Friday, February 03, 2017

Visiting rare book collections

While traveling, I always try to visit different libraries and see their rare and special collections.  This week wile in Miami, I stopped in to see a former rare book student. She took me to the special collections at Florida International University. They have a fine collection of 17th century books about Spain and the Spanish in the New World. Most of all, the have A fine collection of books about early Florida.

Donated by a local business man, many of the books are bound in vellum or leather. All the paper is rag, of course, and all printed in the hand-press period. Magnificent!

For students, visiting special and rare collections means they can touch, feel,examine and explore rare books. It is an opportunity to learn what rag paper feels like, to see signature marks, and understand first hand how books are constructed. You can see how signatures go together and what catchwords rwally do, which is help the reader read continuously as pages are turned. Those catchwords also help the printer and binder get the pages into the correct order.

As we continue to examine books, we will see many examples of printing. Alas these conventions are lacking in perfect bound, modern printed books, and of course books.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Ruminations on FRBR and Rare Books

One of my students asked about FRBR manifestations and expressions and whether they could be compared to edition, impression, issue and state, as described in standard texts about Analytic Bibliography. They are particularly interested in theoretical similarities.

It's a difficult question to answer, particularly for one who looks at practice and not theory.

When we talk about editions and their various forms we are looking at an instance of setting type and looking at how that set type varies over time until the type is reset (new edition). One of the issues with FRBR and RDA for Rare Books is the loss of the granularity between editions, impressions, and issues. If they are all lumped together, it will become impossible to actually identify different editions, impressions, and issues, not to mention comments about state (minute changes in layout, punctuation, and errors in pagination).

Rare Book librarians have been revising and updating their cataloging procedures and protocols in light of FRBR and RDA, but it is a slow process and they aren't ready to jettison the specificity of AACRII 2nd edition in favor of something that doesn't take that specificity into account. 

As the semester progresses, we'll look at many reference tools and articles that will help us understand how to differentiate and describe editions. That's what analytic or descriptive bibliography is all about. Take a look at the diagram in Belanger and the discussion in Williams to get a better understanding of definitions for bibliography. Both contain visual examples of bibliographies.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Stored off site? Is it "out of mind"?

Many of our cultural heritage institutions have run out of shelf space, out of on-site storage space, out of room.  No matter how much we weed, there are still more books, documents, and objects that arrive at our institution, day after day, week after week.  It's a sad reality, but our institutions cannot keep everything on-site, not even the Library of Congress.

Weeding isn't an option in many institutions. Special Collections, Archives, Historical Societies, Museums, and Rare Book Rooms are hard pressed to weed collections. In fact, many gain objects and materials due to poor condition, rarity, risk of mutilation, or re-classification as 'medium rare.' So how do we control the ever growing number of items in our collections? 

We could hone our collections so they fit within the scope of our collection policies. In this case, deaccessioning is a possibility and materials are moved to private collectors and to other institutions.  
We could reappraise our archival collections, removing all duplicates, digitizing where possible, and offering unprocessed backlogged materials to other institutions. Again, we just shuffle the 'cards' around.

Over the past twenty years, more and more of our collections have been moved to on-site and now off-site storage. Moving items to storage has increased over the past 5 years when universities realized that there's lots of expensive real estate tied up in library buildings and shelving, real estate that could be used as community space, collaborative space, and more. Journals were moved to storage or even discarded because the print runs were digitized. The same is true of government documents. In our rush to digitize, we've discarded and stored.

Now many items in Archives, Historical Societies, and even Special and Rare Book Collections are stored off-site in environmentally controlled, safe facilities. It can take 1-3 days for items to be retrieved depending upon when they are requested. 

While there are lots of articles about "Hidden Collections," Erika Jenns raises the question of how putting items in storage contributes to the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. "Just Lines in a Spreadsheet? Maintaining the relevance of materials in offsite storage." American Libraries (January 10, 2016): 

If items aren't in the stacks, aren't available via browsing the shelves, then are they doomed to live in storage forever? We know it's not the case for closed stack libraries like NYPL and Cleveland Public Library and historical societies, but what about traditional academic and public libraries? 

It's harder to browse our collections when items are in storage. Our patrons must request items then wait for them to arrive. In the days of instant gratification, it's difficult for our patrons to understand that items in storage and take time to arrive. 

Until "everything" is digitized, we'll be grappling with on and off site storage, with requesting items, and moving them around. 

We'll be discussing this topic and others in Rare Books this semester I look forward to your solutions.

Friday, December 25, 2015

2016 Thoughts on Teaching Rare Books and the History of the Book

Once again, I am preparing to teach my course on Rare Book Librarianship and the History of the Book in an online mode. It's a daunting task that requires a balancing act of lecturing, demonstrating, exercises, and encouraging students to explore this broad and complex subject. I'm not the only historian or librarian or bibliophile who is teaching about this topic in the online mode. I know from past semesters that the physical experience of handling paper and parchment, looking at manuscripts and 500 year old books is lost. On the other hand, the virtual world of books holds many visual books, manuscripts, illustrations, and formats. More examples and facsimiles are available each year. 

