Our Bright Young Librarians series continues today with Rachel Cole, Public Services Librarian at Northwestern University’s Transportation Library in Evanston, Illinois.

Rachel Cole.jpgWhat is your role at your institution (and please introduce our readers to the Transportation Library at Northwestern)?

I’m the Public Services Librarian for Northwestern University’s Transportation Library. We’re the largest transportation information research center in the United States, and among the largest in the world: we work with transportation information on local, national, and international scales, with a community of users from across the nation and worldwide. Our primary constituents are the students and faculty of the university’s Transportation Center, so the vast majority of our collections comprise technical resources related to current transportation research in support of their work. There’s a lot of fascinating research happening here that is helping to shape the future of mobility and of cities - I regularly get to do instruction, research consultations, and reference support on topics like autonomous vehicles, shared mobility, active transportation, electric vehicles, and infrastructure. It’s an area of personal interest to me, so I feel lucky to get to do this work alongside working with our rare materials, which I get really excited about. Special collections are a smaller and relatively recent area of collection development in the scope of the history of the transportation library, started under our current director Roberto Sarmiento. Many were acquired from donors who have contributed personal collections, though we do seek out materials for purchase with a very specific focus - a particular interest of mine for collection development is catalogs from bicycle manufacturers in Chicago during the manufacturing boom of the 1890s. Other collections focus on the passenger ephemera that’s produced for travel: things like timetables for railroads, passenger steamships, transit operators, and airlines; mid-century menus from airlines, cruise ships, and railroads. We also have a small collection of rare books, and, even after being at Northwestern for two and a half years, I’m still surprised at what I find sometimes when I’m browsing our general collections.


How did you get started in rare books?

My first library job was at the Newberry Library as a library assistant in the General Reading Room. Although I spent a lot of time in libraries in my youth and as a history undergraduate, special collections weren’t something I had been introduced to prior to working there. The lack of exposure in my early life (I would have loved to know about rare books!) is something that continues to inform my interest in making special collections accessible to the general public. At the Newberry I, of course, fell in love with rare books librarianship immediately. In addition to the thrill of working with the Newberry’s collections, I was lucky to be part of a really amazing group of library assistants in the GRR who would later go on to become amazing librarians, and I will always remember that experience fondly.


Where did you earn your MLS/advanced degree?

I earned my MLIS from Dominican University, while working full-time at the Newberry Library and then at the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries of the Art Institute of Chicago. I gained such valuable experience from the work I did at both libraries, under supportive and encouraging managers who pushed me to pursue my interests and gave me time during the workday to do so. For example, in addition to my usual duties as Circulation Manager at the Ryerson, I was given the space to write articles about items in the collection, develop reading room exhibits, and take reference shifts while still in library school.


Favorite rare book / ephemera that you’ve handled?

I have many from among the Transportation Library’s collections, but an 1898 Crawford Manufacturing Company brochure titled “The Modern Spinning Wheel,” which promoted the increased mobility afforded to women by the bicycle is a favorite. Also related to bicycles is a magazine titled “The Wheel World.” Published in London in the 1880s, it documented bicycle and tricycle social culture of the time through articles, illustrations, inside stories, and songs. Also, I still remember the feeling from my early days at the Newberry, over a decade ago, pulling a photo of Eugene Debs from a box - he had autographed it, and the feeling of handling something that this storied labor leader had handled was very powerful. It’s something I find a lot of joy in witnessing when helping students connect with physical materials. But my favorite items are dwarfed by favorite experiences. One of the most memorable was connecting an undergraduate with a physical copy of a 1980s transit map he had seen many times online. His emotion upon seeing the map - one might call it awe (“can I touch it?” he asked) - was really moving, as was his decision, after graduating, to donate a personal collection of transit ephemera to the library.


What do you personally collect?

My personal collection goes back to one of my earliest memories, visiting a travel agency in my hometown of Bartlett, Illinois with my grandmother, and seeing the travel posters of faraway destinations on the wood-paneled walls. The adventure and excitement they promised stayed with me, and my collection of travel ephemera - really, from my own travels - stems directly from that; getting to work with special collections related to travel and transportation at work is something I feel extraordinarily lucky to do.


What do you like to do outside of work?

As you may have guessed from earlier answers, I love to travel: favorite trips have been a solo trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Beijing to St. Petersburg several years back, and to the Algarve, Portugal with my husband last year. Now that we have a 3-year-old son, travel means something new altogether, introducing him to new places and experiences - whether taking him to Yosemite, a day trip to our favorite destination of the Indiana Dunes, or exploring neighborhood parks in our new city of Evanston. I also enjoy architecture, running, skiing, kayaking (we are lucky to have a boathouse with rentals at Northwestern), baking, and seeing friends.


