ac roles, staying cutting-edge in instruction and research depends on continuing to embrace and incorporate diverse perspectives.

 

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

 

I must highlight the strength of our book arts collection. It supports UI’s Center for the Book, but it’s so rich that students from other universities regularly visit the collection. My colleague Margaret Gamm does a fantastic job selecting new acquisitions. The most recent arrivals get a place of pride in our reading room, where students and faculty often stop in to pursue what she’s bought. I love thinking about how humanities researchers and artists use the same materials differently.

 

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

 

Iowa just remodeled the main library to create a state-of-the-art gallery. In January 2016, our first exhibition will focus on James Van Allen, who pioneered magnetospheric research in space. After that, our next shows include an exhibition on Star Trek and a show devoted to Shakespeare’s First Folio, on tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library. 

Today’s entry in our Bright Young Librarians series features Laura Aydelotte of the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania.

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How did you get started in rare books?

I have a very clear memory of a visit to the Huntington Library when I was a child and seeing the Ellesmere Chaucer and the First Folio they have on display in the exhibit room there.  I was young enough that I had to look up a little to see the books clearly in the vitrines, but old enough to have a newly minted appreciation for how many centuries those books had based through.  I remember thinking that having a job that involved learning about and taking care of books like that would be an incredible thing to be when I grew up.  Years later, I had the opportunity to learn a great deal more about early books in my doctoral work, and I got my professional start as one of the people who takes care of books in the wonderful collections of the Newberry Library, Chicago.  

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I received my MLIS from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), and my PhD from the University of Chicago.  

What is your role at your institution?

I am a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow at Penn Libraries, where I have the opportunity to do work across the boundaries of bibliography, book history, and digital work.  I direct the Provenance Online Project, or POP, which addresses some very old questions: Whose hands did these books pass through before they came to us?  How do we know what owner is associated with a particular bookplate or inscription or stamp?  The project takes a new approach to finding answers to these questions by posting images of ownership marks online, with a growing collection of over 12,000 images.  We invite a user community of librarians, scholars, and others interested in book history from all around the world to contribute identifications and other information about these marks.  We’re starting to get images contributed from partner libraries across the country, so we’ll start to be able to see patterns of past ownership across current collections. It’s the kind of project that means I may spend my morning talking to our programmer about the data model or wireframing potential designs for an online upload form we’re developing, while my afternoons may be spent with a pile of 16th century books doing careful research into the details of their history.  

My other major role at the Kislak Center is as Curatorial Assistant for the Furness Shakespeare Library, a collection dedicated to Shakespeare and early modern literary and theatrical history begun by the editor of the New Variorum editions of Shakespeare at the end of the 19th century.  I recommend acquisitions for Furness and other early modern materials, do show and tells, answer reference questions, and right now I’m working on a small exhibit marking the 400th anniversary of the deaths of both Shakespeare and Cervantes.  The exhibit will focus on the topic of exploration and early maps in relation to the plays of the two great dramatists of Renaissance England and Spain, and will tie in with my own developing digital project, Shakespeare on the Map.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

So many favorites!  I think this really is constantly changing.  There are some new favorites.  When I moved to Philadelphia a year ago, I was entranced by Penn’s collection of Benjamin Franklin Letters, and I’m currently writing an article on the inscription of an 18th century slave in a pamphlet at the Library Company of Philadelphia.  Both are awe inspiring historical documents to handle on their own, but the fact that I can traverse the experience of a founding father and a former slave through the traces of the handwriting they left never fails to amaze me.   

There are also some certain established favorites that never fail to delight.   I think one of the more thrilling book experiences I had this year was photographing provenance marks in over 10 of the Folger’s First Folios for POP and comparing those with Penn’s copy.  It’s wonderful, the copious variations one finds in multiple copies of a single book.   I’ve also been thinking this week of what an incredible experience it was some years ago when I opened Ortelius’ 1587 Theatrum Orbis Terarrum at the Newberry Library, something I was reminded of while fashioning an animated GIF of the copy at the Boston Public Library (which I have yet to handle, but have admired in its digital incarnation).

What do you personally collect?

My own collecting habits are eclectic, and I have yet to find a clear, obsessive focus.  I have a smattering of different kinds of material useful for both education and delight: an 18th century indenture, interesting examples of typography, a bawdy pseudo-Elizabethan pamphlet by Mark Twain, some feminist ephemera like the recently acquired early 20th century broadside featuring a photograph of the first woman to go deep sea diving. I was blessed with an eccentric bibliophilic grandfather, a lawyer who occasionally bartered legal work in exchange for books, manuscripts and, on one occasion, a three-foot tall bronze reproduction of the Augustus of Prima Porta that had formerly stood in front of Moody’s Drug Store in Long Beach, CA.  The stand-out item in my personal collection is a first edition of the Wizard of Oz this grandfather gave me as a child, so I sometimes pick up affordable bits of Oziana to complement that.  

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love music, and have been making a point of making the time to play the piano with greater regularity lately.   In the last few weeks I’ve resumed my amateur attempts at ukulele strumming with a book of Hawaiian songs my aunt in Honolulu sent me a year or two ago.  There’s something cheering about a ukulele when winter is coming.  I’m also an avid knitter, currently in the process of finishing up a scarf with an image of Smaug and the misty mountains from the cover of Tolkein’s the Hobbit, and I like to do many other things involving dining with friends, theater, afternoons biking and swimming in fine weather or wandering a museum looking at paintings of people enjoying fine weather when the real world is cold.  

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The books, which never stale in their infinite variety. 

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

I think it’s a tremendously vital and exciting time to be in this profession.  Being alive in our current digital age is like having the opportunity to be around at the time of Gutenberg when printing was just taking off.  Incunabula can be some of the most fascinating books because they are especially clear material evidence of the way old technologies and new ones are constantly interacting and fusing with one another: typefaces designed based on scribal hands, the printed center of a page lying distinct in a sea of manuscript annotation written in margins built wide for the purpose, illumination and rubrication adding one kind of beauty to the emerging beauties of a printed layout.  It is always important to preserve and study the history of ideas and the forms we’ve used to communicate those ideas, but I think in times of great innovation like the one we’re in now, the people with the knowledge and skills to help others learn about, understand and use primary source materials from across the centuries have a special role.  Special collections librarians help us all to be aware of and explore what is useful, what is beautiful, and what is important from the past that we can incorporate into the things and ideas we are currently creating and weaving into the long tradition of human production and knowledge.

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

We have many interesting collections at Penn Libraries.  I think many people aren’t aware that we have a really excellent collection of Spanish Golden Age material, including such gems as two holograph manuscripts by the playwright Lope de Vega.  We also have a large collection of Jonathan Swift material, including a really fascinating array of versions of Gulliver’s Travels, from editions in foreign languages, to a pop-up version featuring a plastic magnifying glass for viewing Liliputions.  

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

My colleague, Lynne Farrington, is curating a fascinating exhibit exploring the use of hand coloring and printed color in American fine and private press books.  It is called “Across the Spectrum: Color in American Fine and Private Press Books, 1890-2015”, and it opens on February 15th with a two-day symposium Feb. 26-27.  
Today’s entry in our Bright Young Librarians series features Gabrielle Dean, Curator of Literary Rare Books & Manuscripts at The Sheridan Libraries, John Hopkins University, Baltimore.

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How did you get started in rare books?

When I was in high school, I bought a book called America Illustrated for my father for his birthday. It was about five bucks at a thrift store. It was published in 1879, and I was amazed that something so old (it seemed to me then very old) could be so sturdy and fresh... and affordable! I loved the wood engravings.

Of course, after my dad’s birthday, I forgot about America Illustrated. I finished high school and went to college. After graduation, I worked for a non-profit arts organization and was active in queer politics. But then I decided to go back to school, and one of my first serious research projects as a grad student focused on the published diaries of the Yellowstone survey team of 1871.  I didn’t even remember America Illustrated until my dad gave it back to me recently... 

Where did you earn your advanced degree?

I have a PhD in English and Textual Studies from the University of Washington. My research focuses on nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American visual and literary cultures. The textual studies program taught me to think not only about the history of the book and the evolution of specific texts, but also about the future of forms like “book” and “text.”

After I finished my degree, I worked for several years as an adjunct. Then I heard about these interesting post-doctoral fellowships from CLIR, the Council on Library and Information Resources. I applied for the CLIR position at Johns Hopkins, and my main project was to make an exhibition from one of our H. L. Mencken collections. That was an incredible experience. The post-doc also taught me how a special collections library operates on the inside, another fascinating education. So when I had the opportunity to take a position at Hopkins that was very similar to my post-doc role, I jumped at the chance.

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Curator of Literary Rare Books and Manuscripts. I am also the librarian for the Writing Seminars, and a lecturer in the Program for Museums and Society. So, I wear a lot of hats, but I like to think they are color-coordinated. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

That’s a cruel question! But okay, with apologies to all the other beloved objects...

Right now I am very interested in early photography. So I find myself drawn to our set of Edweard Muybridge gigantic folios of time-lapse photos. I am captivated by the Rube Goldberg-esque nature of the tripwire system that Muybridge invented to take sequential photos, I am intrigued by his choice of subjects--and I love how all this is both expressed and hidden in the books. The books turn Muybridge’s ephemeral and weird Victorian experiments into monumental archival objects that are also, with their black and white gridded arrangements of nearly identical images, proto-modernist texts.

What do you personally collect?

Occasionally, I acquire a book or piece of ephemera that is meaningful to me; some are related to my research interests and some come from my family. But they are more like place-holders for collections I refrain from building. I am already obsessive about books and ephemera, and there are so many interesting ways to think about various materials, that I think it would be hard for me to stick to an appropriate scope and size as a serious collector. Plus, I don’t have the space!

What do you like to do outside of work?

What is this “outside of work” of which you speak? 

Seriously, I do spend a lot of non-library time on my own research projects and various tasks for the Society for Textual Scholarship, the Dickinson Electronic Archives, and Archive Journal. Out of necessity, my partner and I work on our 90-year-old Baltimore rowhouse; last summer, I became a temporary expert on historic lime mortars and repaired our basement walls. We garden, hike, seek out good coffee. I cook, often with foodstuffs from the wonderful Baltimore Farmers’ Markets, and when I can, I take photos, write, and make things out of clay. 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I am unabashedly partisan here, but I believe that special collections librarianship is the genius loci of the humanities. And right now, it is more important than ever, because if we are wise with our materials and tools, and generous with our communities, I really think we can pull the humanities out of the cultural margins they have been pushed into over the last half century.

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

I am a relative newcomer to the profession, but it seems to me it is changing and will continue to change--we are becoming, increasingly, the authors of our own projects rather than always the silent helpmates. This is a crucial shift, I think. I would love to see special collections librarians take the lead more often--in the classroom, in our institutions, in our public discourse--with intellectual confidence, creativity, and know-how. 

Libraries are one of the smartest technologies we humans have ever invented--a beautiful system for the creation and spread and preservation of knowledge. But, of course, the digital environment now offers to a global population the information and knowledge-creation resources that used to be the exclusive domain of libraries. The internet does a lot of things better than libraries. Libraries can do a lot of things better than the internet. What are they? How should libraries evolve to become what we need them to be? Librarians, curators, and archivists are going to have to evolve too. I fear that if we fail to do this, out of old-fashioned and frankly sexist notions about our place in the academy and in democracy, libraries will suffer and may die. 

I noticed a call you put out recently for papers dealing with “radical archives.” Could you introduce us to this topic and how it applies to special collections librarianship?

The call for papers was issued by Lisa Darms of the New York Public Library and Kate Eichhorn at the New School, guest editors of an issue of Archive Journal on this topic--I am on the editorial team of the journal so I was circulating the CFP. Lisa and Kate are interested in the question of what a “radical archive” is or might be, so collectively, the various contributions to the issue do a great job of answering your question. And it has just been published so please check it out!

Any unusual or interesting collections at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

What I am most proud of at Hopkins are our two historic libraries, the John Work Garrett Library at Evergreen and the George Peabody Library. I love how they express two different but complementary sides of nineteenth-century bibliophilia and knowledge-building: one is the collection of a family, a very refined private library; the other is an early public library, with a delightfully eclectic collection. The collections are housed in their native environments--magnificent historic buildings--so working with them feels like the closest I will ever get to time-travel.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We recently opened Lost & Found in the Funhouse: The John Barth Collection, which I put together with two recent MFA graduates of the Writing Seminars at Hopkins. The Barth Collection came to Hopkins just a few years ago, and it was an enormous privilege to get to unpack it and figure out how to display it for the public. We tried to create a funhouse experience in the gallery--and I think we succeeded. You can see our “trailers” for the exhibition here.

Coming up: Poe!

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Eva Guggemos, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

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How did you get started in rare books?

I got my first job in a library when I was a history graduate student at Yale. I worked part-time transcribing oral history recordings in the University Archives. I had been vaguely aware of the existence of special collections before then, but it had never occurred to me that I could have a career in them. Looking at what my boss was doing, though, it seemed like a great job. She was building collections, hosting conferences, running a web site and doing a lot of other fascinating things. I got my first full-time special collections job in the Acquisitions department of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where I worked under E.C. Schroeder. He encouraged me to learn everything I could about the history of the book, bibliography and the rare book market. In that job, I got to see fantastic new acquisitions every day and fell in love with the field. Learning how to collate a book was a revelation! I went on to work as the Research Librarian at the Beinecke before moving to my current position on the West Coast.
 
Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I have an M.A. in History from Yale and an M.L.S. from Simmons.
 
What is your role at your institution?

I am the Archivist for Pacific University, which is a small school near Portland, Oregon. Since I am the only full-time professional in special collections here, I have a hand in most activities related to our archives and rare books. I spend a lot of my time running digital projects and facilitating access, outreach and metadata tasks. I also teach class sessions throughout the year related to primary source research. It is great to have so much variety in my work, though I often wish I had more staff to get it all done!
 
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

What a difficult question! At Yale, I got to see a huge number of incredible books and manuscripts. One of my favorites was the ‘Great Mirror of Folly’, a folio compilation of satirical images about the South Sea Bubble of 1720, which was one of the world’s first stock market crashes. At Pacific, our collection is much smaller but we do have a few gems. One of the most interesting the is the “Nez Perces First Book,” published by a missionary press at Lapwai, Idaho, in 1839. It’s thought to be the earliest surviving book printed in the Oregon Territory. Our copy has extra leaves from an even earlier printing used as pastedowns.
 
What do you personally collect?

I would like to become independently wealthy someday so that I could collect early modern French drama. I have a special fondness for pirated editions. In the meantime, I’ve started to get interested in collecting 19th century American photography. There are a lot of interesting examples available and they are still affordable.
 
What do you like to do outside of work?

I go camping as often as possible in the summer. During the school year, I try to keep up with my 9-year-old and (let’s be honest) watch a lot of Netflix. 
 
What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I love introducing students to rare books and manuscripts for the first time. A lot of people are used to thinking of books as just sources of text, rather than as material objects. Getting students to think about the physicality of the objects, how their past owners used them in their daily lives, how they wrote in them or pasted things into them or had them specially bound ... sharing all of those things that are outside the bare text is what is the most fun for me.
 
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I think that being able to find and interpret primary sources like the ones we have in special collections is becoming increasingly important for many students. I would like to see rare book librarians position themselves as expert teachers on primary sources. We should use original materials in classes whenever possible. At small institutions like mine, though, we should be also ready and willing to teach with digitized collections from other institutions. There is now a critical mass of digitized rare books, manuscripts and other original material on the web, and access is being centralized into sites like the Digital Public Library of America. We should be the ones leading the charge to teach students how to find and use these sources in their research.
 
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

Most people don’t know that Pacific is one of the oldest universities on the West Coast, founded in 1849. When we started, there were no other schools, no stores and hardly even any roads in our area. I think more scholars could take a look at the early writings and records of our university to see how our founders thought they could create a college on the model of Harvard or Yale out in the middle of nowhere. I think there is a lot in these records that could be used to write about the history of the frontier, encounters with Native peoples and education.

[Suggestions for entries in our Bright Young Librarians series are welcome at nathan@finebooksmagazine.com]

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Margaret Gamm, Special Collections Acquisitions and Collection Management Librarian at University of Iowa Libraries:

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How did you get started in rare books?
 
When I was in fifth grade, I went to my first book signing, where I was thrilled to watch J.K. Rowling sign my first printing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (alas, not the Philosopher’s Stone). I knew it was special, as did my parents. When I wanted to take it to school with me so that my friends could see it, they ensured that I put it in a Ziploc bag. I gave everybody handling instructions when they wanted to touch it. I guess that counts as early practice for my reading room spiel? Researching the book introduced me to Abebooks and Ebay, which led me down the rabbit hole. Eventually, my undergraduate advisor at the University of Georgia, Professor Frances Teague, suggested an internship at Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library. That sealed the deal.
 
Where did you earn your MLS?
 
I graduated with an MSLS and a Concentration in Archives and Records Management from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
 
What is your role at your institution?
 
Amongst other things, I select for, acquire, and manage our rare book, manuscript, and maps collections. You can watch me open boxes of orders and gifts on our Vine. I also run the Map Collection tumblr.
 
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?
 
My current favorite items in Iowa’s collections are our medieval manuscripts (digitized versions can be seen here). I find something new to me every time I look at them. During a recent class, I noticed a map in the margins of our 1465 Pharsalia manuscript, which I suspect is the oldest map in our collection. The collection that has had the most lasting effect on me is the Heralds of Science, which is located at the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology at the Smithsonian. I transcribed copy specific information for each of the books during the course of an internship there. Working my way through that collection gave me a tremendous appreciation of scientific books and the history of science.
 
What do you personally collect?
 
I collect for the institution, so I tend to stay away from too much personal collecting. I have a few signed first printings from my favorite authors, and I would like to collect 19th century fashion images.
 
What do you like to do outside of work?
 
I enjoy disc golfing and attending weekly trivia with an ever-increasing number of librarians.
 
What excites you about rare book librarianship?
 
Everything! There is always something to explore, something to share, and somebody to share it with. I can spend one day focusing on bindings, the next day looking at scrolls, and the next day looking at typography. The topics discussed in our shared office each day might include 20th century science fiction or a 15th century palimpsest. I just returned from Rare Book School, which I knew would be great, but which still surpassed my expectations. It was invigorating to be around so many people who share the same sort of passion.
 
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?
 
Special collections are becoming increasingly available to the public and interest is growing in leaps and bounds, which is quite thrilling. Space will always be a problem, whether digital or physical, but the material going into that space is wonderful, and increasingly diverse.  My special collections colleagues (at Iowa and around the world) continue to amaze me with their passion and dedication, and are the biggest reason special collections is such an exciting place to be. Overall, I cannot wait to see where we are heading.
 
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?
 
There are so many that it’s hard to pick just one. Colleen Theisen highlighted a few when she answered this question two years ago, but there are many more. One is the Szathmary Culinary Collection, which continues to grow as donations and purchases come in. I have focused on manuscript cookbooks in recent additions to the collection. Those can be a lot of fun. If you need a remedy for canine distemper, you can find it right next to the ingredients for a scent jar and a recipe for apple jelly. I am also partial to the Map Collection since it was the first one I worked with here, and it never gets enough love from researchers. There is a lot of untapped potential there for exciting and fresh research.
 
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
 
This Fall Special Collections is partnering with the University of Iowa Center for the Book and the John Martin Rare Book Room to host Micrographia: Book Art Responses to Early Modern Scientific Books. The call for interest closed at the beginning of July, so now we are looking forward to seeing what the book artists come up with. We also have several exhibits planned in anticipation of the grand opening of our shared exhibit space on the first floor of the library. One of them is First Folio! The Book that Gave Us Shakespeare, which is coming our way in Fall of 2016.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Kelli Hansen, Print Collections Librarian in Special Collections and Rare Books at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

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How did you get started in rare books?


When I was a graduate student in art history, I worked as a curatorial assistant on an exhibition called The Art of the Book, 1000-1650, at the University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archaeology.  We planned to show materials from the museum’s collections, but we also made arrangements to borrow from the special collections at the university libraries.  I was sent to special collections, a place I had never visited before, to scout items from the catalog that might be suitable for the exhibition. 


The first piece I looked at was a fragment of Bede in Insular script from the ninth century. Even though I had just come from the vaults of a museum, I felt completely awed by this experience of being one-on-one with the oldest manuscript I’d ever encountered.  My MA work focused on medieval manuscripts and early printing, so from a research perspective, I felt like I had stumbled into a treasure trove. 


Over the course of that project, it dawned on me that libraries could offer me a chance to combine my research interests with my desire to work with people. When a para-professional reference job opened in the special collections department a few months later, I applied for it and was hired. I’ve been working in libraries and archives ever since.


Where did you earn your advanced degree?