So what's in store for my upcoming class? An introduction to bibliography in all its facets and varieties, a chance to study the printing history of a book they select, and the opportunity to explore the riches of the world of books, illustration, illumination, and texts. 

The syllabus is overflowing with articles, videos, and examples. Here's last year's syllabus for the curious reader It will be updated a few days before the course begins on January 18, 2016.

 The Blackboard version (open to only my students this semester) contains my lectures that I refresh from year to year. 

There are a few new books and articles I want to peruse before the semester starts. They will add flavor and context to my lectures. I diligently add the titles of interesting history, fiction, and non-fiction to the syllabus under "For Your Entertainment." This year, I'll be adding that list to separate page on my website and probably to my GoodReads feed. 

It's a bold adventure I'm undertaking this spring, with a promise to myself to reflect on the topic more, and to update this blog regularly with thoughts, ideas, and links.  
Until January...

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Libraries and manuscript collections

Ohio is known for its libraries and extensive collection. Each library, special collection, archive, and museum has its specialty and its focus. Of course, the state also has its famous book people. Otto Ege is the most famous and infamous of librarians I can think of. An art historian and book collector, he is most known for his collections of leaves, that is disbound manuscript leaves, sold to libraries throughout the country. Otto Ege is once again in the RB news, this time in the Manuscript Road Trip blog which features not only Ege's work, but the numerous libraries in Ohio that own sets of his leaves. Kent State University, Ohio State University, and Dennison University have sets of these leaves and librarians and historians at Dennison (in Granville, OH) have been studying the leaves, trying to reconstruct the original manuscript books.   Dr. Scott Gwara of South Carolina published a book recently entitled Otto Ege’s Manuscripts: A Study of Ege’s Manuscript Collections, Portfolios, and Retail Trade with a Comprehensive Handlist of Manuscripts Owned or Sold. His book is an extensive bibliography of the manuscripts; the work of many years.

Numerous efforts are in the works to digitally reconstruct broken manuscripts. Other projects revolve around documenting early printed books in the US. The 2014 update to the Directory of Institutions in the United State and Canada with Pre-1600 Manuscript Holdings (compiled and edited by M. Conway and L. F. Davis) has been uploaded to the Bibliographical Society of America website:
Keep an eye on the rare book listservs and blogs to stay abreast of news in the field.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Types and Typefaces

I must admit I've been neglecting this blog of rare and special books.
Today I came across a short post that fits within the topic of 20th century printing featuring a book called Types and Bookmaking Containing Notes on the Books Printed at the Southworth - Anthoensen Press  Within this magnificent tome readers will see examples of printing types. The book is reminiscent of Bruce Rogers (1870-1957) Paragraphs on Printing. 

As with any book about type, the reader sees specimens of type faces along with paragraphs or text that shows the type in context. A marvel to behold, librarians and book lovers can use these books to train their eyes to differentiate different type faces. Need to compare with another similar typeface? Look at Daniel Berkeley Updike's  Printing Types, their history, forms, and use: a study in survivals.


Friday, February 28, 2014

Exploring reference tools

After reading 50 memos about acquiring, retaining, or discarding reference tools, I was struck by the small number of reference tools the class, as a whole, decided to consider. The most common recommendations to keep or acquire were ESTC, EEBO, 19th STC, Evans, and Sabin. A few tackled NUC and NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections) and even CCE (the Copyright Catalogue). A few of you considered bibliographic reference tools like Harner's Literary Research or American Periodical Index. 

Here's what concerns me. There were few variations in what was selected. Was that because I mentioned the reference tools in my lectures? or suggested you practice them? If that's the case, then are you looking at rare book reference tools that are in your libraries? on your reference shelves? 

If you want to be effective librarians in a special collection / rare book library, you need to explore all the various reference tools at your disposal, print, microfilm, and digital; obscure, common, and  unusual.  Take 10-15 minutes every day to learn about a database or index. In the case of print tools, look at the forward, preface, and introduction. Study the end sheets and examples. Take a look at the various sections of the book, the index, the entries. How is it arranged? What is the date range for the entries? Take your time, look something up in the book.

For digital and online reference tools, look at the help screens,  try some practice exercises, and think about how each database searches for information. Are there Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT, ADJ) ? Start with subjects you know and work through the databases then more on to other subjects. Use the technique for this class - work through EEBO, ESTC, ISTC ECCO - think about how the databases are different and
similar, what searching features are there and what do the results look like. The more reference tools you explore, the more bibliographies and indices you examine (in various languages), the more comfortable and fluent you will become with rare book reference resources. 

Learn a new reference tool every day (a skill that you will be required to do as a new professional) and you'll be on your way to being a good reference librarian.