What excites you about rare book librarianship?

I get excited about engagement with and democratization of materials, on a broad scale that appeals not only to the scholars who have traditionally been the users of special collections and rare books, but that also reaches the general public in real and relatable ways. That’s my goal for the Transportation Library’s Instagram account (@transportationlibrary), where I post materials from our collections. In addition to choosing visually interesting items, I include a bit of context about each: followers can choose to scroll through our account and admire the images on their own, or they can pause to read a bit of history about each one. We often get comments on posts to the effect of “I learn so much from your account!” and these are my favorites. I love that our followers come from a range of backgrounds, from high school students to academics. I feel similarly about our online exhibits, which are designed to connect our collections with a broad range of interested people from the general public. In addition to users engaging with these materials online, which I think we’ve been very effective in doing, another end goal is bringing users in to the library to have the experience of interacting with these collections in person. In my two and a half years with the Transportation Library, I’ve curated three online exhibits: Bicycles on Paper, Lovers of the Open Road and the Flying Wheel, and On Board with Design.


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

The things that I mentioned in my previous answer - reaching a broad community of users and making our collections accessible - are not just things I get excited about, but also, I think, the future of special collections and rare book librarianship. This includes presenting our institutions as places where all users are welcome, inviting use of our collections, and meeting our users outside of the library: in the classroom, via social media, through online exhibits, and the like. Focusing on building collections from and about underrepresented groups is also essential as we work towards the goal of connecting with patrons in relatable and meaningful ways: to tell the stories of groups whose voices have not been at the front historically, and to work towards collections where those voices are represented.


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

I’d like to draw attention to them all, because I think they’re all so interesting - choosing one is difficult. Earlier this year, we finished processing the John A. Swider Timetable Collection, which consists of bus and rail timetables dating from 1880 to 2006, including several that promote travel to World’s Fairs. Timetables are such fascinating documents - not just for things like transportation schedules, passenger policies, and maps, but also for the promise they offered for the excitement of travel. I love the ways in which they advertise destinations both near and far, and often employ beautiful imagery to do so. The same can be said for our all of our timetables, including a large collection of airline timetables representing countries from all around the world, donated by Northwestern alum and noted anthropologist George M. Foster.


Any upcoming exhibitions at your library?

Together with colleagues from the Herskovits Library of African Studies, our neighbor here at Northwestern University Libraries, I’m working on Independence in the Air: African Aviation in the 1960s. In researching this exhibition, I was surprised at how quickly many newly independent nations established national airlines in the years directly following their independence - often, the same year or year after. The online exhibit focuses on timetables and other passenger ephemera as well as annual reports from those airlines, to look at how they served as symbols of national identity and modernity as their fleets carried their new flags within their borders and around the world. I am really excited to share this exhibit, and hope you’ll look out for it later this fall.

Image credit: Matthew Zhang

A quill pen that belonged to the Victorian artist and publisher William Morris is headed to auction at Forum Auctions in London on September 27. The antique writing instrument resides in a wooden frame alongside a metal plate that reads: “This pen belonged to William Morris.” A label on the back indicates that the pen passed to Emery Walker, a printer and engraver who worked with Morris at the Kelmscott Press, and thence to John Drinkwater, whose ‘critical study’ of Morris was published in 1912.

Morris Pen.jpgIt’s an understatement to say that Morris looms large in the world of book collecting, which is why the auction estimate of £300-500 ($400-660) seems rather conservative. As Reynolds Price once said to Nicholas Basbanes about his association copy of Paradise Lost, “I was touching the hand that touched the hand that touched the Hand,” it is this direct association with Morris, the visionary of the Arts and Crafts movement, that would compel a devout collector to bid on this piece of realia. 

The lot includes two other pens owned by Drinkwater, as well as a copy of his book on Morris.

Image via Forum Auctions

On Wednesday, September 12, Dominic Winter Auctioneers holds a thirtieth-anniversary sale of Fine Books & Manuscripts, in 180 lots. The top-estimated lot at £20,000-30,000 is a set of the first state of John Lenthall’s engraved playing cards featuring a map of England, from around 1717 (pictured below). The set includes 49 of the 52 cards; no other set with as many cards is known. A set of Roberts’ The Holy Land could fetch £15,000-25,000, while the first six volumes of Bloch’s Ichthyologie is estimated at £12,000-15,000. An interesting C.S. Lewis letter to a group of schoolchildren could sell for £3,000-5,000, and a lovely embroidered binding on a 1637 Bible is estimated at £2,000-3,000.

lenthall.pngHeritage Auctions holds a Rare Books & Maps Signature Auction on Thursday, September 13, in 342 lots. A rare 1799 reissue of the 1787 New York edition of The Federalist has a $35,000 reserve. (More on that, including comments from collector Michael Zinman, here in our autumn auction guide.) A run of The Strand Magazine featuring all of the Sherlock Holmes stories published there has a $33,000 reserve. Also on the block are an eleven-volume set of Audubon’s Birds and Quadrupeds, several Borges manuscripts (lots 45024-45027), a number of Dickens books in parts as well as several books from Dickens’ library, and a Bible from the family of H.P. Lovecraft.