A few years after finishing my MA in art history at the University of Missouri, I went on to complete an MSIS at the University of Texas with a certificate in special collections and archives.  Austin is so rich in archives and libraries, and I was fortunate to be able to work in some really diverse and fantastic collections and learn from wonderful librarians and archivists.  Just as I was finishing my last semester in Texas, a job opened here, and I jumped at the chance to come back.


What is your role at your institution?


We have a small staff, so all of us do a variety of things. My roles are to do reference, instruction, outreach, and web development. In daily life, that means I help instructors devise assignments and activities that introduce students to primary source research, lead course sessions, assist students with the research process, and take shifts on the reference desk.  We have a wide range of courses that use the collections here - in any given week I might find myself presenting on comics, medieval manuscripts, propaganda, posters, or the history of information technology.


I also curate exhibitions and help to coordinate partnerships with other campus and community institutions.  Recently I’ve been active in helping to organize a cross-campus working group of librarians, archivists, and curators, with the goal of integrating our collections more fully into the university’s curriculum.  We also partner with the campus Life Sciences and Society Program to curate an exhibition based on their yearly symposium topic, which challenges all of us to think about our collections in different ways. I’ve worked on exhibitions and digital projects related to food science, epigenetics, and science communication since I’ve been here.  Last year, I curated an exhibition on narrative and sequential art from the fifteenth century to the present, and I was approached by Exhibits USA to package it for national tour.  It’s currently in the marketing phase, and I’m looking forward to continuing that project!


On the digital site of things, I manage the Special Collections web site, digital exhibitions, and social media (Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook).  My most recent project on social media is our weekly Beautiful Math series, which looks at intersections among the arts, sciences, and mathematics.  And I’m in the process of revamping our digital exhibition system.


That sounds like a laundry list, but it’s what I do!  The variety of my day-to-day work is both challenging and invigorating. 


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


Impossible to choose.  I probably have a new favorite every week, and I love that about my job.  I do tend to love things that have value as artifacts in that that they have interesting marginalia or give us some sense of use or ownership contexts.  I love manuscripts of all periods, especially illuminated ones, but ordinary ones are also interesting for many different reasons.  I love correspondence, although I don’t work with it much in this position, but I have in the past. 


Right now I’m also fascinated with the history of illustration and printmaking processes, and how words and images interact on the page.  That interest includes everything from early printed books to graphic novels.  I’ve gotten very interested in the early woodcut novelists, especially Frans Masereel, from seeing examples in the collections here. 


What do you personally collect?


I don’t collect anything for myself. I’m surrounded by so much stuff at work that I often feel a need for minimalism when it comes to my own household.  With two small children, I don’t do very well at it, but I try. 


What do you like to do outside of work?


Spend time with my family and work in my garden. I also knit and read, when I get a rare moment to sit down by myself.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


You truly never know what you’ll find when preparing for a class, or researching for an exhibition, or just paging something in the stacks.  I love being surrounded by history and beauty every day.  But I think what excites me the most is seeing all the different ways our researchers and students use the materials in their work.  There is no better feeling than teaching a class session full of students who are engaged with what they’re studying and are eager to know more, or helping a researcher find exactly the missing piece they were looking for.  I hope to bring about the same type of “aha!” moments that happened to me in the reading room here.


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


I think the future for all of us (libraries, archives, and museums) is to become more open, collaborative, and community-oriented.  We’re all in the process of shifting our roles from being the gatekeepers to being the guides and facilitators, both in person and online.  I welcome these changes and am excited about where we’re headed. 


At the same time, higher education is changing.  I suspect those of us in academic institutions will find that our roles will change too.  For example, the number of classes and students in Special Collections here at Missouri has tripled over the past decade and is still increasing, leading us to prioritize teaching as a big part of what we do.  Being able to demonstrate growth and utility is vital.  It’s going to be more and more important for us to be able to explain why we and our collections are a valuable educational resource.


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

 

One of the strengths of the collections here is a large group of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British pamphlets on religious and political subjects.  There are thousands of them, and many are very scarce.  We’ll be starting a project to identify unique materials from that collection over the next few months.  The Fragmenta Manuscripta collection is a group of medieval manuscript fragments assembled in the seventeenth century, which supplements the mainly textual medieval and Renaissance manuscript codices in the collection.  That’s the collection that contains that Bede fragment that got me started down this path in the first place.  We have a substantial collection of comic books and artwork, including a nice collection of underground comics and early graphic novels.  We also have the collection of a nineteenth-century French lawyer, Jacques Flach, which has lots of unique materials, and we have the papers of the American playwright Lanford Wilson.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


We will be mounting an exhibition of work by comic artists with ties to Mizzou this fall.  There’s a great comic community here, with people interested in comics as literature, art, history, and journalism.  We’ll try to get that community involved with what we do this fall.


In spring 2016, we’ll have two exhibitions. One will deal with climate change and the Anthropocene, which is next year’s Life Sciences and Society Symposium topic.  The other will celebrate the centennial of our library building, and will also incorporate materials from the Missouri Historic Textile Collection and the University Archives.  


(Nominations for Bright Young Librarians, Booksellers, or Collectors are welcome at nathan@finebooksmagazine.com)

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Jay Gaidmore, Marian and Alan McLeod Director of the Special Collections Research Center at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia:

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How did you get started in rare books?

I started out in my career as an archivist and manuscripts curator, but my interest in rare books was kindled while working as the University Archivist in the John Hay Library at Brown University, with its amazing collection of incunabula, a near perfect set of Audubon’s Birds of America, and many other significant rare books. One of the reasons I was so interested and excited to come to Swem Library was to be more involved with rare books and the full spectrum of special collections. 

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned my library science degree from the University of South Carolina in Columbia and a master’s degree in history at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.  

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Director of Special Collections, which includes three major collections, Rare Books, Manuscripts, and the University Archives. My primary responsibilities are collection development, outreach, fundraising and stewardship, and administration.  

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?  

I have two favorites. Swem Library has a first edition of the Book of Mormon, which is regularly visited by missionaries in the area, and a first edition of Isaac Newton’s Principia, which is annotated in Latin by an as yet unidentified person. 

What do you personally collect?  

I collect through my work. It is much cheaper personally that way. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with my family, hiking, reading, and binge watching television shows on Netflix.  

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Preserving rare and unique materials, and sharing them with others, either through research, bibliographic instruction sessions, tours, or open houses. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing others getting enjoyment from the treasures we are acquiring, preserving, and making accessible.  

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

The future of special collection is brighter than ever. Not only do special collections preserve and make accessible the primary sources for research, but with every library, with the right resources of course, having the ability to get access the same e-books, e-journals, and databases, it is the rare and unique materials that differentiate one library from the next. Administrators are realizing this and are devoting much needed resources to these areas of the library. 

Also, with more and more information being available digitally, special collections librarians have an important role to play in promoting the book as an artifact and that books are so much more than the information they contain.  

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

We have the second largest collection of books on dogs in the country, including scholarly works in several languages dating back to 1537, as well as children’s literature, breed guides, and novels. We also have 700 fore-edge painting books that were donated to Swem Library by collector Ralph H. Wark. 

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

In February, we are having an exhibit of materials from our Hip-Hop Collection, established in 2013 to document the rich history of Virginia’s hip hop community and including artifacts, posters, ephemera, LP’s, bootleg tapes, and oral histories. The exhibit will include a listening station containing sound bites from the oral histories, and a DJ will be spinning records at the exhibit opening. 

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Eric Johnson, Curator of Early Printed Books at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio:

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How did you get started in rare books?

I suppose my first start was as a graduate student at the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of York (UK) when, in a codicology class session, the instructor dropped a mid-fifteenth century Book of Hours on the table in front of me and told me to “have at it.” While pursuing my Ph.D. research I spent quite a bit of time reading fifteenth- and sixteenth-century printings of medieval theological and pastoral works, as well as the odd manuscript, at the British Library, York Minster Library and various other places. My real professional start in the rare books world, however, came about four months after defending my dissertation when I landed a job as a curatorial assistant at the Cotsen Children’s Library, a division of the Rare Books and Special Collections Department at Princeton University. This is where the rare book world really opened up for me. The Cotsen Library exposed me to materials from all over the planet produced throughout history, from ancient Babylon to late-twentieth century picture books and everything in between. My boss there, Andrea Immel, was incredibly helpful and encouraging, and before I knew it, I was fully immersed in rare book and manuscript librarianship.
 
Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned an M.A. and a Ph.D. at the University of York’s (UK) Centre for Medieval Studies, and I earned my MLIS from Rutgers University.
 
What is your role at your institution?

I’m an Associate Professor and the Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at The Ohio State University. In addition to fulfilling traditional curatorial duties such as collection development and management, donor relations, public and K-12 outreach, and reference work, I also teach widely across the University’s curriculum, including medieval manuscript studies and book history courses, and sessional instruction in courses across the disciplines, from math history to the Bible in English, Gothic Paris, and the history of witchcraft in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (to name only a few).
 
Favorite rare book that you’ve handled?

This is a tough question... Probably my single favorite piece at Ohio State is a late-fourteenth century manuscript copy of William of Pagula’s Oculus sacerdotis, a pastoral handbook for priests and confessors. Not only is it an amazing text, but its physical qualities--from its highly imperfect, scarred parchment to the earlier manuscript fragments recycled as flyleaves at the front and rear of the codex--speak eloquently to the importance of a book’s unique physical characteristics to a full understanding of the wider historical, intellectual, and socio-cultural contexts in which the text operated. Outside of Ohio State, I’d have to say my current favorite piece is a fantastic artist’s proof edition of L’Alsace heureuse by Jean-Jacques Waltz (better known as Oncle Hansi) at the Cotsen Library. It offers a compelling look into the mind of a vitriolic pro-French Alsatian propagandist and the way that military, cultural, and political propaganda were packaged for children during World War I.
 
What do you personally collect?

I’ve collected things off and on most of my life, from comic books to small-press science fiction titles. I don’t think I really collect anything systematically anymore, though I suppose my ever-growing collection of secondary source material on medieval manuscript culture, book history, and bibliography counts as an active collection.
 
What do you like to do outside of work?

Reading is a big leisure activity for me (and probably a clichéd answer, too!). Outside of the broader world of books, however, I like to be physically active. Hiking is a big favorite of mine, though a long walk around town works in a pinch. Much of my time outside of work is spent figuring out how not to spend that time thinking about work. Exercise helps me with this (although it has the added benefit of inspiring the odd Eureka moment for ongoing research projects).
 
What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Opportunities. The opportunity to learn ceaselessly and continuously. The opportunity to share the unique pedagogical value of rare books and manuscripts with students of all types, whether third-graders, undergraduates, Ph.D. candidates, or Elder Hostel groups. The opportunity to build upon the collecting efforts of previous curators to create meaningful collections that will continue to speak intelligently and compellingly for generations to come. The opportunity to handle and examine books and manuscripts that I otherwise could only dream of working with. And finally, I suppose, the opportunity to help researchers make sense of the past, uncover new texts and readings, and discover new ways that the authors, book producers, and readers of the past can continue to speak to us in the present.
 
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I believe the future of special collections librarianship depends on how we go about growing our user-base. It’s not enough simply to care for books and make them available to students and researchers who might happen to walk into your office or reading room. Those of us in the profession need to be active ambassadors for our collections--and not just to the university students and faculty with whom we normally work. I’m a big advocate of cultivating new users while they’re young, and you’ll often find me teaching K-12 groups, as well as undergraduates and graduate students, either at our library or in their own classrooms with rare materials from our collections. Getting children, teenagers, university students, and their teachers and professors thinking about the ways that a book’s physical instantiations directly influence our understanding of how it was produced, marketed, distributed, and read is essential to our profession’s future. Think, for instance, of the different meanings imparted by a single Dickens novel in serial, single-volume, pirated, illustrated, folio, quarto, octavo, or cheap or deluxe-bound editions or formats. Each tells its own unique story about the possible ways it was valued, used, interpreted, and received by the culture that produced and consumed it. Attention to details like this compellingly demonstrate to students that books are more than just the printed or written letter forms and texts they contain and that physical form and written text work hand-in-hand to impart meaning. One of my favorite quotes about pedagogy sums things up nicely, I think: “Teaching therefore presupposes that the hearer is sought out where he is to be found” (Josef Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991, p. 32). We (curators and the materials in our care) need to be everywhere we can possibly be so we can reach as many minds as possible. Whether cultivated through carefully crafted hands-on instructional sessions, in-depth research advising and mentoring, diverse suites of educational public outreach, or well-designed interactive digital tools, by affording students an opportunity to have deep, consequential interactions with rare books and manuscripts (rather than just supplying them with the odd “jewels of the collection” class session), our profession can go a long way toward securing its future.
 
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

Like any large rare books collection, we’re blessed with many different assortments of materials that are particularly interesting or unusual. One of my favorite sub-collections is the Dr. Ivan Gilbert Trade Catalogue and Ephemera Collection, an assembly of approximately 10,000 items that provide a fascinating look into the birth and growth of American consumer culture from the 1830s to the 1970s. We also have an interesting collection of scales, including medieval examples of weights and measures and even a large scale used to weigh jockeys before their horse races. I’m also a big fan of our growing collection of artifacts that help provide valuable context to our medieval manuscript collection, including a pair of fourteenth-century parchment-making tools carved out of bone, a late-medieval friar’s leather Bible bag, a thirteenth-century stylus used for writing on wax tablets, a fourteenth-century English seal matrix, and nineteenth-century examples of blades and scrapers used to prepare animal skins for writing. There is, of course, so much more I could describe...


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We have a couple of interesting exhibitions that cover an array of topics coming up in the next couple years. In 2015 we’ll be mounting a major show featuring the manuscripts, photography, and archival materials of noted American author, William T. Vollmann (whose literary archive we hold), and in 2016 we’ll be curating exhibitions celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our William Charvat Collection of American Fiction and focusing on our substantial Highlights for Children archive. Further afield is our upcoming fall 2017 exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.

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.

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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.
Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Lara Haggerty, Keeper of Books at the Library of the Innerpeffray in Scotland.

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Please introduce us to the Library of Innerpeffray and your role at the institution:

The Library of Innerpeffray is Scotland’s first free public lending library founded in 1680 and is located in beautiful rural Perthshire.  We have a lovely Georgian building and a collection of some 5000 books, covering five centuries and an amazing register of borrowers: local reading history from 1747 to 1968.
My job is Keeper of Books, and I’m the 31st Keeper at Innerpeffray.  The role is a very varied one: I live on site and the Library is now a museum.  We are open eight months of the year, so my task covers curating exhibitions, marketing and promotion as well as doing guided tours and managing our brilliant team of volunteers.  I also do fundraising which is crucial for an independent organisation, and all the day to day business.
 
How did you get started in rare books?

I’ve always been a book lover, but rare books was a new venture for me when I came to Innerpeffray, as I spent my early career in the arts, mainly in theatre management, and then in a local authority role advising schools on arts and heritage.  I owe thanks to the National Library of Scotland and the Rare Books in Scotland group for advice and training ‘on the job’. 
 
Where did you earn your advanced degree?

My degree is an MA(Hons) in English Literature and Theatre from the University of Glasgow.
 
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

It has to be our Borrowers’ Register - and meeting the descendants of Borrowers.  In the early part of the register borrowers wrote out a promise to return the book ‘safe and unspoiled’.  It is such a  personal insight into the past to see the book your ancestor borrowed from the library.
 
What do you personally collect?

I’ve very fond of early Penguin crime / thrillers, so very different in quality from the books I handle day to day, many of them falling apart at the seams, but I love the aesthetics of typeface and the classic green and white covers as well as the style of the writing.
 
What do you like to do outside of work?

Apart from reading, I’m lucky to live in a very beautiful part of Scotland and I enjoy being out in it.
 
What excites you about curatorship?

A thousand things! Telling a story with our collection, seeing visitors make their own connections.  Our collection is small, but very varied, so there is challenge and reward in making each new exhibition appealing and engaging.
 
Thoughts on the future of special collections?

I think it has to be one of the most important and interesting areas of conservation and curatorship, but will have to fight for its place.
 
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?

We are lucky enough to have just been gifted an amazing collection of Scottlsh First Editions from American bibliophile Janet St Germain.  Innerpeffray’s original collection wasn’t particularly Scottish so this complements it wonderfully.  As well as an incunable (our first, Duns Scotus) there is a wonderful collection of music and poetry including Burns and Ramsay and Enlightenment philosophers and scientists like Hume and Smith. 


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

In 2015 we will have an exhibition guest curated by a post grad student from University of Stirling and the topic hasn’t yet been finalised.  Our other exhibition for the year ahead looks likely to be about Dictionaries & Cyclopedia and will be called Words Words Words.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Alison M. Greenlee, Collections Specialist at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan.  

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Please introduce us to The Henry Ford and your role there:

I’m a Collections Specialist for The Henry Ford’s digitization initiative. The Henry Ford is a national history destination with collections that document the American experience. The collections with which I work are spread across Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, and the Benson Ford Research Center. I catalog artifacts, photographs, and ephemera before they’re uploaded to our digital collections site. I also use the “rapid capture” process to digitize 2D material.

How did you get started in rare books?

I’d known I wanted to be a librarian since high school, but it wasn’t until I was in the first semester of my MLIS program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that I realized working with rare books was even a possibility. I steered my coursework in that direction, completing a certificate in special collections from the Midwest Book and Manuscript Studies program. I jumped at every practicum and alternative spring break opportunity, gaining experience at UIUC’s wonderful Rare Book and Manuscript Library as well as Monticello’s Jefferson Library and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

The materials with which I’ve worked span different centuries, cultures, and media, so it’s hard to pick just one. One memory that stands out is from my time as Special Collections Librarian at the University of Tulsa. I had a group of books from the personal library of Sir Rupert Hart-Davis on my cart, waiting to be cataloged. When I picked one up, it was suspiciously light. Upon opening it, I discovered it was a book safe! Three hollow books contained letters, clippings, and mementos from Hart-Davis’s children. It was definitely a fun surprise!

What do you personally collect?

Although I’ve been a lifelong fan, I’ve just recently begun collecting Edward Gorey books for my son’s nursery. He’ll thank me later.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m a lapsed runner who enjoys thrifting and traveling around the beautiful state of Michigan.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Working with awe-inspiring materials every day and getting to share those with the public. Much of my work over the last five years has been describing items to make them available to more people. 

Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

Of course we will continue to digitize and disseminate collections online to meet the “everything’s on the internet” demand, but I hope this makes the tangible objects more dear. Whenever anyone talks about ebooks and the death of print, I can’t help but think of the job security. I see this as an opportunity to talk about my field of work, introducing someone to the concept of rare books: what they are and why they’re important. In the future, we’ll need more outreach to not only promote and advocate for our collections, but also to simply explain what we have and why we have it. 

When all those paper books or Microsoft Word files are added to special collections, the world will need rare book librarians to decipher their secrets. Rare book librarians are stewards not just of the physical object, but also the spirit of that it conveys. A high-res digital image can’t capture the smell of pipe tobacco embedded in a leather binding or the worn, sticky letters of a keyboard that document the history of an item’s use.  

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

It’s not unusual, but it’s also not something that comes to mind when you think of The Henry Ford. I recently had the pleasure of working with our Fraktur collection. We have dozens of drawings, birth and baptismal certificates, family registers, house blessings, and New Year’s wishes. They’re gorgeous examples of Pennsylvania German folk art.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

As an institution for American history, our exhibitions vary greatly, and the next one is a world away from rare books -- Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (October 3, 2014-January 4, 2015). It will document the story of professional football with artifacts from the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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.

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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.

 

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. 

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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.


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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.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with William Noel, Director of the Kislak Center, for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.

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How did you get started in rare books?

When I was about sixteen I was completely staggered to learn that you could actually hold an Anglo-Saxon manuscript in your hands, even today, if you could persuade a friendly librarian that you had a genuine research reason to do so.  I had to work hard to find my first research reason, and harder than I would like to admit to find my first friendly librarian. But after having studied one manuscript in the flesh I found it easy to think of reasons why I had to look at more.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

Cambridge University

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Director of the Kislak Center, for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries. I am also the Director of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, which is a Research Institute for the study of manuscripts in the digital age.

Tell us about some of your projects, I understand you directed the Archimedes Palimpsest project for example:

So the Archimedes Palimpsest is a thirteenth century Byzantine prayerbook. It contains seven erased undertexts, including two treatises by Archimedes that don’t exist anywhere else, and it turns out, other unique political and philosophical texts from the ancient world (www.archimedespalimpsest.org).  The book was in such bad condition, the scripts so illegible, and the texts so important, that I was able to gather the help of the best conservators, imagers, project managers, data specialists and scholars in the world to do the work.  My primary goal in the project was to make sure I never made a decision; the decisions were best made by the experts. my role was to create an environment in which the right people could make the best decisions.  That wasn’t always easy, but I had a far easier job than the experts. It was the coolest project that I have worked on, but I am just as proud of my publications on English manuscript illumination, and of the digital catalogue and archive of many of the manuscripts at the Walters Art Museum, where I could and sometimes did contribute to the intellectual side of the endeavor. 



Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

Easy. The Utrecht Psalter - the great masterpiece of the book arts from the Carolingian Renaissance. I have only grazed it with the little finger of my right hand. But I have spent several days looking at it with Koert van der Horst, who was the (very friendly) keeper of manuscripts at the University Library of Utrecht for many years.

What do you personally collect?

Recordings of Bach’s Cello Suites.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Two things.  Handling medieval manuscripts on a daily basis, and the potential of digital technologies to make special collections available to an audience of five billion people.

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

I tell you what. The future of Special collections is clear, and its rosy, and they will be central to the future of any library that is lucky enough to house them. As for rare book librarianship as a vocation, we have to make sure that we retain and value traditional skills as we rightly embrace the most modern technologies.

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

We are currently processing the archive off John Mauchly, the co-inventor of Eniac, and he turns out to have been a wonderful character. Check out this and other blog posts by Holly Mengel.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Opening on August 22, and running through December 19 is “As the Ink Flows; Works from the Pen of William Steig”, which will display highlights of a collection of over 3,000 drawings, notebooks and other material, by this wonderful cartoonist and children’s book author. The gift was made by his widow Jeanne, to University of Pennsylvania Libraries.
Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with John Vincler, Head of Reader Services at the Morgan Library & Museum.

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[photo cation: © The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Photography by Graham  S. Haber 2014.]

How did you get started in rare books?

I owe my career to the Newberry Library in Chicago and in particular to mentor librarians and curators there, especially Paul Gehl, Mary Wyly (long-retired and probably completely unaware of her influence), and Jo Ellen McKillop Dickie. I wandered into the profession from a rather counter-intuitive route. After receiving an undergraduate degree in English literature with a minor in philosophy, I found myself in Chicago working on a long-running independent literary magazine and working at what was then a start-up non-profit called the Electronic Literature Organization, which sought--in the heady days of the dot-com boom before the inevitable bust--to chart and promote how literature was migrating into new media with special attention to emerging forms like hypertext fiction and kinetic poetry. We had funding from dot-com CEOs and a literary board with literary heavyweights like Barney Rosset, George Plimpton, and Robert Coover. When the bubble burst, I was out of a job (the organization was taken in by UCLA) and I found my way into a fundraising job at the Newberry. My experience working at the ELO sparked an interest in the role of form, materiality, and technology in literature.  I became interested in the experiments of the OULIPO in France (the acronym in English translates roughly to “the workshop of potential literature”) and then began a gradual slide into history culminating in an ongoing interest in the incunable period. I ended up working at the Newberry Library for about five years on and off, eventually working in a paraprofessional position in Special Collections. During this time I earned two master’s degrees one in the History of the Book through the University of London and a library degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I don’t know if there is a better place to begin a career than at the Newberry Library, a fantastic collection, overseen by knowledgeable, lovely, and generous people, and in a livable yet cosmopolitan city where you can financially survive as a culture-worker in training.  

Could you say a bit more about where you earned your MLS degree?

While I officially graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), the “where” is a bit more complicated.  My work at the Newberry was more important to my training than anything I did in the classroom at UIUC, but I really do think that the University of Illinois is regularly ranked as the best library program for a reason. It’s rigorous, practical, research-focused, and innovative. Thanks to a visionary professor, Dr. Ann Bishop, who was then at Illinois, I did the most significant work of my library degree at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. In library school, my focus was on rare books and special collections librarianship and also “community informatics,” which is essentially how information can be used to create knowledge and to empower communities to action.  The Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) was an intensely intellectual place at the center of a very well organized and activist community. The PRCC has its own library (with some interesting rare books and maps), publishes its own newspaper, and has a youth-operated internet radio station and theater space. It also organizes public health efforts ranging from an HIV AIDS center to a farmers’ market. I took classes online, intensive summer classes at Urbana-Champaign, and then also with Dr. Bishop in a classroom at the PRCC. 

As part of a yearlong collaboration with Saúl Meléndez, a teacher in the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School, we organized the first-ever exhibition on Puerto Rican history at the Newberry Library. We proposed the exhibit and the Newberry was enthusiastic about it. The students in Saúl’s class served as curators of the exhibition and throughout their semester they prepared the exhibition with occasional visits to the Newberry to review and select collection material and then to organize it into thematic cases and to write and translate the object descriptions. The exhibit was called “500 Years of Puerto Rican History through the Eyes of Others.” The students quickly realized the that nearly everything about Puerto Rico held by the library was in fact created by individuals who were not from Puerto Rico. The exhibition became a means to both learn about Puerto Rican history through primary sources, while also asking questions about how knowledge is created and by whom. In this way the students reframed the Newberry’s holdings in a very powerful way. It took a tremendous amount of faith on behalf of both the PRCC and the Newberry to think that a library student, a high school teacher, and a group of high school students could pull it off. And we did. The exhibit had the largest audience for an opening in this ongoing series showcasing rotating highlights from the collections.

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Head of Reader Services at the Morgan Library & Museum. In this role, I am charged primarily with managing the reading room and assisting readers both in the room and remotely through references queries that sometimes lead to a visit on-site, but other times do not. It is an interesting place to be as I deal with materials across all curatorial departments which range from ancient seals to contemporary drawings and prints. On a given day I may be assisting with the handling of a 15th century English cookery scroll, while helping someone else researching the provenance and exhibit history of Henri Matisse’s cut-out works, and dealing with Thoreau’s oversized sheets of nature notes and charts. My training is deepest in early printed books, so I am always happy when we can help a reader solve a bibliographical puzzle, whether by simply identifying a watermark or collating a book to better understand some aspect of its history and production. Academics probably make up the largest portion of our readership, but we regularly have artists, novelists, scientists, musicians, journalists, librarians, and collectors in the room, and it is a pleasure to see the genesis of so many creative and intellectual endeavors.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I just wrote a brief exhibition description for a book that I’ve become very interested in the last two years, a work of philosophy by Charles de Bovelles published by Henri Estienne in 1510.  Seen from the past Bovelles is part of a mystic-philosopher strain that includes Ramon Llull and Nicolas of Cusa or seen from the present he’s doing proto-phenomenology and media theory. I’m particularly interested in the way Bovelles represents his ideas not only in writing but through the combination of text and image, especially his highly conceptual emblematic woodcuts and the many diagrams contained throughout. Before coming to the Morgan Library, I was Rare Book Research Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which holds a fantastic collection of books from the great French scholar-printer family, the Estiennes. The 1510 Bovelles text was one UNC did not have, but my colleague Claudia Funke noted a repurposed woodblock in a UNC Estienne book that first appeared in the 1510 Bovelles. I attended a National Endowment for the Humanities seminar that brought me to the Bodleian and the British Library and everywhere I went that had a copy I spent some time studying it and was hooked. When I arrived at the Morgan, I noted that we also had a copy with marginalia and some interesting canceled pages. I haven’t had time to make sense of the variants I’ve noticed across copies, but I do hope to write on some aspect of the book in the next year or so. A digitized microfilm of a copy can be viewed freely online through the BNF’s Gallica portal.

What do you personally collect?

My partner is a novelist and together we have a book problem.  After moving to New York, to Brooklyn, over a year ago we went a little out of control. The bookstores here remain very good and there are many of them (my favorites are Unnamable Books in Brooklyn for its philosophy and poetry sections, new and used, and McNally Jackson in Manhattan for being the type of shop that one always wanted the major chains to be with a wide selection of new things but solid holdings of literature while making space for interesting things in the margins). But this is mostly buying--perhaps hoarding--books for a working library. Lately, I have been buying screen-printed posters from Ron Liberti, a silk-screen virtuoso living near Chapel Hill in North Carolina. He’s been a professional jobbing printer specializing in music gig posters for decades. I’m not interested in the music posters, but I love the posters he’s made by collaging elements from various screens he’s had in his studio for years. These works distill the best aspects of his design sensibility. In this work he’s not doing a job for a client, he’s directed purely by his visual sensibility, his experience with the medium, and his deep catalog of imagery. It’s fantastic stuff. It’s the rare thing I don’t tire of looking at, and it can be acquired on a librarian’s budget. I also collect modernist literary magazines (my favorite: a near perfect copy of Transition with a cover by Matisse, a poem by Picasso, and an art review by Beckett) and out of print poetry books and experimental novels--all acquired on the cheap, usually under $20.  

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The books and the people. I recently went on vacation and I realized I was missing the William Blake material I had been working with the two weeks prior. I should have just been enjoying my vacation. The aesthetic pull of books has dictated much of my life. I’ve followed after it, making many sacrifices along the way, while trying continually to learn and to be better at what I do. You always need to know more than you do in this field. It’s humbling because you are constantly faced with gaps in your knowledge whether arcane aspects of physical bibliography (understanding how books are put together) or the constant struggle to acquire languages. But it’s never boring. I am also proud to work among this motley guild of information workers called librarians. I don’t know of a profession filled with better people, certainly not one where the collective energy of the profession is spent ensuring that information is made as free and open as possible, that it will remain accessible for generations, and where collaboration across institutions is encouraged, even fundamental, to the profession. If only there was more support for libraries and more recognition for the work libraries do within the culture from public libraries as de facto job centers and research libraries as do-it-yourself universities without the debt burden. 

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

I hope that an integral aspect of the future of the field is deeper reflection on our past. Libraries have historically been places where disparate even conflicting ideas reside one next to another. This is certainly true, but libraries like all spaces have also been shaped by power of various sorts. It takes power to bring great collections together economic, intellectual, even the power of mere obsession. I am reading an advanced copy of Susan Howe’s forthcoming New Directions book, Spontaneous Particulars: The Telepathy of Archives. Reflecting on the structure and space of Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Howe, our great living poet/critic/philosopher, writes, “The structure contains acquisitive violence, the rapacious ‘fetching’ involved in collecting, and, on the other hand, it radiates a sense of peace.” I think Howe is getting at a dichotomy that is inherent in most of our great libraries. (This in a book inspired by the great libraries, which she largely treats with great reverence, sings their status as spaces of “thrilling possibilities,” and acknowledges her personal debt to libraries for feeding her own critical and creative work.) How can we better consider the historical freight of our collections? What (or who) has been left out? What biases (perhaps racist, sexist, homophobic) shaped past collecting and how can that be remedied or addressed? What interventions can we take to fill in gaps or to offer public critique or reflection? There is much talk about the lack of diversity in the field as a problem that needs to be remedied. I think this conversation rarely goes far enough, and I think one way to address this is to more openly and more critically engage in conversations about the gaps, erasures, and historical biases our collections carry forward. 

The easy answer here is that we will digitize many things on our way into that future, opening up our collections to new means of study beyond the bounds of our physical walls, but we must also not forget the importance of the tangible, the material. At the center of what we do and what we will continue to do is the almost transcendent human act of confronting an object made or used by another human being across vast distances of time and space. It’s a profound experience that we as rare book librarians get to oversee and make possible everyday. 

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

My training is largely in early printed books, but I’ve loved working with our exceptional collections of medieval and renaissance manuscripts from Ethiopian prayer scrolls to French books of hours, and jeweled treasure bindings to Armenian bindings with votive offerings affixed to the covers over generations. We have over thirteen hundred manuscripts, which is a lot for an institution in the United States. I’m continually surprised by the range and quality of what is housed in our collection.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

I think our exhibits program is really unparalleled. “Gatsby to Garp: Modern Masterpieces from the Carter Burden Collection” organized by my colleague Carolyn Vega is a thrilling romp through literary modernism from dust jacket design to the drama that surrounds a book’s becoming and release into the world. I look forward to having a bit of Oxford visiting New York when “Marks of Genius: Treasures from the Bodleian Library” opens soon. I’m also very excited about a Cy Twombly show planned for later in the year. It’s the kind of thing that would have me planning a trip to the MOMA, but instead it’s happening right here at the Morgan.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Katie Henningsen, Archivist & Digital Collections Coordinator at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington:

photo 3-1.JPGHow did you get started in rare books?

I became interested in rare books while completing my M.Phil. in Reformation and Enlightenment Studies at Trinity College Dublin.  There, I took a yearlong course on the history of the book, partially taught by Dr. Charles Benson, Keeper of Early Printed Books.  These sessions included working with materials from the collection, tours of the Early Printed Books room and facilities, and one exciting, but very cold January day spent in an unheated building working on a 19th century printing press.  I began the M.Phil. program believing I wanted to be a history professor, by the end of it I knew I wanted to spend my days working with rare books. 

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned an MSLIS with a concentration in Rare Books and Special Collections at the Palmer School, Long Island University.  Attending the Palmer School provided the opportunity to meet and learn from members of the rare book world in New York.  I was fortunate to study under Dr. Deirdre Stam, a wonderful mentor and advocate for her students.

What is your role at your institution?

My official title is Archivist and Digital Collections Coordinator.  I am responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Archives & Special Collections as well as chairing the digital projects committee.  As the first full time and sole special collections librarian at my institution I do a bit of everything; instruction, reference, outreach, collections management, digitization, acquisitions, and community outreach.

My time is increasingly spent on the public service aspects of my position. As faculty and students are becoming more aware of the Archives & Special Collections, there has been an increase in student researchers and requests from faculty for class sessions.  I am thrilled that there is such an interest in using the materials.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

This is such a difficult question.  Every time a new item arrives or I discover something in the collections, I get excited, though there are two items that I always come back to.

The first is an item I acquired for the collections shortly after arriving at Puget Sound.  It is a tattered pamphlet by Charles Herle, printed in 1642 at the start of the English Civil War.  I have taught with it a few times, and each time students comment on its condition, a perfect segue to our discussion of its use and the value of the item as a historic artifact.

The second is a letter in the New York Chamber of Commerce records at Columbia University.  While studying for my MSLIS, I worked at Columbia University as a bibliographic assistant on the New York Chamber of Commerce records.  The collection sounded quite dry initially, but as we went through the 300+ boxes we discovered a wealth of documents on the early development of New York City and correspondence from Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., General William T. Sherman, Theodore Roosevelt, and many more.  The letter I am referring to was written by A.B. See, an outspoken member of the Chamber, he sent a single sheet of paper to Charles Gwynne, secretary of the Chamber, with one line, 

Can a leopard change its spots, Mr. Gwynne?”  

The letter lacks a salutation or signature, which is unusual for See; all of his other letters are written on his company letterhead, addressed and signed.  If See intended to send this letter anonymously he made a crucial mistake; he included a return address on the envelope.  I didn’t have time while processing the collection to look through the correspondence and minutes of the Chamber to discover what prompted See to send this letter, but six years later I am still thinking about it!

Tell us about your Behind the Archives Door series:

The Behind the Archives Door series has been a lot of fun to develop and host.  The series features brief presentations by faculty and students who are using materials from the Archives & Special Collections in their teaching and research. The series is informal, after a brief presentation, we tend to have a lively Q&A, followed by the opportunity for the audience to take a closer look at the material under discussion.  During the academic year, we meet twice a month.  We are just wrapping up our first full year and have seen our attendance grow significantly, particularly among students and members of the community.

What do you personally collect?

In my personal collection I have a few pieces that relate to my M.Phil. research on early modern military academies and I hope to build on that in the future.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Everything!  I started making a list and attempted to narrow it down, but I enjoy 99.9% of what I do on a daily basis.  I love working with the students and having classes come to the Archives & Special Collections.  Each time I prepare for a class I discover new and exciting items in the collections.  The constant discovery and the opportunity to learn something new each day are wonderful aspects of the job and I hope to always feel a sense of wonder and excitement about what I get to do on a daily basis.

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

This is an exciting time for special collections; there are so many opportunities for increased access to our collections, both physical and digital.  Facilitating undergraduate research and faculty teaching with the materials has been my priority for the past few years.  I see our undergraduate students as future advocates for special collections.  Some of these students will go on to become academics, hopefully drawing on their institutions’ special collections for their teaching and research.  Those that do not stay in academe will have the power to advocate for our collections through local, state, and national legislation.  My goal is that their time in the Archives & Special Collections leaves them excited about the resources we hold and the importance of ensuring they are available for future generations.  

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

The Abby Williams Hill papers are a little known and under used resource.  Abby was a painter and social activist in the early 20th century.  She traveled extensively throughout the United States and completed a number of commissions for the railroads featuring scenes of the national parks.  We have her letters, diaries, photographs, and the vast majority of her paintings.  

In addition, students working in the Archives & Special Collections regularly add items they come across to our Tumblr.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We have a very active exhibition schedule!

Currently we have up “Stan!,” featuring the collection of Lyle “Stan” Shelmidine (1906-1966), a popular Puget Sound professor of Near and Far East history who travelled extensively, collecting books and artifacts.  Four art history students drew on Stan’s books, artifacts, and papers to create the exhibition, which they discussed as part of our Behind the Archives Door series.

Each summer we host the annual exhibition of the Puget Sound Book Artists’, on display from June 5 to July 31, 2014.  In August we will co-host an international juried exhibition of book art focusing on social and political issues, “Book Power Redux,” with 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland, Oregon.

In October we will open “Sparking Imaginations,” an exhibition on the history of electrical science and electrical power, curated by faculty in the Physics and the Science, Technology, & Society departments.  This exhibition will span multiple buildings on campus and feature scientific instruments, our history of science collection, and (hopefully) some live experiments.

Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Sara Sterkenburg, Cataloging and Exhibition Services Librarian at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

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How did you get started in rare books?

 

Early into college I grew enamored with how histories have been expressed visually in different cultures and times. By that I do mean art and architecture, but also the design of newspapers and typefaces, fashion, film, political symbols, and how the technology and politics of the time drove these processes. I knew I wanted to work with art or special collections right away. But it wasn’t until I spent a summer during graduate school digitally archiving and cataloging a newspaper and ephemera collection at the Museo Nacional de Arte in La Paz, Bolivia that I knew I more specifically I wanted to describe them. That role was the most challenging one I’ve ever had, made increasingly difficult by a cataloging language barrier, technology gap, and short timeline. But in the end, the access to these materials was immediately and measurably heightened. After that experience I took on a lot of similar opportunities with unique collections, particularly those that involved working with metadata or taxonomy development. I enjoy every moment of it!

 

Where did you earn your advanced degree?


I hold a Master of Science in Information (MSI) degree from the University of Michigan’s School of Information.

 

What is your role at your institution?


My official title at Vanderbilt University is Cataloging and Exhibition Services Librarian. The position itself is actually split 50/50 between two distinct types of work, but I wear a lot of hats - most of them involve wrangling metadata in some capacity. On one side I am the cataloger for our non-archival materials in the Special Collections Library. This typically means rare, fine press books, and artists’ books. But it can also mean video, audio, music, ephemera, objects, or maps.

 

The other side of my job involves working with an amazing team on exhibit design in our libraries. My main responsibility is to handle metadata creation and input for our program. I work with our curators pretty directly, explaining the schema we use for our program (VRA Core 4.0) building documentation around that, and helping them to identify as much information as we can about each artifact using terminology and fields allowed by the schema. We are fortunate to have not only physical exhibition space, but also online exhibits and some very cool interactive touchscreen monitors in our libraries. These enable us to offer high-resolution images and more expansive metadata to supplement the physical cases and make the exhibit as a whole more interactive and impactful for our campus and community.

 

On your website you mention an interest in “systems, access, and high-fidelity metadata.” Could you tell us more about this and how it relates to cataloging rare books?

 

When I work with rare books I think, deeply, about what someone would be looking for in that object, and I describe it and record it with that in mind. There is a huge responsibility in assigning metadata - but especially so with rare items: we may be the only institution who has it, and I may be the only person who ever describes it, so it’s important that it’s done right. I work very hard at that every day. But beyond cataloging, the system that houses a record must be equally robust and flexible, and its design must make sense to the people using it. Making sure, for example, transliterated titles display correctly in a catalog system and the library website isn’t always easy. Access problems like this happen long before a user touches a book or downloads a journal article. I care about these things because I realize the path to access and scholarship isn’t always straightforward. In the digital age, we have to be aware of every facet of the discovery process in order to do justice to the small parts of it that fall in our lap.

 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


That’s a hard question. Can I cite one type of thing rather than a single book? Perhaps because I love modern and post-modern art, I’m interested in books that beg the question: “is this even a book?” Dealing with describing resources that aren’t sure what they are is a wholly separate issue, but I love it when people push conceptual boundaries with their craft.


What do you personally collect?


I’m afraid to say I’m more of a dabbler or sampler than devoted collector. I have an interest in weird book ephemera that I’m starting to hone more and more - maybe I’ll turn that into a Tumblr someday. But like many of my peers who have been interviewed for this series, I pretty much prefer to keep the collecting at my institution and not at home, where the materials represent far more interesting people!

 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?


As someone who works with creating and refining metadata for a living, I am of course interested in semantics and providing greater access to rare materials. But, in coming from an information science graduate program rather than a traditional library science curriculum, I was raised as a librarian in coursework grounded by design, data analysis, user experience studies, and digital preservation. So, I truly value having a technology tool-belt. And I think that with all types of librarianship that’s a growing necessity. For rare books, there’s a constant battle between these materials that are so fragile and innately historical, and the rapidly increasing user demand for digital access in new, increasingly innovative and flexible ways. User demand, luckily, often drives funding, so there is opportunity for grants and support on digital projects for primary resources. It’s an exciting time to be a young rare books librarian. New skills are continually required to keep up with this remarkably intelligent field, so  I definitely keep one foot in the print universe and one in the digital, and I very much love living in that intersect.

 

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

 

The future is very bright! It shouldn’t be a surprise that growth in the management of rare books and special collections is becoming more and more digitally focused. I am seeing fascinating projects coming out of so many different institutions. As the digital humanities expand, we are seeing desire for the re-use and repurposing of data, as well as the creation and extraction of new types of data from our collections. I think we will especially see collaboration with international bodies to digitize rare materials that haven’t previously been accessible across borders.

 

I am particularly interested in seeing where the future takes us with new schema and more robust metadata for rare collections, because I think that will really be the foundation that paves the way for our institutions to continue exploring data curation and big data concepts. I see future projects requiring new types of information professionals in our institutions who are equipped with data mining and programming knowledge and can work with developers to use frameworks like Hadoop to query our metadata and extract new knowledge from our rare materials. This will undoubtedly translate to more interdisciplinary data comparisons, and working with people who used to operate in different silos, but now value cross-pollination from other fields and industries.

 

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


Yes! Vanderbilt University is home to the Television News Archives, which is the most extensive collection of television news in the world! For books, we have an impressive and growing collection of artists’ books - including a large amount of Claire Van Vliet and Barry Moser’s works, all of which have beautiful craftsmanship. In our archives I would point to the James M. Lawson, Jr. Papers, which cover the Civil Rights Movement, include James Earl Ray correspondences, and document much of Reverend Lawson’s activities: including fighting for gay rights, prisoners’ rights, and for basic equality for more than sixty years.

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Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Sarah Burke Cahalan, Special Projects and Reference Librarian at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC.

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How did you get started in rare books?

My first library job was an apprenticeship in the Weissman Preservation Center when I was an undergraduate at Harvard.  I cleaned awful adhesives off of colonial currency--yes, I was a money launderer--and I made clamshell boxes for daguerreotypes.  At the same time, I worked in an independent bookstore, which is where I started to learn about reference services.  After college (thanks to a grant), I had a vagabond year in which I read poetry and rode trains in Europe and Asia.  I spent time with beekeepers in Malta, Tunisia, Italy, and Slovenia.  The amazing thing is that my interest in apiculture is relevant to my current work with rare garden books, which often have coverage of beekeeping and other types of animal husbandry.  My MA in medieval art focused on the making of art objects; it was supervised by a codicologist at the Courtauld Institute, where I also worked part-time in the archives.  By the time I arrived at Simmons for my MLIS I knew to search out people who could teach me about special collections and rare books librarianship.  I finished the degree in 2010--not an amazing time for library jobs!  So I was very happy to find my way to Dumbarton Oaks.

Please introduce us to Dumbarton Oaks and your role there:

Dumbarton Oaks is a Washington, DC-based research institute of Harvard University.  We support research in Byzantine, Garden & Landscape, and Pre-Columbian Studies.  Dumbarton Oaks offers fellowships throughout the year as well as short-term research stipends and internships.  We also have several hundred authorized Readers who routinely visit the Library.  The institute includes Gardens, a Museum, Archival Collections, and a Publications department.  I divide my time between the Research Library and the Rare Book Collection.  The Rare Book Collection supports scholarship in all three subject areas, but it is strongest in Garden & Landscape because of the collecting interests of Mildred Barnes Bliss, one of the founders of Dumbarton Oaks.

My title, Special Projects & Reference Librarian, encompasses the range of my duties.  I do day-to-day reference work and answer complex questions about rare book holdings.  I try to maintain a social media presence for the Rare Book Collection.  I supervise the Rare Book Reading Room four afternoons a week and handle many of the image orders we receive there.  I developed our online exhibit template and the content type for describing rare books (using a MARC-Dublin Core crosswalk).  I hosted a “miracle fruit” party a couple of years back.  I co-organized a symposium in October 2013 titled “The Botany of Empire in the Long Eighteenth Century,” and am currently working on the symposium volume with my co-editors.  I’ve supervised two interns and look forward to working with more interns in the future.  One of the really fun parts of my job is working with the Museum’s gift shop to develop products that use images from the collection.  “Special projects” can mean any number of things!

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I get really excited about manuscript copies of printed works.  The amount of labor that goes into this sort of project is astounding.  One example I’ve returned to several times is a late eighteenth-century manuscript copy of Paolo Boccone’s 1697 Museo di piante rare, with added Linnaean names and morphological details.  Items that complicate my ideas of what is unique and what is a reproduction always catch my interest.  For example, Dumbarton Oaks holds several albums prepared by workshops of artists in Penang, Malacca, and Singapore for Europeans stationed abroad; the illustrations in these albums were copied and assembled for purchase, meaning that similar paintings are extant in multiple horticultural libraries today.
 
What do you personally collect?

I prefer to keep my responsibility for cultural heritage materials at work, where there’s proper HVAC, emergency preparation, etc.  If I acquire anything these days it is all of the kids’ books I loved when I was growing up.  But they quickly get applesauce on them.  My house is not a safe place for books and it won’t be for at least a decade, when my children are less inclined to chew on things that should not be chewed upon.  I do have a beautiful wooden card catalog which is mostly used for seed packets, shells, and other little objects.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I love that almost everything I have ever found interesting is relevant to my job.  I worked part-time at the Harvard Botany Libraries while I was attending Simmons.  I remember the day I realized how important my knowledge of Latin was going to be in helping a scholar who was researching the earliest documentation of specific plants.  It was thrilling!  I had been developing obscure skill sets and interests for years, and here was a profession in which they could actually be useful.  Even my guilty pleasures--I have subscribed to Vogue for years, and I love British publications like Tatler--end up being useful when I know the name of a particular country estate or a particular detail about the history of costume.  On a good day, I get to share discoveries from the collection with people in our community and beyond.  Rare book librarianship is really the best job in the world.

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

I am interested in the combination of our assets with other datasets.  No matter one’s opinion on MOOCs, our digital facsimiles can gain new traction and new audiences as learning moves online.  Interoperability of digital collections (such as that facilitated by IIIF and linked open data) will make it possible to compare disparate collections in the same platform.  The potential uses of GIS for understanding intellectual history are extraordinary.  Of course these big projects require collaboration across departments and institutions, not to mention time and money.

The boundaries among rare book librarianship, visual resources, and the sciences are blurring.  So many of the questions I handle are along the lines of “Can you help me find an image of _____?”--whether it’s an archaeological site or a period map or a particular plant.  There are fantastic print resources and databases for some of these queries (natural history in particular), but others are lacking.  Much of it comes down to knowing the collections and knowing the personality of specific library catalogs.  But it’s also important to keep up with developing tools and metadata standards in fields other than our own.  I just learned about Audubon Core, a descriptive metadata standard for biodiversity resources, and I’ve been working with natural history materials for years.

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

Yes!--in collaboration with Jason W. Dean at the University of Arkansas I am working on S. Fred Prince, an illustrator of natural history who worked primarily in the Ozarks in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Much of his work is based on specimens he collected and observed in the field.  He produced work on ferns, wildflowers, caves, and butterflies.  The manuscript materials are now held in a number of collections around the United States.  Some are at Dumbarton Oaks, including a manuscript on ferns that also includes maps and pressed specimens.  We hope to gain more exposure for his work.  We’ve just started putting materials on Tumblr and I’m sure I’ll be Tweeting developments @stampedinblind.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We have two exhibit spaces and four of us share curatorial responsibilities, so we always have new exhibits going up.  Since some of the exhibit space isn’t routinely accessible to the general public, we’ve been trying to curate at least one online exhibit a year.  My colleague and I are planning an exhibit on Hagia Sophia for next winter.  Several departments at Dumbarton Oaks (notably the Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives) have important documents and objects relating to this site, many of which have been or are in the process of being digitized, so in addition to an on-site exhibit we are developing an online portal as a reference tool.  This is the sort of project that will be of use to a broad spectrum of visitors, since Hagia Sophia is the best-known work of Byzantine architecture.


Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Jason W. Dean, Assistant Librarian and Head of the Special Formats Cataloging Unit at the University of Arkansas.

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How did you get started in rare books?


While I was still in library school I volunteered in the research library at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, which is to my mind one of the great undiscovered American book places, as Nicholas A. Basbanes calls them. I am constantly indebted to the great library and archives staff there that allowed me to try my hand at many different things - cataloging maps and rare materials, writing about Diderot’s Encyclopédie, and working with the papers of the Hardinge Family and Eliot Porter. However,  my real “start” in rare books was as the cataloger at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.  The library there holds a significant and largely unknown collection - the American color plate collection, collected by William S. Reese. This collection is an under-researched gem, something I am trying to address in my own writing and scholarship. The time I spent cataloging those items was very much an education by necessity in rare books and bibliography. I am fortunate that my current position is broad enough (and the administration supports my varied interests) that I can continue doing work in special collections as well as my other responsibilities. This means I continue thinking about and working with rare books in my present position - something I’ll discuss more below.


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?


I earned my MSLIS at Syracuse University, and I am currently in the PhD program in history here at the University of Arkansas, looking at the history of the book in the American West with Elliott West and Beth Schweiger. I am really interested in using books as context for history, and looking closely at the material evidence that books are. Placing these objects in the context of their own time enhances the users’ understanding of the object itself, its intellectual content, and the wider context of ideas. This contextualization is so important to me, I think, due to my background in art museums, where the contextualization of artworks is a key element in art historical scholarship.


What is your role at your institution?


I am assistant librarian and head of the special formats cataloging unit at the University of Arkansas Libraries. Our unit handles media, theses, and dissertations. Recently, I’ve been tasked with cataloging items for our amazing Arkansas Collections and a rare book collection in conjunction with my “work next-door neighbor,” special collections cataloger Mikey King, in addition to the head of special collections, Tim Nutt. It’s lovely to wear lots of hats - something I did at my previous two institutions. I am immensely grateful to my supervisor and the library administration for supporting me in my varied professional and scholarly interests.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


Any time I hold a one of a kind item, it’s such a thrill. That said, at this very moment I am researching the life and works of a botanical illustrator named S. Fred Prince in conjunction with Sarah Burke Cahalan at Dumbarton Oaks. We are presenting a paper on Prince, his life, his work, and our research methods at the RBMS preconference in Las Vegas this year. I’ve detailed many of my favorite things in my old tumblr in a series called Neat Things I’ve Cataloged. Those were mostly things I worked on at my previous workplace, though.


What do you personally collect?


Far too much! It should be no surprise that my wife and I have an overflowing home library that includes several fine press books, signed books, and so on. Our home library reflects our varied interests in history, writing, education, and art. Outside of our overflowing bookshelves, we also collect the work of artists Allison V. Smith, Craig Varjabedian, Shannon Richardson, Scott Barber, and the work of John Kristensen and his Firefly Press.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


Like I said above, the thrill that comes from handling, thinking about, and chiefly sharing the amazing items in rare book collections. Handling these items really puts our profession in a much larger picture - that we are simply caretakers of these items for the next group of patrons and librarians, and so on. It makes one feel very humble to have these things entrusted to you.


However, the real excitement for me is in the sharing of these items. The experience reminds me of a Mark Rothko quote:


A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore risky to send it out into the world. How often it must be impaired by the eyes of the unfeeling and the cruelty of the impotent.


These books only live when they are used, talked about, and appreciated. I remember singing a song as a child about how love is only something if you give it away - and that is true for rare books as well. It’s all well and good to store and preserve these titles, but they have no real “life” unless we speak up on their behalf - as they aren’t standing up and dancing on the shelves!


One of the great thrills for me of late has been interacting with other rare books and special collections folks on twitter - it’s the best community I’ve found online, frankly, and I am so happy to be a small part of that.


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


The importance of special collections and rare book librarianship comes for me in the material object. I understand and am committed to the creation and description of digital surrogates, but to my mind the key to the successful future of special collections and rare book librarianship lay in the physicality objects in this realm. Perhaps I am in danger of repeating my above response, but without an analog copy of the items in these collections, how will we provide digital surrogates of these items? All of this reminds me of one of my favorite New Yorker covers.


I recently watched William S. Reese’s talk about the Zinman Collection at the Library Company of Philadelphia, and an extract from that talk seems very germane:


One argument for the necessity of using original sources is the notion that the original artifact lends an immediacy to our understanding of the text. We handle and observe firsthand the aesthetic of a place and time, providing context to text.


Though he might disagree with Reese’s quote, John Overholt did a lovely job of talking about this advocacy in his Five Theses on the Future of Special Collections. In the article Overholt asserts that special collections “cannot survive merely as a prestigious ornament to the university; we will need to articulate the centrality of our collections to the university’s mission.” Of course, John is right on-point on this - the items in special collections - rare books, manuscripts, &c are indeed lovely, but their real value is in their physical nature. Paper, binding, marginalia, associations, notes - so many of these have direct bearing on scholarship done both inside and outside the academy. I suppose my rejoinder to John’s point is to re-emphasize the unique nature of these items, and tie this uniqueness to scholarly activities, and directly to the university’s mission and goals.


Of course, there are a myriad of challenges for the preservation of, and access to, born-digital materials, something we will contend with as professionals for the foreseeable future. Here at the U of A library, the university archives are a part of special collections, so that makes the born-digital concerns of great interest to special collections librarians and collections.


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


I recently completed working with a group to complete a digital project we called CAPA, or, the Colonial Arkansas Post Ancestry Project. Arkansas Post was one of a myriad of posts and settlements established by the French to legitimize their claims to the Mississippi River. As such, it’s far older than most people might suspect - Henri de Tonti established the post in 1689. The project is based largely on the personal papers of Dorothy Jones Core, held in special collections here. Core was interested in the genealogy and ancestry of those French and later Spanish families that lived at or were associated with Arkansas Post. Her life’s work dealt with researching and collating the disparate primary source materials that deal with French and Spanish colonial activities in North America.


There is a large body of secondary material, chiefly by Judge Morris Arnold, alumni of the law school here at the University of Arkansas, and recently retired FISA and federal appeals court judge. However, the majority of the items in the CAPA collection are primary source materials, and as such we have digitized many items not previously available online. Our work in establishing controlled forms of family and place names, as well as in transcribing and translating these documents will make CAPA a key resource for users examining either genealogy or early Euro-Arkansas history. This part was especially challenging, as the Post was first French, then Spanish - with the resulting written record being a unique melange of those languages and spellings. Bringing a level of consistent description and access through the creation and application of controlled vocabulary to places and names was both challenging and fascinating to me as a librarian and a historian. Of course, having one of the largest repositories of Arkansas related materials one floor down made that work far easier.


Of course, these materials are only part of a much larger collection of manuscripts, from those of J. William Fulbright to the noted architect E. Fay Jones.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


On display right now is Isaac C. Parker’s personal copy of the Constitution, which was recently donated to the library. Also recently opened were the papers of retired Arkansas senator Dale Bumpers.



Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Allison Jai O’Dell, Special Collections Cataloging and Metadata Librarian at the University of Miami.


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How did you get started in rare books?


By following sage advice.  My undergraduate degrees were in ancient history and classical languages.  This educational path doesn’t often translate into a ready (let alone lucrative) career, so I went to work as a database administrator.  I quickly became enamored of information management and enrolled in library school at The Catholic University of America.  During the first months of my MLS program, everyone kept saying, “You know Latin and Greek?  Have you thought about rare books?”  So, I heeded their collective recommendation and registered for courses on book history and rare books librarianship.  Being trained in archaeological methodology, exploring book history felt natural to me.  Something clicked: this was the perfect way to combine my academic background and professional experience.

 

I hear you also have a background in book arts. Tell us more:


Once I immersed myself in rare book cataloging, it became clear that to do the work justice, I was going to have to learn to reverse engineer a book artifact.  That is, I was going to have to learn to make books.  I enrolled in the Corcoran College of Art and Design’s M.A. program in “Art and the Book.”  Studio practice in printmaking, typography, layout design, binding, and papermaking offered a foundation for assessing the products of these activities that has proved invaluable in describing and arranging them.  I draw upon my knowledge of the book arts constantly in my work, and always refer new professionals to Kathleen Walkup’s essay, “Why Book Arts Matter.” 


What is your role at your institution?


I serve as the Special Collections Cataloging and Metadata Librarian for the University of Miami Libraries.  Practically speaking, I am involved in all things that relate to facilitating intellectual access to print and manuscript materials in our special collections.  My duties include “traditional” rare book cataloging, metadata management, policy development, and collaborative work with the systems and web development teams to build better user experiences. 


I am fortunate to work with future-focused colleagues who are creatively reconsidering the habits of twenty-first-century information consumers.  Lately, I have been facilitating usability studies to improve and invent front-end interfaces, coordinating library-wide discussions to address implementation of linked data features and open metadata strategies, and investigating possibilities available in new systems and schemas. 


And naturally, I take pictures and blog.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?


I adore Melissa Jay Craig’s work.  She engages with book aesthetics and book form through the corporeal nature of handmade paper, and she creates conversations about the experience of reading in the absence of textual content.  Finding “Working Philosophy” at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts was definitely my favorite book-object experience.


What do you personally collect?


My apartment is full of prints, books, and textiles made by friends and colleagues.  I keep them for their sentimental value - because I know the stories behind their creation, I respect the labor involved in making, and I’m fond of their makers.  But I don’t endeavor to be a collector.  I live with two house rabbits who frequently make snacks out of works on paper.  My home isn’t the most appropriate space for stewarding artifacts into future use.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?


I love being employed in the study of material culture.  Everyday objects, such as books and ephemera, are a record of who we are, what we do, and what we want.  I’m fascinated by the anthropological aspects of my career.


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


I see an increasingly exhibition-heavy role for special collections and rare book libraries.  A few days ago, I was explaining my job to a new friend.  I said that I work to help users access the information in our catalogs and databases.  Her response was, “So, you make infographics?”  I laughed, but it was a very telling moment.  The public assumes that information professionals will curate information for them, and services that distill content into a meaningful and digestible product appear attractive.  Besides, audiences expect museum-like programming when we promote the artifactual value of our material.  Graphic displays and narrative formats have the power to extract and present knowledge, and we can harness this capacity through exhibits, blogs, data visualizations - and yes, infographics.


 I also envision research analyst positions growing among the special collections workforce.  We train as researchers in book and human history; we become intimately familiar with our collections and their descriptive metadata; we cultivate strengths in investigative methodologies and data mining techniques - and yet, we typically stop short of performing research services ourselves.  In an age of information obesity, and given the potential for collaboration available in the digital humanities, I think that might change. 


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


The Jackie Gleason Collection focuses on parapsychology, including both scholarly and popular works in areas such as occultism, reincarnation, hypnotism, UFOs, ghosts, spiritual healing, demonology, magic, telepathy, astral projection, clairvoyance... really, really cool stuff.


 Our Artists’ Books Collection is what drew me to the University of Miami.  It’s a top-notch representation of the genre and highly regarded among contemporary artists. 


 I was surprised to discover that our zine collections are both quite substantial and fully described.  They provide amazing primary source material for researching political, social, sexual, and musical subcultures of the latter 20th century.  The Firefly Zine Collection was donated by former residents of the Firefly, a local Miami collective house and important part of Miami’s punk rock and activist scene.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?


Golly, lots!  “?#@*$%! the Mainstream: The Art of DIY Self Expression,” which ran at the University of Miami Lowe Art Museum this past winter, will be seeing a reprise at the Otto G. Richter Library in the coming year.  Our Special Collections Division is working on an exhibit showcasing local culinary culture.  (Being a cultural melting pot with indigenous tropical fruits, Miami is a great place for chow!)  The Cuban Heritage Collection (CHC) is a partner in bringing the Guantanamo Public Memory Project to the University of Miami in October.  And the CHC’s fall 2014 exhibition will be on Manuel Ochoa, founder of the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Katharine Chandler, Reference Librarian in the Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

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How did you get started in rare books?