Also on Thursday: rare books and manuscripts at Waverly Rare Books in Falls Church, VIrginia, including early printed books, fine bindings, autographs, Americana, and more.


Image credit: Dominic Winter Auctioneers

Over 100 rare book, photo, print, and ephemera dealers will fill the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, this weekend and transform the space into a celebration of art and the written word with a series of events and 50,000 of their most favorite finds of the season. This year, the fair commissioned artist and animator Nicole Antebi of Hudson Valley Motion Graphics to highlight the book fair and the unique opportunity it provides to find and build meaningful collections. Take a look:


Cultivating great collections one object at a time from bookandpaperfairs.com on Vimeo.


Looking forward to seeing you at the fair! 



Jennifer Morla is a legend in her own time: for forty years, her shadow has loomed over the world of graphic design. Earning over 300 accolades like the Cooper Hewitt award, the AIGA medal, and the Smithsonian Design Museum National Award, Morla’s work has graced publicity campaigns for some of the world’s best-known brands like Levi’s, Design Within Reach, Swatch, and Nordstrom. The Library of Congress and MOMA have her pieces in their permanent collections, and when she’s not running her eponymous design firm, Morla is teaching design at the California College of the Arts.


Now, Morla is the subject of a forthcoming biography being published by Letterform Archive. Entitled, fittingly, Morla: Design, the Kickstarter-funded project explores Morla’s career, her creative process, design philosophy, and also offers behind-the-scenes stories about various high profile projects. Staying true to Morla’s contemporary and lively aesthetic, the book features neon bookmark ribbons, metallic inks throughout, and a vegan leather case, itself a design triumph. Letterform’s all-or-nothing Kickstarter campaign ends Saturday, September 8, though it has already surpassed its $50,000 goal. Donations in all amounts are still very much welcome, but those willing to pledge $125 and up will receive a copy of the book. 


Morla graciously answered a few questions recently about the book, the importance of listening to clients, and whether words remain as important as art in our increasingly image-saturated world.


1. Your book is the second book to be published by Letterform Archive, following on the heels of W.A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design. How did your project come about?


It seemed like the appropriate time for me to discuss my design approach and identify the issues that I consider when formulating my design process. Letterform Archive showed an immediate interest in publishing my monograph and has been a true partner in bringing this book to print.


2. You founded Morla Design in 1984. What drew you to this field? 


My aunt was an editor at Condé Nast in the 60s and would occasionally cast my sister and myself in photoshoots when we were young. By the time I was 10 years old, I already had been exposed to the workings of a magazine and an in-house “art department.” Another great influence was visiting MOMA’s design wing as a child and seeing chairs, posters and books displayed in a museum.  Those events, coupled with my ability to draw, solidified my decision to become a designer.


3. What is it like to know your work will exist in perpetuity in institutions like the LIbrary of Congress and is considered a touchstone of American design?


It is very, very humbling. I consider myself so very fortunate to have had clients who have collaborated with me in defining communication goals without defining the solution.


4. Was yours an artistic household? Growing up in Manhattan, I imagine you took great advantage of your surroundings. What were (or remain) your New York design influences? 


My mother was an art history major and would take us to museums often when we were young. One of my favorites was the Guggenheim, an architectural icon, so very different from any other museum in the city. I was in love with the building, and what nine year old doesn’t love skipping down a six story ramp? Another big influence was The New York Times. Type, illustrations, fashion, a magazine, and those wonderful, full page Ohrbach’s ads! In 1970, the Vietnam War was raging and political images proliferated all around the city: in the media, on construction barricades, in subway ads. Push Pin’s posters, an Evergreen magazine cover by Paul Davis of Che Guevara, the musical “Hair,” all had a profound influence on me understanding the power of design in its many forms.    




5. Your first job out of college was at San Francisco’s local PBS station, followed by a move to run the art department for Levi Strauss. What was that leap like? Was it challenging going from a nonprofit to a commercial entity?