I majored in medieval studies at Smith College and had some familiarity with medieval manuscripts, but was not involved with special collections until I studied with D. W. Krummel at the University of Illinois in preparation for my library degree.  I attended U of I in order to become a music librarian, and my first course in library school was his famous bibliography class. I continued to take all courses offered at U of I related to special collections (this was before they offered a special collections certificate). I also acted as Professor Krummel’s assistant for his Rare Book School (RBS) course, “The Music of America on Paper,” and absolutely fell in love with RBS.

I made my way to Philadelphia to become a music librarian, and eventually transferred to the Rare Book Department (RBD) within the Free Library of Philadelphia. Once in the RBD, I dedicated myself to rare book librarianship and haven’t looked back.

Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned my MLS at the University of Illinois, and my MA in medieval history at Villanova University. 

What is your role at your institution?

I am a curator, reference librarian, page, you name it.  It’s a small department and we only have two seats in the study!  I interpret collections, teach classes, curate full-scale exhibitions, conduct research, help researchers and scholars find what they need, catalog, create metadata--the list goes on. I also regularly tweet pictures of items in the collections and have a personal blog

Most of the special collections librarians that we’ve interviewed so far work for academic institutions. Any particular challenges or benefits to working for special collections in a public library setting?

One major benefit to working in a public library is that I work in a full curatorial capacity. We also offer tours to the general public on a daily basis, and I have the opportunity to educate people from all over the world, from all walks of life--I show real objects: a cuneiform tablet, a leaf from a Gutenberg Bible, an Egyptian Book of the Dead from around 800 BC, a Book of Hours, a disappearing fore-edge painting, a horn book, early children’s books, and vanity bindings.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

The most exciting book I ever came across was a noted Beneventan missal at the Walters (W 6). Beneventan musical notation is quite rare, especially so in an entire codex (11th century). 

What do you personally collect?

I presently have an Indiana Jones complex, but that might change over time.  Right now I only look to collect for the institution.  As my nieces get older, I might start thinking about collecting for them.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The materials, of course.  A job working with these kinds of objects never grows tiresome.  I love teaching classes and working with scholars.  I enjoy imparting the information I have and learning more about the materials from experts.  I believe I have a special role, caring for collections that are part of society’s heritage.

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

As an historian, I feel that the use of material texts is becoming increasingly relevant. The trend in the humanities (especially so in the study of history) in the middle part of the 20th century was to use secondary sources.  This has begun to change over the last twenty or thirty years.  More recently, students of the humanities, and in other fields, are turning not just to published primary texts, but to artifacts themselves.  I think special collections professionals will become vitally more important as a result of this trend. 

Additionally, I think we all know how incredibly important it is to become more tech-savvy as a field and as individual professionals. I work for a public library, and we don’t have the same kind of funding as a major university might.  However, in our small way, we’ve been able to get some parts of collections digitized and available to the world. The numbers of visitors to the collections that have been digitized directly correlate--for instance, the more medieval manuscripts we have examples of online, the more visitors we’ve had in the department to use them from all over the world. The more children’s books we have in our online catalog, the more folks we have making appointments to come in and see them in person. There are arguments that once there are digital surrogates of materials online, people won’t need to see the original artifacts, and I find that is not the case at all.  In fact, I believe it increases a library’s usership.

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

I’m always afraid special collections professionals, scholars, and students are unaware of the amazing treasures we have. 
 
Founded in 1891, the Free Library was part of a growth of circulating libraries wherein people could borrow books without paying an annual fee. The first librarian and his assistant received their first rare collection of incunabula in 1899. The Rare Book Department, permanently installed by 1949, comprises wonderful collections of Poe, Dickens, Beatrix Potter, medieval manuscripts, “Oriental” manuscripts, Americana, cuneiform tablets, Rackham, children’s books, and illustrators.
 
One collection in particular that is so far not in the OPAC nor digitized is the Horace collection. Given to the Free Library by Moncure Biddle, the Horace collection is a treasure of great printers and fine bindings from the incunabula period to the present.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
 
I would like to mention that right now, we have a newly opened space, the William B. Dietrich Gallery.  On display for the 450th birthday of Shakespeare is our First Folio, considered to be one of the two rarest in the world. That exhibition is “Shakespeare For All Time,” and we’re very excited about it.  I’m working with a colleague on the next exhibition, which will open this summer. The focus will be on calendars, the zodiac, and astrology from all over the world: drawing on our medieval manuscripts, non-Western manuscripts, prints, and Americana.

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.

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How did you get started in rare books?

After earning my MLS from the University of Buffalo, I began my career as a reference librarian at the University of Maine at Orono. There I studied with Linne Mooney, who is now Professor of Medieval English Palaeography at the University of York. She introduced me to palaeography and codicology. At the same time, I was studying Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene with an amazing mentor named Burton Hatlen. These two experiences were fundamental. Five years later I was finishing my dissertation on Edmund Spenser and the History of the Book and beginning a career in rare book librarianship that has taken me to The Ohio State University Libraries, The Folger Shakespeare Library, and now to RIT’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection.

What is your role at your institution?

As Curator of the Cary Collection, I manage a special collections library documenting graphic communication history. This includes acquiring new material, working with donors, curating exhibitions, and hosting events. Overall, I try to be an effective ambassador for our library. One of the great joys of my job is teaching a course each year called “Tablet to Tablet: A History of the Book.” We start the semester with cuneiform clay tablets and end with whatever technology the students have in their pockets. 

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

This is a very difficult question. I’ve been lucky to handle a number of extraordinary artifacts. The Folger Shakespeare Library has two legal documents that once belonged to William Shakespeare. Holding manuscripts that Shakespeare once held in his hands is pretty incredible. On perhaps the other end of the spectrum, the only book I’ve ever photographed myself holding is a Bible that belonged to Elvis. 

My new favorite acquisition at the Cary Collection is twenty fonts of Hebrew wood type that were used in Yiddish newspapers at the turn of the last century. Not only are these fonts simply beautiful, they are an important piece of American history.

What do you personally collect?

I have never really caught the collecting bug, so I have a very modest library consisting mainly of books of poetry. Most of the books in my house belong to my two young daughters. 

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The constant discovery.  Librarianship offers a life of learning. Every day when I open the Cary Collection I am greeted by a room full of historical treasures waiting to share their stories. Working at RIT is particularly exciting. Rare book libraries aren’t typically found at institutes of technology. Here I get to see firsthand fields such as game design and imagining science interacting with special collections. My colleagues and I collaborate with scholars and students in fields that are playing increasingly important roles in our field. They see our collection in unconventional and inspirational ways.

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

Special collections are an essential part of the future of libraries. More than ever, the rare and unique materials preserved in academic and public libraries define the personalities of those libraries and will continue to attract readers both in person and online. Manuscripts and realia will especially grow in importance. There is an enormous amount of information waiting be uncovered in these sometimes underused media. Special collection libraries are also at the forefront of the digital humanities.

Librarians need to have the skills and vocabulary required to interact with their technology partners. Also, libraries need to be embedded with programmers and scientists. 

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

The collection that our readers seem to find the most exciting is our collection of historical printing presses. We currently have sixteen presses, all of which are still in use. This collection is complemented by over 1500 fonts of metal and wood type. With the support of a generous donor, we recently acquired the 1891 Albion printing press used by William Morris to print the Kelmscott Chaucer, and later used by Frederic Goudy and our namesake Melbert B. Cary, Jr. We are currently in the process of restoring and reassembling it. If all goes well, we’ll have a welcome party for the press in April. I can’t wait to pull my first impression on it.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Our spring exhibition, The Printed Poem, The Poem as Print, is curated by my colleague Amelia Fontanel and features a collection of American poetry broadsides printed between 1983 and 1985 at the Press of Colorado College. Exhibition programming will include poetry readings and some printing of our own. For more information, please visit: http://library.rit.edu/cary/exhibitions.    
Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Alex Johnston, the Senior Assistant Librarian in the Special Collections Library at the University of Delaware.

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How did you get started in rare books?

When I was about half-way through my last year of undergrad at the University at Buffalo I was offered a student assistant position at the Poetry Collection, the University’s special collections department. I had used the collection a few times to do research, so I had a general familiarity with them and their collections, but up until then it wouldn’t really have crossed my mind that you could do that for a living. At the time I was working as a student assistant shelving books in the main library, so it seemed like an obvious choice to transfer there, if only because it would be the more interesting position. But I had no expectation at all that this would lead to a career move - I just thought it was going to be something interesting to do for a few months before I graduated. They initially hired me to work on their James Joyce collection, which was being recataloged by a scholar located in Ireland; I was basically to serve as the proxy between him and the originals. A lot of the initial work consisted of checking and correcting his descriptive catalog drafts against the originals; later they had me doing more involved things like original cataloging for some of the unprocessed materials. I quickly found that the material itself was so fascinating that even otherwise tedious things like basic proofreading were kind of elevated by the nature of what I was getting to work with. They have the world’s biggest collection of Joyce materials, and I spent the better part of my time there working with their Ulysses material (manuscript notebooks, corrected page proofs, boxes and boxes of typescript drafts). I really enjoyed working with the materials and as I began to realize that this was something that you could actually do for a living, I opted to stick around to get a Masters degree. Having behind-the-scenes access to the whole of their collection made a big difference in terms of pushing me in that direction, too - that really helped open my eyes to this whole world. Their specialty is twentieth century poetry and they have been collecting in that area since the department was founded in 1937, so they have almost anything you could think of in that area. And the initial donation that had started their department was a collection, assembled in the earlier twentieth century, of all the highlights of English and American literature - Shakespeare folios, every Kelmscott Press book on paper and on vellum, etc. Added to all of that, the staff there were all incredibly enthusiastic about their work and the collection, so, being in that kind of atmosphere, that made a huge difference. After just a few weeks there it was pretty much clear that this is what I should be doing.

Where did you earn your MLS?

The MLS was at the University at Buffalo, the same place I did my undergraduate degree. I was able to keep working at the Poetry Collection while doing my Masters degree, which made for a really great practical education. In addition to the Joyce work, I kept picking up other responsibilities - a lot of cataloging projects with everything from sixteenth-century books to modern poetry, some exhibition work - so that by the time I graduated I had already about a year and a half of practical experience. Working there also allowed me to tailor my course work and assignments more towards a special collections track, and I tried to incorporate their collections into my assignments as much as possible.

What is your role at your institution?

I’m one of the rare books librarians in the Special Collections department. I do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into managing the rare book collection and making it available to researchers - selecting items for conservation, identifying things that need protective housing, sending things to and from the cataloging department, etc - and I work with the department head on the acquisitions and collection development process. One of the great things about our department is that, between budgets, friends groups, and donors, we’re able to keep making significant additions to the collection, so there’s always interesting new materials coming in. I’m also on a rotating exhibition schedule, where I’m responsible for curating the exhibition in our gallery, either on my own or with other co-curators. And I do a lot of user education sessions where classes will come in to see and work with special collections materials related to their coursework. Given the variety of collection materials, I can be teaching about anything from early printed books to science fiction pulp magazines to the history of science.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

It’s hard to pick just one item, especially since our holdings cover so many different time periods and subjects. We have so many neat things in the collection that it’s easy to lose track of them. It’s always fun to see early editions or association copies of writers that I’m especially fond of, and I’ve long been especially partial to early printed books in general - I like the fact that, even though they’re more or less mass-produced objects, each one is still unique, with its own story to tell. I’m especially fond of books that have some kind of history or human connection behind them. One that’s always stood out was a 1535 Erasmus Bible that I worked with when I was a graduate student at the University at Buffalo. The book was interesting to me less for the text than for its marginalia and provenance. It had passed through ten different owners between 1550 and 1910, all of whom had signed and dated their names on the title page, usually with details of where they acquired the book, who they got it from, etc, so that you could trace the book’s movements for nearly five hundred years. Every single page of the book was full of marginalia, in several different hands, such that the book probably contained more handwritten ink than printed ink. It was neat to be able to see the book not just as an artifact or a museum piece, but as something that people now long gone had been actively reading and studying and marking up. Another favorite, at Delaware, is a copy of Boswell’s Life of Johnson that was owned by a contemporary of Johnson’s, Dr. Cadogan. Cadogan knew all the people described in the book, and apparently he loathed them all, as he took the trouble to annotate his copy with lots and lots of vitriolic rants about everyone described in the book. And then, more comically, there was the copy of A Farewell to Arms at Buffalo that Ernest Hemingway had inscribed to James Joyce. Hemingway wanted Joyce to be able to read the unedited text, so he went through the book and handwrote in all of the expletives that the censors had deleted from the printed edition.

What do you personally collect?

I actually don’t collect much anymore - I find that working in a library has kind of cured me of the habit. There’s so much at hand here, between special collections and the circulating collection, that I don’t really feel the need to. And at this point I find it much more rewarding to collect for an institution. The antiquarian books that I’m interested in have a much better home here than they would in my collection.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Every day I get to work with and learn from historic artifacts; I think that pretty much sums it up. There’s an enormous amount of human history here, and there’s always something new to see and learn about, and it’s really rewarding to share that with others, whether through classes or exhibitions or working individually with researchers.

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

I think we’ve been seeing a continuing trend of encouraging use of special collection materials, which is a good thing. Particularly at UD we’ve been doing a lot to encourage use of the collection by undergraduates. (Although there’s still an ongoing need to counter the long-running belief that special collections is a place full of expensive, fragile old books that no one is allowed to use.) Digitization is opening up a lot of opportunities to expand access to materials - what with fully digitized collections available online, as well as with services like our Digitization on Demand - for users who wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel to the library to use materials on site. And at the same time I think we’re seeing an increased interest in the rare book as physical artifact - all these things that we can learn from these materials as physical materials, things that you can’t necessarily compress into a computer. There’s certainly plenty of interest in our collections. I think we benefit from the fact that, for many people, our materials can be inherently of interest as physical artifacts, and that we’re a place in the library where you’re guaranteed to find things that you can’t see anywhere else in the world. I think we’re in an especially good position to stand out as what’s unique about our institutions. So I think the profession is in an interesting position.

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

We’ve got all kinds of great stuff here. The collecting areas are pretty broad here, so there’s a great variety of things available. At the moment I’m working on selecting items for a natural history exhibition, so that’s currently where my mind is. The early modern books from that collection are especially interesting, since you have accurate science mixed in with folklore, mythology, and hearsay. It’s interesting to see how relatively accurate many of the volumes in that collection are, while still missing the mark now and again. And I just finished curating an exhibition on the Bird & Bull Press, and that’s one definitely worth mentioning. For those not familiar, Bird & Bull Press was a fine press run by Henry Morris from 1958 to 2013. Most of his books were about different aspects of bookmaking and book arts, and for the most part these were either original texts or reprints of books that had been out of print for years. We have the entire archive of Bird & Bull Press, which is very extensive (something in the vicinity of 100 boxes of materials) and has manuscripts and artifacts documenting almost every book Henry Morris ever printed, so that the collection provides a really great, in-depth way to look at the operations of a fine press over a pretty long period of time. One of the latest installments for that archive consisted of the materials for the books that Henry Morris identified as his personal favorite productions - which is an interesting research source, and also made for a good thing to highlight in the exhibition.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

The current exhibition is on William S. Burroughs (for the centenary of his birth), and that was installed just a few weeks ago. I didn’t work on that one, myself, but its been interesting to see it going in. We have a pretty comprehensive collection of his works on display, and there’s also a lot of stuff by his contemporaries there, too. After that, in the fall, we’re doing an exhibition of materials from the natural history collection, and I’m currently working on selecting books for that one, as I mentioned earlier. There’s a lot of great things in that area of the collection, spanning the sixteenth century to the present, so that’s going to be a very interesting one to work on, especially since that collection has a lot of great visual items.

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Earle Havens, the William Kurrelmeyer Curator of Rare Books & Manuscripts at Johns Hopkins University.

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How did you get started in rare books?

My undergraduate mentor, an inveterate bibliomane, Professor Kate Frost, brought me to the Harry Ransom Center when I was a Sophomore.  She arranged for me to see the Cardigan Chaucer, a mid 15th-century Middle English manuscript.  She asked me what I saw.  I said: “I didn’t know any of this stuff had ever survived.  How?”  Her answer: “That’s what libraries do.”  I wrote several of my undergraduate essays from rare books at the HRC.  When it came time to graduate, I asked her where I should go to be a perpetual student of books.  She told me: “Go get a PhD at the university with the best rare book library.”  I wanted to study the Renaissance.  I went to Yale, got a job in my first year as a curatorial assistant to Dr. Stephen Parks, Curator of the Osborn Collection at the Beinecke Library, and discovered my dissertation on the shelves (I had stack access to the Beinecke Library all through graduate school...I highly recommend it!), and the rest is history.  All of it has been an absolute privilege.  Now that I have students of my own at Johns Hopkins University, I do all that I can to give them the same opportunity that I had, lo those many years ago.

Where did you earn your MLS or other advanced degree?

I am not a “librarian” in the sense of the MLS, which is actually a degree that is changing to IS (“information school”) with library as a bit of a sidelight.  I did a PhD at Yale University in History and Renaissance Studies, a joint-degree program like Classics, where you take all sorts of courses on a specific period of time: history of art, Romance languages, theology, historiography, etc.  I focused on the history of the book in those periods.  Many of my papers were written on Renaissance manuscripts that the Beinecke had just acquired!  If you don’t want to keep trying to cook up clever things to say about Shakespeare, just transcribe and edit Renaissance verse that no one has ever seen before! Heady days.  

What is your role at your institution?

I am responsible for all rare books and manuscripts that pre-date the modern era, so ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablets and Ptolemaic Egyptian papyri to medieval illuminated manuscripts, incunabula, onwards to the late 18th c and the last gasp of the Ancien Regime.  We have three rare books libraries: (1) the George Peabody Library, a magnificent 19th c. “cathedral of books” in downtown Baltimore; (2) the John Work Garrett Library at Evergreen, a 19th-century Gilded Age Renaissance Revival mansion in north Baltimore; and (3) the Brody Learning commons, our newly built rare book facility on the main campus.  I also teach 2 full courses each year, one to undergraduates, the other a graduate-student seminar, which I conduct largely from rare books and manuscripts in a special classroom.  Teaching young people about old books is the most meaningful thing I have ever done.  We teach each other, in truth, through a magical confection of questions, hypotheses, discoveries, and pure giddiness at the immediate presence of the distant past.  I have to pinch myself sometimes.  Young people breath life into books, books into them.  It’s like trees turning carbon dioxide into oxygen.  New knowledge from old books.  School was always meant to be that way, wasn’t it?



Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I hate this question.  Curators’ favorites are not like favorite sons.  We are fickle, and dazzled by the infinite variety of libraries rich in “olde books.”  You mention ephemera...recently we nabbed an apparently unique 1560 broadside with a woodblock portrait of the great Reformation theologian and Latinist, Philip Melanchthon.  It is a neo-Latin poem composed by his student and successor, Johannes Maior, at the University of Wittenberg to be circulated within the university community.  It survived only because someone had the presence of mind to fold it up and tip it into a book.  I taught a graduate seminar on Renaissance humanism, and we tackled it in the classroom.  Turns out the poem played off of the initial three letters of his name, “Mel” (Latin, honey).  It was a sweet moment for us all, the seminar a bunch of bees swarming around something new, indeed unique.  Only books (and ephemera) can make that happen!  

What do you personally collect?

I got interested in historical medals, esp. 17th- to 18th-century medals struck to commemorate major events.  That got focused on medals about literature and printing.  Then to books on the subject, prints, etc.  Even when you try not to collect books, you end up doing it.  The whole thing is the most exquisite pathology, an Appian Way we cannot help but walk.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

That the codex was/is a technology that can transform our lives today, and transform young people in their relationship to the distant past.  Most of my students live on smart phones and iPads.  In a course I taught a year ago, I had a freshman.  I put a 15th c. illuminated manuscript into her hands and asked her what she saw.  She started crying (happily, not on the manuscript!).  I didn’t do that with the Cardigan Chaucer, but maybe she will become a book person too.  We can change the world through the treasure that has been entrusted to us.  We just have to put it out there into the world.  The rest is easy.

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

The digital humanities are no longer the future, they are the present driver of what we can do with rare books and manuscripts.  I find that the people in this field that I respect most see that and are trying to do it.  That said, it’s still the Wild West.  I have taken the plunge on a large-scale project with colleagues at Princeton and University College London to create a kind of digital “laboratory for the humanities” dealing with Renaissance imprints bearing dense manuscript annotations by Renaissance readers.  We want to “raise the dead” through the remnants of their reading, nearly all of it never before studied.  We want to use digital technology to do this because these objects are already “big data.”  We are convinced that we have found a new form of scholarly activity that could never have been done before digitization.  How cool is that???

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

We recently acquired the world’s largest, most comprehensive collection of rare books and manuscripts on the history of forgery.  It was built by a scholar-bookseller and his wife over a period of nearly 50 years, some 1700 items, and counting.  Everything from phony Byzantine manuscripts to 20th-century literary hoaxes.  We have a book coming out on it in 2015.  It is endlessly fascinating.  My preoccupation has been with the fact that literary scholarship seems never to have treated forgery as a distinct genre of imaginative literary production on the same level as verse or drama.  In many cases it is both.  We have all been lying to each other since we invented handwriting (and well before).  We just have the evidence from across the long shadows of antiquity to the modern era.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Forgery opens in October 2014 at the George Peabody Library in downtown Baltimore. Come one, come all...just don’t believe everything that you see there!

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Richard Ring, Head Curator and Librarian of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut.

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How did you get started in rare books?

My interest in rare books began in graduate school at the Ohio State University (I was an M.A. candidate in English from 1994-1996), when I studied William Camden’s Britannia in all of its editions, from the small first Latin edition of 1586 to the great 4-volume folio edition edited by William Gough published in 1806--which I actually checked out of the OSU library in 1995! (You know a book-nerd when you see him staggering under a stack of thick volumes, each the size of a cookie sheet, across the quad).  Mostly I was fascinated by how the text grew over two centuries, first in Camden’s hands, and then in those of his successors.

I disliked the hyper-theoretical discourse that was so prevalent in the early 90s, and it was clear that the life of a literary scholar was not what I had imagined (i.e., puffing a pipe in a book-lined office). Seriously though, I wanted more practical work. One of my professors suggested I speak to Joel Silver, then Curator of Books (now Director) of the Lilly Library at Indiana University, about going into rare book librarianship. I visited Bloomington, Joel took me on a tour of the stacks, and I was hooked.  I went to IU for my MLS and spent every minute I could in the Lilly, doing anything they would let me do, and it was the most fabulous experience.

What is your role at your institution?

My title is Head Curator & Librarian of the Watkinson Library--but put simply, I am the head of special collections. The Watkinson is a library within a library.  It was a separate institution for 85 years before it was conveyed to Trinity College in 1950, and folded into the Trinity College Library.  Think of a small liberal arts college suddenly receiving 130,000 volumes, most of them rare or special! Those books were merged with Trinity’s rare books, and currently we have over 175,000 volumes. So it is a huge rare book collection relative to the size of the school (2,200 undergraduates and less than 100 graduate students). We have our own endowment and Board of Trustees, but it is still a division of the College Library. There are not many places like it.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

It changes, depending on what I’ve recently bought. I like a broad range of stuff, and I’m always looking for unique things that would make a good paper project (or even a thesis) for an undergraduate, as well as making sense with our existing strengths.  Currently I am enamored of 19th c. games, especially those dealing with history and interesting manuscript material

What do you personally collect?

I don’t collect for myself--only for the institution.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I like that every item we have contains, inherently, many stories; I like that there are thousands upon thousands of items, and millions of stories, and that I get to try to tell some of them every day to a (mostly) appreciative audience. Most of all, I like to create an environment where curiosity, inspiration, and discovery is contagious and electrifying. One way I’ve done this at Trinity is through my Creative Fellowship Program for undergraduates. Here is the program website and here are our two Fall Fellows. We are funding four Fellows this spring.

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

If we play our cards right, it can be the sexiest part of the library world with the most physical growth potential. If you want more of my ideas, you’ll need to meet my consulting fee.

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

Another impossible question, but I love that we have a collection of British and American Valentine’s Day cards back to the 1840s, and several hundred British playbills from 1790-1830; If you want to know what’s happening, what we’re buying, and what I like, see my blog The Bibliophile’s Lair.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

In the spring I like to have student-curated exhibitions, to show off during Commencement and Reunion Weekend. Every fall I teach a course in the American Studies department on museum and library exhibitions, and my students curate their own shows “soup to nuts,” - not just telling a story with artifacts, but also fundraising, planning and budgeting for an opening event and producing a published catalog. This fall I had 13 students, and each one did their own show, so I called the collective exhibition “Lucky 13.” The shows will be on display through June 15 (each student has one case in the library, and an online extension using an Omeka platform will be up soon).

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Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and rare book curators continues today with Colleen Theisen, Outreach and Instruction Librarian in the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa. 

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How did you get started in rare books?
As an undergraduate I needed to complete an internship for my minor in history.  I was sent to the Western Historical Manuscripts collection in the basement of the University of Missouri-Columbia’s library to compile a libguide for National History Day. What kind of place was this that had historic papers and diaries, artists’ sketchbooks and even a small gallery of paintings, all in one place?  Lewis and Clark’s diaries and records from the Dred Scott trials rendered me speechless touching the actual pages that previously unreal names from my history books had created.  All the while 6-12th grade National History Day students were coming in and out the doors, having the same awestruck moments I was having, and then going on to make the words leap off the pages back to life in documentaries and performances. As sixth grade girls took to the stage in bonnets for their performance at the NHD contest, and the suffering from the pages of a handwritten pioneer woman’s diary momentarily became their suffering, I was hooked, and the experience of that place never left me.

Where did you earn your advanced degree?

I have a Master of Science in Information from the University of Michigan where I tailored my archives specialization with library science, history of the book, and museum studies classes to fit the diversity of work in Special Collections.

What is your role at your institution?

I am the Outreach and Instruction Librarian for Special Collections & University Archives which means that I coordinate the class sessions that come in to use Special Collections materials and serve as the primary instructor.  I am the social media manager for Special Collections, and I manage our exhibition space as well as coordinating our newsletters and some of our marketing.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

Favorites for me are tied up in favorite learning experiences.  I love the large fragment of the Iliad on papyrus at the University of Michigan because it was featured at the heart of the first lesson I designed using rare materials, tracing the text of the Iliad through time, when I was a TA for Great Books.  I love the 1967 Fluxus Year Box, because of a phenomenal class with 10-12 year old writers that turned into a funny and profound exploration of where or what the boundaries of art might be.

I have a new favorite every day and I do not want to lose that since it helps me figure out and communicate what might be exciting to our students and followers.  If forced to pick a general favorite, with its music, maps, anatomy, astronomy, math and more, collected and illustrated, I could never tire of looking at any and every copy of Margarita Philosophica.
What do you personally collect?

Lack of money, tiny apartments, and living abroad for an extended period have previously hindered my ability to collect much of anything, but I do have small collections of 1870s-1880s carte de visite photographs and stereographs from Japan, wooden kokeshi dolls, signed YA novels, and “vintage” Fisher Price Little People.  The books I chose from my grandmother’s library make up my favorite book collection.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?
In the abstract, I love that we’re called upon to wear every hat, and to invent some as well. In Special Collections we are librarian and archivist, but that also includes curator, teacher, scholar, conservator, writer, graphic designer, data entry specialist, genealogist, PR manager, social media content creator, web designer, historian, mentor, and even grief counselor. Recently I have added .gif animator, and video director.  I love bringing that excitement into the classroom and finding, building, and communicating with book loving communities online.  It’s exciting that everything I have ever done or learned is relevant, and yet it isn’t enough and never will be.  

Otherwise, I would just answer - the books.  Microminiature to elephant folio, to book arts that challenge if the word “book” fits at all, each and every one is exciting.
 
Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

I think our special collections librarians will be called on even more to be creative collaborators.  Linked data, grant funded projects, digital humanities projects and outreach increasingly call upon expertise, collaboration, and coordination from across the library, the university, and across institutions.  In addition, the boundaries between library, archive, museum, or historical society are increasingly blurred as we are fighting the same fight to communicate our value, and as our digitized collections and metadata are increasingly united.  

More and more we need to make our work visible to counteract the stereotypes, misinformation, and lack of information about librarianship and special collections.  Whether it is creating a site for crowdsourcing transcription, a group to make historic recipes, a Civil War blog posting letters 150 years after they were written, a Tumblr community with animated .gifs of books, or videos as part of a YouTube community, we’re increasingly called upon to build and make things together with our communities of librarians, patrons, followers, friends, and fellow creators.   



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

The Rusty Hevelin Science Fiction Collection is in process, but anyone can follow the progress on our Tumblr devoted to processing of the zines, convention materials, and pulps dating back to the emergence of science fiction fandom in the 1930s.  We also continue our Fan Culture Preservation Project partnership with the Organization for Transformative Works, collecting fanzines. I think people would be surprised by the extent of the ATCA Collection (Alternative Traditions in Contemporary Arts) including The Fluxus West collection and the complementary International Dada Archive, Finally, we’re crowdsourcing transcriptions at DIY History where we just added pioneer diaries, and The Atlas of Early Printing is likely of interest to your readers, if for any reason it is yet unknown to them. And of course, our Special Collections Tumblr, named “new and notable” by Tumblr for 2013: http://uispeccoll.tumblr.com/

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Food in the world of Downton Abbey opens with the new year tracing the culinary creations featured on the television show, whether upstairs or below, into the contemporary cookbooks of the time from our Szathmary Culinary Collection.

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians and curators continues today with Sean Visintainer, Special Collections Librarian and Curator of the Herman T Pott National Inland Waterways Library at the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.

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What is your role at your institution? Please introduce us as well to the St. Louis Mercantile Library; a unique library that I’m not sure all of our readers will be familiar with.
 
I am the Curator of the Herman T. Pott National Inland Waterways Library, a special collection at the St. Louis Mercantile Library - University of Missouri at St. Louis, and also a special collections librarian at the Library.  The Mercantile Library is the oldest existing general library west of the Mississippi River, founded in 1846.  From its inception the Mercantile has been a membership library, which includes borrowing privileges, discounts on research fees, publications, and attendance at our many yearly exhibition openings, lectures, colloquia, book signings, and other events.  The Library’s core collection focuses on St. Louis and regional history, westward expansion, exploration and science, the American river and rail experiences, rare books and the book arts, and the humanities.
 
Being part of a small staff with large ambitions, my day-to-day duties are fluid and varied, which makes my work exciting and challenging.  I work on collections processing and description; website design and editing; collection development; both in terms of rare books and archival collections; donor and board relations; presentations and talks; exhibition design; and special events and programs logistics. Lately, I’ve been working to develop the University of Missouri system’s new digital library instance, which has been at times interesting, daunting, and educational, sometimes all at once.
 
How did you get started in rare books?

While attending the University of Missouri at Columbia for my MLS, I took a class on special libraries, which turned out to be really eye-opening in terms of the possibilities of employment in the field.  We students got to tour the operations of architectural libraries, federal libraries, law libraries, medical libraries, corporate libraries, and many more institutions, but the libraries that really grabbed me were the special collections and rare books libraries.  There is something incredibly evocative about holding a rare book or historic archival item in your hand - it is a tangible and powerful link to our culture and history, and to the trials, travails and issues faced by our ancestors.  I knew from the first moment that I stood in one that I wanted to work in a rare books and special collections library.

Have you worked at other institutions as well?

I did some graduate work for the HOK Architectural Research Library, and I worked as a board member for the Rupununi Learners Foundation, an organization dedicated to increasing literacy and environmental conservation in the Rupununi region of Guyana, South America.  Libraries are a big part of the Rupununi Learners Foundation’s literacy efforts.  If I weren’t in the special collections and rare books field I could be perfectly happy working on literacy and digital divide issues in the developing world.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

It is tough to say that I have just one, but a few items stand out to me.  The Mercantile’s material with the broadest appeal is probably our signed Audubon double elephant folio Birds of America.  The Birdshave the size, value, beauty and provenance to really awe viewers.  From our inland rivers collection, I really love Zadok Cramer’s early river guides, The Navigator, released yearly in the early 1800s.  These books existed before much mapping and description was available for America’s inland rivers, and they contain a lot of really interesting content, from local history and lore, early maps, travelers’ information, and even an early mention of the Lewis and Clark journey.  Not only river guides, but also drivers of immigration, facilitators of commerce, travel guides and historical artifacts, the importance of these books really bellies their modest appearance.

What do you personally collect?

I’ve been collecting as many auction and bookseller catalogs and bibliographies as I can get my hands on - a direct effect of my director, friend and mentor, John Hoover.  I also collect St. Louis and regional history, cookbooks and travel guides.  Travel guides are particularly interesting to me, because the information can be so ephemeral - post-civil war Syria, for example, will be a much different place than it was ten years ago.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

There will be some really cool technological possibilities coming down the line that could directly impact rare book librarianship. For example, a colleague recently introduced me to Clavin, which might one day be used for applications like geotagging and mapping old travel narratives, or 19th century city directories.  With more books being digitized every day and more useful technology being invented, I suspect that the future of special collections and rare book librarianship will look very different than it does today.  It is a lot of fun to try and keep up with everything that is developing in the digital world, and to plan future possibilities for use in our Library.

Of course, digital representations, even with all their bells and whistles, can’t compete with a real, tangible object.  I love researching and purchasing materials for the Library’s collections.  There is something indescribably enjoyable about locating a work that I’ve been on the hunt for, or turning something up that I wasn’t aware of, and knowing that it will strengthen the Library’s collections.

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

As described a bit above, I think it will be imperative for rare books librarians to keep abreast of everything happening in the digital world, with an eye towards how to utilize those happenings in the future.

I also think that with the time for physical research at the Library likely diminishing in the future, two things are important to keep in mind for the future: 1) keeping stats of digital use could end up being a large justification for the department or library down the line; and 2) outreach, especially in terms of programming and exhibitions, will be another great way to justify the continual acquisitions of rare books and related materials.

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

Both of our transportation libraries are top-notch.  We are and deserve to be on the “to see” lists of any serious researcher, author, media company or publisher working on rail and river transportation.  My director has spent many years assembling a fantastic Indian captivities collection as well - the library has a sizable amount of these documents, in book and manuscript form.
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We’ve got pretty full exhibition calendar for the upcoming year.  In January, I’ll be opening an exhibition with our railroad curator, Nick Fry, called Most Marvelous Machines, which will tell the story of steam travel in America in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Nick will also be putting together an exhibition about the railroad industry’s impact on and support of American elections, Whistle Stops: Campaigning by Train.  We’ve also got in the works exhibitions related to the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis next year; Mapping St. Louis,about the early mapping of the city, and From Chouteau to Scharf, which will showcase the early printed histories of the city.

Our series profiling the next generation of curators and special collections librarians continues today with John McQuillen, Assistant Curator of Printed Books at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.

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How did you get started in rare books?

I started my Master’s degree in Medieval Studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas wanting to work on Early Medieval art in the British Isles. Talking to the professor after my first class on Romanesque Art, she asked if I needed a campus job and sent me to her husband, the Curator of Special Collections at Bridwell Library. I got a job as his curatorial assistant and started working with Reformation pamphlets, Methodist printing, English bibles, and Kelmscott and Ashendene Press books and ephemera. Most importantly, though, I was introduced to the physical study of medieval manuscripts and incunabula (of which Bridwell has an incredibly strong collection), and I never looked back.

Where did you earn your advanced degrees?

After my MA, I decided to pursue a PhD in Art History at the University of Toronto focusing on fifteenth-century books: their decoration, binding, and use, and the changes to libraries and book production networks when printed books entered the manuscript world. Describing the books in our collections is integral to my work at the Morgan, and my visual expertise as an art historian has attuned me to the visual nature of printed books, their decoration, bindings, and signs of use.

What is your role at your institution?

In the Printed Books & Bindings Department I am largely responsible for items in our collection from the 15th-16th Centuries, although all curators are often called on to work with items out of their specific area. There is the daily work of acquisition, cataloguing, research, answering reference requests, discussing conservation needs, and exhibition preparation, but I truly relish talking to classes and tours and bringing rare materials out for them to see. It is always fun watching some visitors wrap their heads around the fact that I am actually showing them something 500 years old.

My most long-term project is expanding the catalogue descriptions of our incunabula and blockbooks in order to bring them up-to-date with contemporary standards and practices and to highlight the copy-specific aspects of the books. The collection is just less than 3,000 items, and although many--like our three Gutenberg Bibles--are quite well known and researched, many, many more have important bindings, inscriptions, provenance, and signs of printing history and use that have gone relatively unpublished. I hope that my efforts will bring even some of these characteristics to the attention of other scholars and researchers who will deepen our understanding of this important period in history.

Since the Morgan is both a library and museum, we have a strong exhibition focus and strive to bring book materials and works on paper alive for museum visitors. We have a rotation of highlights from our permanent collections that changes every four months and is set in glowing light of Morgan’s original 1906 library. I am responsible for choosing the printed items, a binding, and at least one piece of printed Americana for these exhibits. Also on display are highlights from our Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts, Literary and Historical Manuscripts, and Music Manuscripts and Printed Music collections. I have only been at the Morgan since October 2012, and preparing these rotations has helped me greatly to learn the breadth and depth of the collections. Additionally, we present about twelve exhibitions from our own collections as well as loans from other institutions each year in the galleries. I am working on two loan exhibitions for summer 2014 and fall 2016, as well as my own exhibition on William Caxton, the first printer in England, for summer 2015. The Morgan’s Caxton collection is quite extensive with about 70 items, including the first and second edition of The Canterbury Tales, as well as the only extant complete copy of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le morte d’Arthur.

Have you worked at other institutions as well?

Aside from Bridwell Library, where I was a curatorial assistant and then the Special Collections Cataloguer, I was a Graduate Fellow at the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies (CRRS) in Victoria University at the University of Toronto. I worked in the CRRS library for four years, where I assisted researchers and visiting scholars, helped organize CRRS conferences and events, worked on the newsletter and mail-outs, and worked with the Victoria University library cataloguing department to more fully describe and organize some of the rare book collections.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

My favorite book at the moment is a 1527 copy of a Martin Luther New Testament, where the Four Gospels have been combined into a single narrative of the Life of Christ with full-page, multi-scene woodcuts visualizing the narrative. Another full-text edition of the Gospels from 1527 has been bound into our copy, which is still in its original 16th-century binding, but this edition was translated into German by Hieronymus Emser, a vehement opponent of Luther. I find it fascinating that whoever wanted these texts bound together did not really care which side of the Reformation the translator supported, and it inspires interesting questions about contemporary book use and readership. Of course, I never get tired of looking at the Gutenberg Bible, and I think I am developing extra muscles from hefting those volumes off of the shelf. I also recently found a small book-shaped flask from Noel Coward hiding amongst the octavo Psalters in the 1906 library shelves; it was empty.

What do you personally collect?

Frankoma Pottery. The company was founded in the 1930s by John Frank, an art professor at the University of Oklahoma, and it used the local red clay of Oklahoma for dinnerware and sculpture. My family is from Oklahoma and already had a lot of this material, but eBay is turning out to be my undoing. I also take small rocks from places I visit: Iceland, Maine, Palm Springs, Ireland, the Adirondacks, etc.; I can (largely) remember from where they all came. If I had more space in my apartment, I would go after original Guinness and early 20th-century travel America posters.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I guess it goes without saying: the books themselves. That’s why most of us are in this field, right? Whether I am recataloguing an incunable or answering a research question about the first edition of the Icelandic bible, every historical artifact gives you the opportunity to learn something new, that is, if you ask it the right questions. What excites me about the field is trying to convey this historical wonder to audiences, whether in a tour setting or an exhibition case. It is frequently difficult to cram all of your interest and excitement over an item into a brief exhibit label, but I always hope that a visitor would find something that excites or inspires them in one of the books or through one of the labels.

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

I will answer this from my own point of view as a rare book curator at an art museum, as opposed to a library. As with many other professions, the nature of rare book curating is changing with advents in technology and a public whose relationship to reading, books, and history is also changing. We have the same challenges as many art museums and cultural institutions in a world where the arts must compete with a burgeoning array of leisure-time activities, and we work hard to keep our collections alive and relevant to an ever-changing society. I think to ensure the future of rare book curating--whether in a museum or library--we must maintain a perpetual and relevant dialogue between our artifacts and our public through multiple means of bringing these items to life for our visitors.

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

We hold the entire extraordinary archive of the Paris Review, including ephemera and all correspondence. Perhaps most unusual, or just non-typical, items for a library is the large collection of realia, including Arturo Toscanini’s baton, Alice Liddell’s childhood ring, Martha Washington’s wedding dress, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s quill pen, among many other literary and historical items.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Currently, there is Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul on view until 26 January 2014 and Bookermania, on the Man-Booker Literary Prize until 5 January, as well as Leonardo da Vinci drawings and manuscripts from the Biblioteca Reale in Turin, Italy until 2 February. On 24 January 2014 an exhibit showcasing the original manuscript and watercolor drawings of The Little Prince will open. For the complete listing, please visit http://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/default.asp

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians continues today with Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University.

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How did you get started in rare books?
 
The short answer is that I got a job at the Newberry Library, one of the nation’s great vectors of the special collections librarianship contagion.  A slightly longer answer is that I started prowling the stacks at the University of Nebraska’s Love Library as an undergrad, and reading Jorge Luis Borges, and the two things led logically to wanting desperately to work (or live, maybe) in libraries, with books and archives.  I’ll spare you the much longer answer.
 