The biggest difference was design budget. Although my meager salary was the same for both positions, the Levi’s creative budget allowed me the opportunity to produce big ideas. At the PBS station, the creative budgets were so tight that I hand-cut rubylith [masking film] to save money. I handled every project from beginning to end: photography, lettering, illustration and animation. At Levi’s, I was able to hire great photographers, print thousands of posters, and create high end brochures using every specialty printing technique. Both jobs were extremely informative and gave me the confidence to open my design studio at 28 years old.


6. I’m going to ask you a question you’ve probably been asked hundreds of times: what makes good design? Does good design change with the times, or are their classic elements that never go out of style?


Great design is, quite simple, innovation that reflects the spirit of an era and becomes a classic because of its timeless appeal.


7. How has your design aesthetic evolved, if at all, over the course of your career?


Although I can see some influence of a certain time period in my work, I have always maintained that design should be appropriate to the problem rather than a stylistic conceit.  I hope the work shown in the book is a testament to that belief.




8. It seems our society is moving away from verbal communication towards more visual marketing and communication. Has this trend changed how you work? Or do words remain as relevant as ever?


As designers, we often underestimate the impact we have on the world at large, and how our visual vocabulary is influenced by political, social and cultural events. I created Designisms, a listing of my observations and reflections on design and designing. Specific to your question, a designism: Words are as important as images and images can be more powerful than words.


9. How do you approach a project? What’s your process?


I always start with sketching. Many sketches. The final sketches identify the solution, including typeface considerations, color, illustrative style and final form. I often consider whether the solution can be accomplished with just type.


10. Have you ever worked on a project that didn’t turn out as expected, for better or for worse? 


Oh yes, I believe in allowing the process to help define the solution. And accidents are an important part of the process. Only the creator can identify when an accident, something you did not expect, adds an informative detail to the solution.


11.  Are you a collector? If so, what do you collect. And why?


Not a collector at all, I am a minimalist. But I do love to read and read about 50 books a year. I guess I collect books.


12.  What are your favorite books?


I especially like fiction and my list of favorites is vast: Orlando by Virginia Woolf, the way she shocks the reader with the unexpected, to John Updike’s uber-realistic Rabbit series. From contemporary novelists like Jenny Egan to Flaubert’s classic, Madame Bovary. When my girls were in eighth grade, I read what they were reading and I got to fall in love again with Huckleberry Finn and Pride and Prejudice. Current favorite authors beside Egan are George Saunders, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and for a chuckle, David Sedaris.


13. Could you talk a little about the design process for Morla: Design. It is encased in vegan white leather with a vacuum-formed cover. What do you hope the design of your book will convey to readers?


That design is not only about two dimensional space, that form can surprise and generate curiosity. I relish experimenting with materials; the vacuum-formed and debossed covers both are seductive and amplify the pattern cover art. Fluorescent inks act as chapter dividers and bring attention to the section of the book I dedicated to my best loved typefaces and characters. I utilized many of my favorite printing and binding techniques in designing the book: Fluorescent and metallic inks are used to identify my essays, vellum sheets with white ink display my “designisms”, full bleed images throughout showcase projects and the ribbon markers allow the reader to mark favorite images. The book itself is a tactile and visually rich object.


14. In addition to running Morla Design, you teach at California College of the Arts. What are some of the most common questions you receive from students about making a living as a designer?


I believe that a good designer is a great listener, and if you carefully, the client nearly always gives you the solution to the problem.


Images courtesy of Letterform Archive


89b4694ac9456b2f11d2a2cf395f5560.jpgBookfinder.com, an online price comparison tool for books, has released an annual list of its most searched for out-of-print books for the past 14 years. The 2017 list was just unveiled, and this year’s winner for “most sought after book” was... Arranged Marriage by Chita Banerjee Divakaruni. (Notably, for the first time since I’ve been covering the annual Bookfinder report, Sex by Madonna was knocked out of the top ten).

Arranged Marriage by Divakaruni is a collection of short stories about arranged marriage that was first published in 1996. Divakaruni, an Indian-American author and poet, is probably best known to American readers for her novel The Mistress of Spices (1997). The stories may have found a new readership owing to the current debates over women’s rights in India as well as immigration to the United States (some stories in the collection deal with the cultural impact of Indian arranged marriages coupled with American immigration). Divakaruni wasn’t the only Indian-American author on the top ten list; in spot number 6 was The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. It was a surprise to me to find that title out of print owing to the continued popularity of its Pulitzer Prize winning author. 

A few other personal surprises from the list included Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (number 2), You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers (number 3), and Gun with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem (number 7). 

The number 10 spot went to a beloved book for some Fine Books & Collections readers: Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman, about Fadiman’s love of books and reading, along with reminiscences of her familial literary petigree.

Director Frederick Wiseman’s 2017 documentary on the New York Public Library, Ex Libris, premieres tonight at 10:00 p.m. on PBS.

Copyright The New York Public Library (1) copy.jpgFeaturing Patti Smith, Richard Dawkins, and Elvis Costello, as well as librarians, library staffers, and patrons young and old, the documentary covers (or makes a valiant effort at covering) the breadth and depth of the NYPL’s ninety-two branches in just over two hours. One reviewer called it “The Best Thing to Happen to Libraries Since the Dewey Decimal System.” Watch a two-minute preview here.

Best teaser: “Andy Warhol stole lots of stuff from us.”

Image courtesy of the NYPL via PBS

A quiet auction week, with just one sale to preview:


On Thursday, September 6, PBA Galleries sells Literature with Books in All Fields, in 607 lots. The top-estimated lot is a copy of Herbert Childs’ biography of American physicist Ernest Orlando Lawrence, An American Genius (1968). Inscribed by the author and signed by more than forty scientists (among them ten Nobel laureates) and Lawrence family members, the volume is estimated at $10,000-15,000.


An early American edition of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, with the publisher’s printed dust-jacket, is estimated at $3,000-5,000, while an inscribed first edition of Stephen King’s Carrie could fetch $1,500-2,000. The rare final section of Richard Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, is estimated at $1,000-1,500, as is the first printing of Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock” (in Miscellaneous Poems and Translations). The original typescript of Lawrence Block’s Ariel, with the author’s set of galley proofs, rates the same estimate; there are two other Block manuscripts and typescripts on offer as well.


A first edition of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912) is estimated at $600-900, and an inscribed copy of Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968) is rated at $400-600. 


Lots 367-607 are being sold without reserve.


Image credit: PBA Galleries

Make Way for the Montana Book Festival!



A quick consultation of the weather forecast reveals hot and humid weather for much of the United States...except for Montana, where the first winter weather advisories have already gone out in parts of the state and other areas are enjoying temperatures in the low seventies. Sounds tempting, doesn’t it? Why not book a trip out to Big Sky Country for later in September, when the Montana Book Festival gets underway in the city of Missoula. From September 27-30, the festival includes author readings, writing workshops, panel discussions, and live performances. Bonus: the temperatures there during late September average in the mid-sixties.


Formerly known as the Montana Festival for the Book, the latest incarnation was born in 2015 after a local group of Montana booklovers took over the festival from the nonprofit Humanities Montana. The festival is currently run by Sam Burris and former bookseller Tess Fahlgren and has welcomed authors like Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, award-winning short story writer Meagan MacVie, and local authors like Sarah Aronson. This year’s lineup will be announced shortly.


A favorite event returning this year is Pie and Whiskey, the Spokane, Washington-based tent revival dedicated to literary engagement. The adults-only program offers pie, whiskey, and writers reading stories on topics ranging from sex, drugs, politics, and everything in between.


The festival is funded by grassroots efforts and every bit helps. Organizers have even designed a $30 T-shirt with the cheeky slogan “Make America Read Again,” with 100 percent of all profits going to towards programming.


More info on the festival here.


In a fortnight it’s back-to-school and therefore back-to-books with America’s largest regional antiquarian book fair, the annual Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair, now in its fifth year and happening over two days on September 8-9 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn at the Brooklyn Expo Center. 


Today also happens to be the birthday of Mary Shelley, and in honor of her genius and magnificent creation of her monster, the fair is celebrating Frankenstein with a preview of the Morgan Library’s forthcoming exhibition: It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200. 


The fair features several Frankenstein editions, including a third edition from Peter Harrington in London. Their copy of Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus is handsomely bound in brown half morocco with Johannes Schiller’s The Ghost Seer and Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly; or, The Sleep Walker. Published in 1831, its spines are lettered in gilt, with illustrated title pages by Theodor von Holst. This is the first illustrated edition of Frankenstein, the third overall and the final definitive text and, Harrington notes, the first to gain true popularity. Shelley incorporated most of the changes introduced by William Godwin in the second edition. It also includes her now famous introduction in which she describes her haunting nocturnal storytelling session with Shelley, Byron, and Polidori at the Villa Diodati. The frontispiece is the first book illustration showing Frankenstein and the Creature.


Next week we’ll share more items at the fair. For today, happy birthday to Mary Shelley, who wrote a masterful work of genius as a teenager, a fact doubted by many literary critics and scholars over the years, who prefer to assign her husband with the credit.


Image courtesy of Book and Paper Fairs


Auction Guide