Where did you earn your MLS?
 
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  I’m a LEEPer, a graduate of UIUC’s excellent LEEP online learning program. 
 
What is your role at your institution?
 
My primary areas of curatorial responsibility are printed and archival collections in literature and Southern history, and archival collections in the history of economic thought.  Collection development, instruction, exhibitions and other outreach efforts, and reference are all a part of my position.  I also work collaboratively with the Rubenstein Library’s Head of Collection Development, Andy Armacost, and our other curators for women’s history and culture, African and African American history and culture, documentary arts, the history of medicine, human rights, and sales, advertising, and marketing history, finding materials that connect our areas of responsibility. 
 
We’re fortunate to have a wonderful staff here, and my job includes a great deal of work with many of them: discussing cataloging and processing strategies with our Technical Services staff; reviewing potential treatments for fragile or damaged items with conservators; planning acquisitions, class sessions, and exhibitions with curators and research services librarians in the Rubenstein Library and subject librarians in the circulating collections of Perkins Library.  
 
Have you worked at other institutions as well?
 
I started as a page in the General Reading Room the Newberry Library and then moved into the reference department there before coming to Duke. 
 
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?
 
Every time I meet with a class or group to show them materials, I find myself saying, “This is one of my favorite items in our collections” about something different.  So I could go on and on. 
 
It’s hard to top the first edition of Leaves of Grass, which beyond its iconic status is such an immensely powerful teaching tool.  I love showing this along with Whitman’s manuscripts to students--the camera phones come out when they realize they’re seeing the real thing, words Whitman scrawled (or helped to design, bind, and typeset) on paper he touched.  A close second for me personally would be the 1930 Lakeside Press edition of Moby-Dick. 
 
But then, many more modest items tell such interesting stories, too.  For instance, we recently acquired a collection of memorial cards, including an example of a printed Victorian funerary biscuit wrapper.  I showed this to a class and they were flummoxed by the existence of such a thing--flummoxed in a way that seemed to open them up to thinking about the reasons why it was made and persisted, and the history of the tradition.  (This is what happened to me, too, when Ian Kahn first showed it to me at a book fair.)
 
What do you personally collect?
 
I dabble in many inexpensive things.  Dream literature (both pamphlets of dream interpretation and books describing dreams themselves) and books/ephemera about card games are two of my most consistent collecting interests.  Others include the writings of the Oulipo experimentalists, photography of books and art made from books, Nebraskiana, and a very modest Melville collection.  How’s that for eclectic?
 
What excites you about rare book librarianship?
 
The rare books, obviously: I love that working to provide access to and preserve these materials is our work.  Dealers, collectors, and institutions are all finding fascinating materials, and being involved in the process of giving some of these things a home is rewarding.  I think that the scope, policies, and definitions of institutional rare book collections, and ideas of what scarcity is and what investment of resources signify for institutions, have been shifting in interesting, hopefully democratizing and diversifying, ways in the last few decades, and it’s exciting to be a part of that. 
 
I’m always excited to open doors to people who haven’t realized that our collections are available for them to use--that we want them to come and experience these things, one on one.  Introducing students to our collections is one of my favorite things to do.  It’s thrilling to see a student latch on to the possibilities--and the detective work--inherent in research using rare books and other primary sources.
 
And there is no more satisfying experience, for me, than seeing something that I helped to acquire for the library put to use. 
 
Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?
 
I always try to keep in mind Terry Belanger’s famous reminder that much of this work is janitorial.  It remains true, and important.  No matter how much seems to change, we must do our best to make sure the books and manuscripts and digital artifacts will still be there and still warrant our care and attention a century from now. 
 
That being said, there are many, many brilliant people working in this and allied fields, and they seem to be coming from a broader range of backgrounds and disciplines than in the past.  The embrace of colleagues with backgrounds in information technology, digital humanities, and many other areas is heartening to see, and critical, I think, to the profession’s health moving forward.  There also seems to be increasing communication between archivists and librarians, and increasing recognition of the common cause both have with museums, historical societies, and other cultural heritage institutions. The involvement of faculty and students with library-based digital humanities projects, and projects using crowdsourcing to improve metadata for digitized collections, are both very encouraging for the future of special collections.  It’s hard for me to keep up, but I have this sense that the profession is full of energy right now.    
 
Exploring and documenting the future of the book is a terribly exciting prospect: from born-digital electronic literature to rapid change in e-book formats to the continuing vitality and creativity found in small presses, fine printing, and artists’ books, we are in for an interesting period.  It is not as though the variety and amount of printed material to be collected has decreased--we’ve just had many more formats and interfaces put into play. 
  
The ways in which digitization and the digital realm have impacted rare book collecting are also fascinating to me.  It will be interesting to see how the dual imperatives for institutional collectors to find some materials that resist digitization and reward a personal experience with a unique object or collection, and others that invite large-scale digitization for global use--and ideally, items that can work well in both of these ways!-- will play out in the market and in the shape collections take. 
 
Any unusual or interesting collection at your library you’d like to draw our attention to?
 
You’re really opening Pandora’s box here.  The Rubenstein Library specializes in the unusual and interesting.  Many of our collections work and play at the intersection of popular culture, historically marginalized groups, and scholarly interest. 
 
We have thousands of zines created by women and girls.  We have an African Americans in Film collection that features pressbooks, publicity stills, posters, and other advertising ephemera. We have the Nicole DiBona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks, some 3800 strong.  We have the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games, perhaps the country’s largest institutional collection of RPGs.  We have a Tijuana Bibles collection.    
 
I’ve become very interested in the early works of literature (ca. 1860-1920) illustrated with real photographs and photogravures, and I’m snapping up as many of them as I can find and our budget can allow.  I don’t know how unusual that is, but I hope it’s interesting.
 
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?
 
The Rubenstein Library’s permanent space is currently under renovation, so we are beginning to plan for the grand reopening exhibit in that space in 2015.  This will include some of our most treasured and important items--and the process of determining these is no easy task!  I also have high hopes for future exhibits related to German utopian literature, comic books and art, and the relationship between photographs and writing, but dates for all of those are yet to be determined. 

In the meantime, we still have many exhibits happening in other spaces.  There’s a great show curated by Duke graduate students scheduled for February-May 2014 entitled “Cheap Thrills: The Highs and Lows of Paris’s Cabarets, 1880-1939.”  This will feature evocative illustrations from Parisian literary, satirical, and cultural journals, and there are plans for performances of original music based on the songs of the cabaret by students in the Music Department, as well. 

“Defining Lines: Cartography in an Age of Empire,” an exhibit of maps from the Rubenstein Library, is on display at Duke’s Nasher Museum of Art until December 15, 2013.  The exhibit was curated by Duke undergraduate students, and it’s been wonderful to help them discover maps in our collections and see their pride in the finished product. 

Another exhibit, “Beijing Through Sidney Gamble’s Camera,” curated by Luo Zhou, Duke’s Chinese Studies Librarian, is currently touring a number of sites in Beijing.  This exhibit features selections from the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs in the Rubenstein Library’s Archive of Documentary Arts.

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians continues today with Jordan Goffin, Special Collections Librarian with Providence Public Library in Providence, Rhode Island.

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How did you get started in rare books?

For a long time I thought I wanted to pursue a PhD in medieval literature. Then one day I realized that even though I liked medieval literature, I liked a lot of other stuff just as much. I ended up at Indiana University, and after about one class at the Lilly Library I came to the conclusion that rare books librarianship was the perfect solution. I’d get to jump from medieval manuscripts to World War II posters to eighteenth-century nautical manuals in the space of a single day.

What is your role at your institution?

As the Special Collections Librarian, I oversee the collection (~40,000 books plus manuscripts, ephemera, etc.) and perform pretty much the full range of rare book librarian duties: I buy new materials for the collections, catalog books and process manuscript collections now and then, put together exhibitions and teach classes, work on digital projects, post to our blog, and work with researchers.

Tell us about your mapping project of the Rhode Island book trade:

When I first arrived in Rhode Island and started working at the RI Historical Society I knew I wanted to work on a project that would give me the chance to become more familiar with the state’s book trade. I had originally intended to just put together a map or timeline for my own personal use, but one thing led to another and I decided to turn it into an online resource for anyone else interested in where and when people were producing and selling books in Rhode Island. As it stands now, the site tries to locate as many people and institutions involved in the state’s eighteenth-century book trade as possible. It’s been really gratifying to see people’s interest in the topic, and there are some great new projects out there mapping the book trade around the world.

Have you worked at other institutions as well?

In addition to Providence Public Library and the RI Historical Society, I worked for about two years in Missoula as the Special Collections Librarian at the University of Montana. I’ve really enjoyed working at all three institutions.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I’ll start with the obligatory disclaimer that it’s just not possible to pick one favorite (or ten, or twenty...). Here at PPL we have a pretty fantastic medieval mnemonic bible (previously belonging to Henry, Prince of Wales), so that’s an immediate favorite. But I’m just as much drawn to the humbler items that probably say more about their times. Awhile back I came across a brief little pamphlet from the 1830s on the topic of bathing; it’s a fun little tract, and a couple students have already made use of it. My favorite book this month is from our extensive collection of manuscript whaling logbooks. I was pulling together some items for a library tour scheduled for later in the morning. I decided to include a whaling logbook, so I took one off the shelf at random, opened it up and found, in addition to a record of the 1844 voyage, pages of encrypted text, a poem, and about forty pressed plant specimens, including still-fragrant spices.

What do you personally collect?

To be honest, I wouldn’t really consider myself much of a collector. There are a couple authors whose books I try to keep up with, and some topics I collect sporadically (mostly relating to the history of the book), but I think I get most of my collecting compulsion sorted out during the workday.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

My selfish answer to that question is that rare book librarianship is endlessly intellectually stimulating. If I pull a random book from a shelf, I don’t know what it will be, but I know it’ll be interesting. Then, when I’m feeling a little more altruistic, I remember that there are other people out there who might benefit from our materials as well, so there’s the additional pleasure of seeing people do really creative things with the stuff in our collections. Right now, for instance, I know of at least half a dozen artists who are working on projects that make use of our collections. They’re interacting with these historic objects in ways that are vibrant and new. And working in a public library means that we have people who come in just to see rare books for the fun of it, which I particularly enjoy seeing.

Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

This seems like a great time to be involved with special collections librarianship. I think there’s a widespread interest in physical, historic objects. Special collections libraries have always been the places people go to find answers to the questions nobody else has asked yet. And with the (potentially) extended reach we have thanks to the internet we can bring in new audiences to use our resources and ask those questions.

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

I think the type of people who read this blog would really enjoy visiting and using our Daniel Berkeley Updike Collection on the History of Printing. It’s a treasure trove of materials on the history of printing, particularly typography. As far as unusual is concerned, we have one of the only collections (as far as I know) of materials on the card game whist. It used to be immensely popular, so if anyone wants to find out how it worked, we’re the place to visit.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We have one of the best collections on the typographer Giambattista Bodoni in the US, and I’m putting together an exhibition that will open in February. We’ll also be launching a new annual prize for student type design and an online collection of book trade portraits, so it should be a fun event.

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians continues today with Anne Bahde, History of Science Librarian in the Special Collections and Archives Research Center at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

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How did you get started in rare books?

The summer before my last year in college, I got a job paging materials in the Newberry Library’s Department of Special Collections. At the time I had no idea how lucky I was, I just knew I needed a job and that it would be nice to work with books. On my first day during a tour, they took me into the vault and showed me a First Folio. As I thought about how many hands had touched that book, how significant it was as an artifact--it took my breath away, and that moment changed everything. I walked into work that day thinking I wanted to be an English professor, and I walked out wondering how I could spend every day around things like that. 
 
Where did you earn your MLS?

I went to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and tried to concentrate in rare books and special collections librarianship. This was way before UIUC had a certificate in special collections--I sort of had to make it all up as I went along, and I was lucky to have professors that were willing to support that. I think I had something like five independent studies in rare book topics. I’m so glad that students there now have such a great program to get them started in the profession.

Have you worked at other institutions as well?

I worked in the Special Collections Research Center at the University of Chicago as an undergraduate and a graduate student, working as a page, exhibit and preservation support, and rare books assistant. It was an incredible place to begin- I loved the energy of working in such a vibrant, busy department, and I draw on the lessons of my early experiences there nearly every day. I managed a small used and antiquarian bookstore in Chicago for a while after graduate school, then went back to SCRC as reader services assistant and assistant to the Director. After a brief stop in Washington for a second master’s degree, I started my first professional position in Special Collections and University Archives at San Diego State University. The collections there were fantastic, and I worked on instruction, outreach, exhibits, public services, collection development, preservation, and more as part of a small team there. It was exhausting but terrific.

What is your role at your institution?

I curate the rare books collections and the history of science collections, and do acquisitions, instruction, outreach, exhibits, and reference for those areas. I work with a small team of curators who work on other significant collecting areas, in a department of talented and dedicated professionals. I’ve only been at Oregon State for about a year and half, and it has been tremendous fun to learn the collections over that time--every day is a new surprise in the stacks. 
 
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

It’s impossible to choose. In one day I can handle early printed books, mid-twentieth century pulps, modern artists’ books, and more--each one of those can be a new favorite . I’m as excited by a World War II poster as by an incunable. Generally, I’m partial to 19th and early 20th century ephemera, the Wiener Werkstatte, 18th century science, anything with historiated initials, and the book arts work of Julie Chen.

What do you personally collect?

Publishers’ bindings have long been a favorite of mine, and they’re affordable, which helps. I love to collect them because they can be hiding anywhere, and most of the time it is easy to find them in great condition. I love the art and design of the Arts and Crafts period, and I have a growing collection of periodicals from the Roycrofters and others from the period. I am enchanted by an early 20th century children’s periodical called John Martin’s Book, and am trying to complete that collection. I also have a little “medium rare” collection going that I add to whenever I see something odd or unusual from the period of about 1850 to 1930.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The joy of discovery is addictive, and something I love to share with others. Finding some wonderful detail-in a book or illustration or letter or diary-is the magic of this profession; I try to teach students the art of looking closer to enable them to have that joy too. Teaching gives me great delight, and I am constantly learning too.  The never-ending variety of both the collections and the work also fuels my energy. Sometimes I keep track of everything I do in one day--last winter there was a day when I deciphered a paragraph of 16th century handwriting, taught a class on natural history and illustration, held two Nobel prizes, answered a reference question using correspondence between two famous scientists, marveled over an artists’ book with an undergraduate, selected rare books for an upcoming display, worked with a donor, and made a big exciting purchase for the history of science rare book collection. I still can’t believe I get paid to have such fun.

Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

I hope to see an age of radical access soon, where we pour energy into making our collections as discoverable and usable as possible. We’ve worked hard to digitize and to inform others of our collections. But researchers often find it difficult to locate our materials, and discovery tools that make that process as easy and rewarding as possible are really needed. There is such inspiring potential at the intersection of rare materials, linked data, digital humanities, and beyond, and I feel lucky to be part of this profession at such a transformative time. 

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

One area we’ve been paying a lot of attention to developing is the broad history of alternative health and nutritional medicine. To my knowledge, very few institutions are concentrating on alternative health, and our collections already had significant strength in this area to build upon. The cornerstone of our history of science collections, the Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, have a significant concentration on natural health and alternative approaches to healing stemming from Pauling’s interest in vitamin and mineral therapy and orthomolecular medicine. In other rare book collections, we already had early modern herbals, almanacs, books of folk and botanic medicine, domestic medicine manuals, formularies, and city and national pharmacopoeia. We’re currently trying to fill in the gaps from the 16th through the early 20th centuries, and paying special attention to “vernacular science” in the 16th and 17th centuries, late 19th century patent medicines, and the use of vitamins in the early 20th century.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

We’re in the early planning stages for an exhibit featuring our History of Atomic Energy collection. It’s one of my favorite collections at OSU--it holds thousands of items covering all aspects of nuclear history and the atomic age: scientific, political, economic, technological, cultural, and social elements. Among other strengths, the collection has a section of fiction, poetry, drama, and music that contains some particular rarities, including comics, unpublished plays, and sheet music that I’m excited about having on display. Materials in this collection are always attractive to students, both visually for their content, so I can’t wait to feature it in our gallery.  

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians continues today with Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books and History Subject Librarian at Louisiana State University.

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How did you get started in rare books?

I applied to be a student assistant at my college library when I was a freshman, really just looking for a job shelving books. I ended up being hired by the Special Collections department because they needed somebody who could read music. Working with old books seemed a lot more interesting than any of my other job options, so I stayed on until I graduated, then went off to Indiana University to get my MLS, specializing in rare books and manuscripts librarianship. A part-time job in public services and digital imaging at the Lilly Library turned into a full-time one, then the opportunity to work as a curator came up at LSU. It has all been a great experience!

What is your role at your institution; what do you specialize in as a librarian?

I’m a jack of all trades. Acquisitions, reference, outreach, teaching, exhibitions... there’s a lot to keep me busy! I like to spend as much time as I can developing our various rare book collections, working on exhibits, and just digging around in the stacks to see what I can find and share it with others. I hesitate to say I have specialized in anything (I actually think being a generalist has its advantages), but I guess I feel most at home working with early printed books, natural history, and Americana. I have also enjoyed doing some research on antebellum plantation libraries and early print culture in Louisiana.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

My interests are very broad, so it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I definitely have a soft spot for Edward Curtis’s and Karl Bodmer’s books on Native Americans, which we have at LSU, and I’m still pretty excited about one of our recent acquisitions, Jan Vredeman de Vries’s book on linear perspective from 1604, sometimes considered an early example of surrealist art. I also like books that have an interesting “life story.” For example, we have a few books from the library of Pierre-Clément de Laussat, the last governor of colonial Louisiana. He included a moving passage in his memoirs about how he acquired books as a young man in France in the 1770s but then had to leave many of them behind in Louisiana after he handed it over to the Americans in 1803. “There was no memory, no joy, no sorrow in my life in which the books had not played some part,” he wrote. “They had followed my fate, and one of its strange aspects was that I had come to the banks of the Mississippi to separate from them.” I think he would be glad to know that some of his books are still here over 200 years later and are still being used.

What do you personally collect?

I got hooked on the history of cycling several years ago and have found it to be an affordable area to collect. Even bicycle “incunables” from the 1860s and ’70s are relatively cheap. Most of my collection is from the 1890s. I have found some terrific postcards, photographs, catalogs, trade journals, and advertising ephemera, and even managed to acquire a small archive of a bicycle manufacturing company with interesting letterheads from all around the U.S.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I can honestly say I learn something every day, and hardly a week goes by when I don’t find something surprising in the stacks. Working with donors can be full of surprises, too. I recently went to a donor’s house to pick up a box of magazines and left with 500 science fiction novels. I also love it when I can get other people “fired up” about rare books. Our annual showing of Audubon’s Birds of America draws a crowd of over 200 people, ages 8 to 80. If they aren’t glowing with excitement when they come in, they definitely are when they leave! The event was featured in a 2011 Wall Street Journal article titled “The Joys of Slow Looking.”

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

Digitization will continue to reshape the special collections landscape, but I think it will have a generally positive effect. It’s not like the physical books and archives are going away. We’re just opening another door to them. LSU’s school slogan is “Love Purple, Live Gold.” In Special Collections, I like to say that we “Love Digital, Live Analog.” Researchers will increasingly rely on digital resources when they simply want to read a text. For the most part, I’m cool with that. As long as we are able to articulate why physical books still matter, we will still have people coming through our door. At the end of the day, I don’t see why e-books and rare books can’t coexist.

Any unusual or interesting collection at LSU you’d like to draw our attention to?

As a matter of fact, we just started a new one. After taking a course at Rare Book School this summer about non-traditional materials, I came home and started brainstorming with my colleagues about what we could collect at LSU that might appeal to people outside of our usual clientele but also support scholarship in a variety of disciplines and complement our existing holdings. Vampire literature was what we came up with! I’m sure it will raise a few eyebrows, but I think it fits perfectly with our collections of Gothic and Victorian literature, science fiction and fantasy, occult science, “outsider” literature (from the library of Romanian-American writer Andrei Codrescu), and even our local writers collection (Anne Rice is a native New Orleanian, and a surprising number of vampire novels are set in Louisiana). As questionable as some of the material may be as literature, it’s a publishing phenomenon that has endured since at least the 1750s, influencing everything from opera to advertising, and except for a few things like the first edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, it’s something we can collect on a budget.

Any upcoming exhibitions you’re working on?

Our next exhibition will be La Langue Mondiale: French as the Language of Art and Thought. It is being produced in conjunction with a visit by Marc Fumaroli, a French historian, former director of the Académie française, and author of When the World Spoke French. The first-floor gallery is being curated by students. Upstairs, we’ll be displaying a few volumes of plates from the Description de l’Egypte (the record of Napoleon’s scientific expedition to Egypt), selections from Diderot’s Encyclopédie, a section on French naturalists and explorers, some volumes from our stellar collection of early French dictionaries, and two cases of materials about what I call “the Enlightenment in the swamp,” i.e., philosophy and science books from eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Louisiana libraries.

Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians continues today with Meghan Constantinou of the Grolier Club in New York City.

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How did you get started in rare books?

I have always felt grounded by objects. As an undergraduate, I majored in studio art and then moved on to working with prints at a commercial art gallery (Childs Gallery, Boston) and museum objects  at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I fell in love with rare books while doing my Master’s Degree in Art History at the University of Delaware, where my thesis focused on a medieval manuscript. I felt stimulated and challenged by the multi-dimensionality of medieval manuscripts--the manner in which they combined art, penmanship, text, literature, language, and functionality. From there, my interests naturally flowed into printed books. It was actually my advisor who suggested I look into rare book librarianship. Since I had always seen myself as a future museum professional, librarianship had never entered my thoughts. However, as soon as I started exploring the field, I knew immediately that this was the right path for me. Not only would it bring me into regular contact with the types of objects I loved most, but there was a focus on service and outreach that really appealed to me. I also felt liberated by the breadth of special collections work--the promise that I would be constantly exposed to new and different types of things. I started volunteering at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the Rare Book Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia to learn more about the field. When I moved to New York City to get my library degree, I was fortunate to get a job as Library Assistant at the Grolier Club, which put me in a great position to apply for my current job as Librarian.

What is your role at the Grolier Club? What is a typical day like?

My official title is Librarian. I am responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Club’s research library, which consists of approximately 40,000 general monographs on the history of the book; 150,000 antiquarian bookseller and auction catalogs; 10,000 rare books; 10,000 prints, drawings, and photographs; and 1,500 linear feet of archives and manuscripts. I administrate all of the activities relating to technical services, public service and outreach, and collections management. I also do small library exhibitions and tours on a regular basis, and I am in charge of collection development for our general collection. Since we have a small staff of only three and a half, I am directly involved “on the ground” with all of these activities, which lends the job an endless amount of variety. There is definitely no typical day. One moment I might be engaged in strategic planning, another I might be teaching a class, and another I might be cataloging recent rare acquisitions. 

How is it working as a librarian for a private club in comparison to an academic institution?

Working for a private club has been an incredibly rewarding experience. There is a vibrant social aspect to the job that is really unique. Through my work in the library, along with Grolier Club lectures, seminars, and social gatherings, I have had the chance to develop close relationships with many of the members, who embraced me from the start as one of the family. There is a feeling of fellowship, camaraderie, and mutual passion that permeates the Club, and it is exciting to be at the center of it.

Favorite rare book/ephemera that you’ve handled?

This is a tough one. One of the qualities that characterizes many special collections librarians is our passionate interest in all kinds of “stuff,” whether it’s a beautifully illustrated incunable or a badly printed broadside. I’m most drawn to objects that have a strong human element. The Grolier Club has a fantastic collection of private library manuscript catalogs that excites me a lot. I like comparing the different organizational schemes, handwriting styles, papers, bindings, etc. You can learn a lot about a person by the way they’ve organized their books and how they’ve chosen to physically document them, particularly in the intimate space of a manuscript. I was once updating the cataloging on an attractive eighteenth-century French manuscript catalog that we had recorded only as belonging to “Madame La Vallière.” When I checked the title page, I noticed that her honorific, “La Duchesse,” had been systematically crossed out. As I did more research, I learned that Madame La Vallière was the wife of the famous bibliophile, Louis-César de la Baume le Blanc, Duc de la Vallière (1708-1780), and that she was arrested during the Reign of Terror on September 11, 1793 at the age of nearly 80. Nobody knows what happened to her after her arrest, but this manuscript survived as part of her story. It gave me a chill. 

What do you personally collect?

Recently, I started collecting bookplates designed for women. I am interested in both women’s histories and the graphic arts, and bookplates are a perfect combination of the two. I also enjoy biographical research and hope to be able to learn more about the women whose bookplates I have collected. I like looking at the different designs and thinking about the women who commissioned them. Plus, they don’t take up too much space in my small New York City apartment!

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

There is a sense of wonder at the core of this work that never ceases for me. I have always been fascinated by how our experience of the world is mediated through the objects that we encounter and create, and rare book librarianship allows me to explore that question in a meaningful way every day. I am also excited by having the opportunity to connect people with objects. There is nothing that beats seeing my own passion for historical objects reflected in the face of a visitor. There is something universally human about the tactility of these books, and in a classroom setting these connections can feel almost palpable at times. 

Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

I think a key word for the future is access. Special collections librarians are working hard to dispel the perception that their collections exist under lock and key. The emphasis on access has been facilitated in many ways by new technologies, such as the web and digitization, which allow our objects to perform more dynamically for wider audiences. For many of us, it is no longer enough to simply house and preserve the objects under our care. We have to prove the relevance of our collections to a degree that I suspect is unprecedented, and this is inspiring a lot of creative, out-of-the-box thinking.  

Another issue we are grappling with as a profession is the advent of born-digital materials. At the Grolier Club, we are known for our unparalleled collection of antiquarian bookseller and auction catalogs, which provides a valuable primary resource for scholars interested in the history of the book trade. However, much of the material generated by the trade now comes in the form of online catalogs, pdf lists, and dynamic websites. How do we document, archive, and provide access to these new formats in a sustainable way? This is just our version of a larger problem that many special collections librarians are dealing with now on a regular basis. 

Any upcoming exhibitions?

I do small library exhibitions three or four times a year, which are open to members and outside researchers visiting the library by appointment. These exhibitions are always drawn from our collections, and give me a great opportunity to explore our stacks and do a little research. Right now, I am showing “Private Press Editions of Chaucer in The Grolier Club Library,” from Sept. 9 to Dec. 20, 2013.

However, the Grolier Club also has a very active public exhibitions schedule, and all of those exhibitions are free and open to everyone. In our main gallery, we are showing “Extraordinary Women in Science & Medicine: Four Centuries of Achievement,” which explores the legacy of thirty-two remarkable physicists, chemists, astronomers, mathematicians, and medical doctors (Sept. 18-Nov. 23, 2013). After that, we will be showing “Selling the Dwelling: The Books that Built America’s Houses, 1775-2000,” curated by Richard Cheek (Dec. 11, 2013-Feb. 7, 2014). In our second floor gallery, we are showing, “William Everson: Poet, Printer & Monk, from the Collection of Nicholas Scheetz” through Nov. 1, 2013. Information about all of our exhibitions (past, present, and forthcoming) and related activities may be found on our website.  
Our series profiling the next generation of special collections librarians continues today with Patrick Olson, Special Collections Librarian at the University of Iowa.

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How did you get started in rare books?

I started college thinking I’d teach high school English. Problem was, I had enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, not the College of Education. Too lazy to transfer colleges, I opted for the plain old English degree instead, putting my career trajectory in serious flux. Writing seemed too uncertain a life and I didn’t know the first thing about steaming a latte. Old books, however, had captivated me since high school, when I learned about Fanshawe, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s rare first novel. Just as I started my junior year of college, I asked the owner of a rare bookstore if I could work for him. I think I even said I’d work for free. He took me on--for a fair hourly wage, I should add--and I suppose that’s when I really got started. Boy, that was ten years ago this month. Memories!   
 
What is your role at your institution; what do you specialize in as a librarian?

My official title at the University of Iowa is Special Collections Librarian. I’m effectively a curator with a strong focus on collection development. I do some instruction and outreach, but most of that is handled by our department’s dedicated Outreach and Instruction Librarian (who has swiftly conquered the Web with an impressive social media presence). My background is in early printed books, though specialization implies some degree of expertise--something I sure won’t claim to have. Iowa has a rich tradition of practicing and collecting the modern book arts, so I’ve been having a blast inhabiting that world lately.
 
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

Do I have to pick one? I remember fondly my first bibliographic triumph, identifying for the bookstore a later edition of Walter Raleigh’s History of the World that had been sophisticated to masquerade as a first. Just as memorable was working through a small backlog at DePaul University, where I got to catalog a Richard Pynson incunable that York Minster sold to A.S.W. Rosenbach to help fund some building repairs. It was breathtaking to handle a book that was part of such a storied and controversial transaction. Another one of my all-time favorites is something I cataloged at MIT, an official report on the therapeutic uses of animal magnetism. It had a disturbing note scrawled in the back: “Avoid the breath of the infected in...” But the destination to be avoided had been torn away! You can imagine our frustration. We never did figure out what infected part of the world to avoid.
 
What do you personally collect?

My focus as an English major was Anglo-Saxon, so my early collecting was directed at (affordable) copies of Anglo-Saxon literature and scholarship. I actually scared up some important books at bargain prices, like the very copy of Edmund Gibson’s 1692 Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that Anna Gurney used to prepare the first Modern English translation. I admit that my grocery budget suffered in those days. I ate a lot of boxed rice. These days, I eat marginally better and my collecting is more focused on modern mountaineering memoirs.
 
What excites you about rare book librarianship?

The people. I love working with the dealers, the craftspeople, the donors. And the librarians, of course, and there’s really no substitute for enthusiastic patrons. Having started out at the supply end of collection development, it’s fun to be working with dealers on the demand side of things. There’s nothing quite as exciting (or educational) as attending one of the big book fairs and surrounding yourself with people who are passionate about books. What’s more, I’m lucky enough to be marrying a bookbinder and book conservator, so even when I go home at night there’s someone to get excited about rare books with. It’s wonderful.
 
Thoughts on the future of special collections librarianship?

I think the future is looking good. Use statistics are generally up and the demand for rare materials sure isn’t letting up. Our instructors at Iowa are increasingly interested in bringing their students to special collections, and our administrators really seem to understand the unique value these collections add to the institution. Methods for delivering content are fast evolving, and probably always will, but people are constantly finding new and important ways to study and appreciate the originals.
 
Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

On October 21 we’re launching “Hell But Heaven Too: The Making of a Fine Press Book from Idea to Deluxe Edition.” In this exhibit, one of our staff members will explore the creation of Ink on the Elbow, a masterpiece of printing and design from David Esslemont and Gaylord Schanilec. We’re home to Esslemont’s archive, so the exhibit will draw heavily on this unique material. This will be followed in the winter with an exhibit on food as portrayed in the very popular Downton Abbey television series. Culinary material is one of our great strengths here at Iowa, and this will be a fun way to connect our collection to a phenomenon familiar to many of our users.
Our new series profiling Bright Young Librarians continues today with Heather Cole, Assistant Curator of Modern Books & Manuscripts and Curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection at Houghton Library, Harvard University.

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How did you get started in rare books?

As a kid, I picked up old books here and there, thinking they were fun and interesting, without realizing that what I was doing was actually collecting. During my first year in college, one of my classes visited the library’s Special Collections, and it was a huge revelation for me: that not only was this a thing, but it was a thing that people did for a living. I asked for a job on the spot, and within a few semesters I knew it was the career for me.
 
What is your role at your institution?

I have two roles: as the Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, I support a busy department that focuses on material produced between 1800 and the present (which is a LOT of great stuff, both canonical and esoteric). The collection is amazing, and I’m always coming across new things I haven’t seen. Along with helping the curator, Leslie Morris, develop and add to the collection, I give presentations to class groups, answer reference questions, work a few hours a week in our reading room, develop exhibitions, and maintain our department’s blog, among other varied tasks.
 
My second role is the Curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection. TR was one of the last presidents to not have an official presidential library; Harvard holds the bulk of his personal papers. It’s an amazing collection to work with, and TR is an endlessly fascinating figure, so I have a lot of fun with that material.
 
Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

It changes constantly! I was a weird kid who read a lot of Shakespeare growing up, so when I started working in Special Collections libraries, the First Folio was the Holy Grail for me.
 
There are so many cool things at Houghton to play with. We have a set of tiny manuscript booklets that the Brontë siblings made. And we have John Keats’s set of Shakespeare, edited by Samuel Johnson, in which Keats often violently scribbled over Johnson’s commentary, with which he seemed to have strongly disagreed (on one page he wrote, “Fie Johnson!”) I love association books; it’s so interesting to see how writers respond to what they’re reading. And while our literary collections are amazing, I also really like items that relate to pop culture, such as a manual distributed to writers for the original Star Trek series with rules of what they could and couldn’t include in an episode.
 
What do you personally collect?

What my pocket money allows, which isn’t too much! I collect a few modern authors, including Margaret Atwood and A.S. Byatt. I also recently started collecting ephemera relating to vegetarianism. I have a lot of interests, but there’s never enough funds, or space on my bookshelves, to accommodate all the collections I’d like to build.
 
What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I love the variety. Every day I have something different on my desk, and I love the challenge of learning about new material or a new area of collecting. I’ve had the most fun working on exhibitions on topics that I didn’t previously know anything about.
 
One of my favorite parts of my job is introducing our collection to students and other visitors. It’s great to see students who come in and are very skeptical about spending an hour in a library, and then to show them something that blows their minds and gets them excited about using primary sources (everything from the first edition of Leaves of Grass to pulp novels to artists’ books seem to work).
 
Thoughts on the future of special collections / rare book librarianship?

I’m both excited by and a bit afraid of the advent of born-digital materials. I’m glad that it’s an issue that the field is discussing and working on, but a real solution or consensus has not really been found yet. Digital objects are piling up and we need to figure out some way to make that material available to our researchers. I don’t want to turn down a wonderful archive because we have no way to make available the material within it, but we need to make sure that material is as accessible as paper-based collections.

This is very nitpicky, but I would love to see the field find a way to maintain the romance of the places we work while somehow also communicating to the public that our libraries are not populated with dusty tomes on equally dusty shelves, or that amazing material is somehow hidden there and waiting for some intrepid researcher to discover it. That kind of notion downplays how hard the staff at special collections libraries work, and what the very nature of our jobs is!

I hear you’ve done some interesting exhibitions. What has been your favorite to work on?

I curated an exhibition in 2010 to commemorate the bicentenary of the birth of William Makepeace Thackeray. It was an interesting challenge; he’s an author that not many people are familiar with, and so I not only needed to introduce him, his writing, and why he deserves attention, but also to make the exhibition visually appealing and entertaining. Luckily Thackeray’s a pretty easy sell - not only was he a great writer, but he was also a decent artist, a witty letter writer, and a very affectionate and present parent.

Any upcoming exhibitions you’re working on?

I’m currently working on an exhibition to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for 2015. Thanks to collector Harcourt Amory, a contemporary of Carroll’s, Houghton has many of Tenniel’s original drawings for the illustrations, as well as a rich collection of early editions, translations, and ephemera (I’m particularly smitten with a gorgeous Art Deco Alice, with illustrations by Willy Pogány, published by Dutton in 1929.)

For almost two years now, we have been profiling young antiquarian booksellers in our “Bright Young Things” series here on the blog. Today, we launch an expanded definition of “Bright Young Things” to include the next generation of special collections librarians.  We begin with Anthony Tedeschi, Deputy Curator of Special Collections at the University of Melbourne in Australia.  Tedeschi, an American, began his career at the Lilly Library, then continued as a rare book librarian with Dunedin Public Libraries in New Zealand.  He recently accepted a new position with the University of Melbourne and moved to Australia earlier this year:

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How did you get started in rare books?

It was in 2002. I was a first year graduate library science student at Indiana University. I entered the program with the intentions of becoming a map librarian, having studied geography and history as an undergraduate at Rutgers University. A friend at Indiana suggested I might be interested in ‘History of the Book: From Antiquity to 1450’, one of the rare books courses taught by Joel Silver at the Lilly Library, and so I enrolled. The second or third session, Joel wheeled in a trolley of books, one of which was an illuminated Book of Hours. It was the first medieval manuscript I had seen that was not under glass and locked in a display case. I was hooked from the moment I turned the first leaf. That was where I closed the door on map librarianship and began down the path towards a career working with rare books, which, of course, includes antiquarian maps and atlases, so my undergrad education remained nicely relevant despite the change in focus. Two years later I was fortunate enough to land a full-time position at the Lilly. Could not have asked for a better place to begin my career.

What is your role at your institution; what do you specialize in as a librarian?

As deputy curator, my primary role is to assist the curator in the day-to-day operations of the department and share curatorial responsibility for a collection of approximately 250,000 volumes. The position offers a good deal of scope, from collection development and outreach, to selecting items for digitization and cataloguing. Plans are afoot to establish a greater online presence for the collections through social media, which is something I’m really looking forward to overseeing.

I have to agree with Gabe Konrad’s response from your Bright Young Booksellers series: ‘Specialize is a strong word’. There is always something new to learn in this field, which is one of the things I love about it, and working with diverse materials (from medieval and Islamic manuscripts to modern Australian artists’ books) means that I’ve tried not to become too focused on one particular aspect. I would say, however, that my area of greatest knowledge is in British and Continental books from the late medieval period through to the early nineteenth century, with specific interests in provenance evidence, early printed books, and the history of the book in Britain up to the private presses established during the Interwar Period (1919-1939). I’ve recently been reading up on the history of the book in Australia (for obvious reasons!) with a particular focus on the vibrant nineteenth-century Melbourne book trade.

Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

Impossible to pick just one! With each institution for which I’ve worked comes a particular set of favorite books, so perhaps a selection is allowable? At the Lilly, I would say Abraham Lincoln’s law book, the Shakespeare First Folio, and the Gutenberg New Testament (a dream triumvirate). During my time with Dunedin City Library, it would be any of the examples of early printing in the Maori language and a copy of Richard Knolles’s The Turkish History (London, 1687 ed.) inscribed by Samuel Pepys. I am still exploring the Melbourne collections, but at this point a favorite book has to be the library’s copy of Richard Cosin’s An Apologie for Sundrie Proceedings by Iurisdiction Ecclesiasticall (London, 1593), not for its subject matter, but because it is signed by William Juxon, Archbishop of Canterbury. Juxon, when Bishop of London, attended Charles I on the scaffold and administered last rites before the king’s execution. Did I mention my interest in provenance?

What do you personally collect?

I don’t collect, really. The odd volume of literature and occasional book about books find their way to my shelves, but this is in no way a concentrated effort to build a collection, just leisure reading. I have, though, considered collecting private press prospectuses, which is something I might yet take up.

What excites you about rare book librarianship?

Besides being able to exercise my grey cells on a weekly basis, the chance to work with a variety of rare books and manuscripts never ceases to thrill me. I still get the same charge now that I had when I handled that Book of Hours a dozen years ago, which is a feeling I doubt will ever dissipate, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet some really great people passionate about books, be they fellow curators, librarians, members of the trade, or collectors. It’s also a real sense of satisfaction that comes with being able to share that excitement and passion with students or a visiting group from outside the university, and get them thinking about the importance of books as physical objects beyond the text. Few things say ‘job well done’ like receiving a thank you card signed by a group of visiting high school students, complete with a decorated initial and snail in imitation of one of the medieval manuscripts they were shown.

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

Part of my answer can apply to the above question, since this is a rather exciting time to be working in special collections. Much like the antiquarian book trade, special collections libraries are in a period of transition. There is a shift from a focus on collection development, though this remains an integral part of the job, to one of greater access and outreach. More importantly, this is being done by going where users are, e.g. Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, &c. I think this is key to the long term survivability and viability of special collections. The Web not only offers special collections the means to promote their materials--materials that are often what differentiates one library from another and are therefore increasingly important as general resources homogenize online--but also provides a way to remove the veil of elitism (real or imagined) that so often accompanies the term ‘rare books’ and reach a far wider audience than ever before. As David Pearson noted in his 2013 Foxcroft Lecture, ‘It’s the public and the politicians who they vote into office and who ultimately fund libraries ... who need to be converted at least as much as the academy’. The more people that become aware of the existence and importance of special collections, the greater the chance, I think, of ensuring a long and positive future, but it will take those presently employed in the field to really push the agenda. You don’t have to search hard to see this is happening, so I am certainly optimistic.

Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Now that the most recent exhibition (‘Libri: Six Centuries of Italian Books’) has finished, the gallery space is closed for the rest of 2013 and into 2014 for expansion and refurbishment, so no exhibitions on the immediate horizon. The first exhibition slated for the new space is called ‘Radicals, Slayers, and Villains’, which draws from the Special Collections Print Collection of over 8,000 prints. The exhibition focuses on controversial figures from history that have challenged the status-quo and helped shape our world, and includes prints by such seminal artists as Dürer, Goya and Rembrandt. There will also be a major exhibition next year on the eighteenth-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi hosted by the State Library of Victoria, to which Melbourne Special Collections is lending a number of bound volumes and single prints. Expect updates by listserv, blog, and Twitter feed!


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