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.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Where we read makes a difference

As a lifelong reader and learner, I've come to recognize that where we read is important. After I graduated college, I lived in NYC and rode the subway everyday. It was crowded and noisy, but it was my undivided, uninterrupted time when I could delve into a complex subject and read until my stop (at least 30-50 minutes at a time). When I moved to South Dakota, one of the things I missed was my commute and time to read on the subway. Now I had to carve time out to read on the couch. When I moved to Ohio, I drove a lot and began to listen to audiobooks. I found the experience different from reading with my eyes. Of course, I was only distracted by traffic and weather. In each instance, the environment where I read played a big factor in how I experienced the book. Strangely enough, I have problems disappearing into a digital text.

As we begin to study the history of the book in earnest, we need to consider how our interaction with text, story, and books has changed over time. When literature was oral, story tellers traveled to cities and towns telling tales, exchanging stories with others, and learning or making up new songs and stories. As the stories evolved, the kernels of the tale remained the same, and perhaps the lessons or morals (think Aesop). In each place, the listener interacted with the teller and the stories were passed down from one generation to the next, changing with language, custom, and time. When the stories were written down, they ceased changing as much. The story was then read by the story teller who perhaps listened within his head, or if read out loud, the audience heard the words.  

If we take a step away from author / teller and listener / reader, we realize that the story is heard many different ways by each person who hears or reads the tale. If distracted, perhaps the story is only partially absorbed. If focused, many questions may arise. As the story is experienced over and over, then the reader / listener gains more insight into the tale, history, genealogy, family lore, or event. 

Listening and reading are just different ways to experience the same tale, they require different routines or muscles to interact with the story teller. Place also changes the experience. Consider reading a tale about explorers while you are hiking a trail or driving a rural road. That experience is very different from being an armchair explorer, safe and warm in your own house. 

Take the time to read a book slowly, ravenously, deliciously, and even ponderously. Listen to different narrators, see a play, watch a movie, and read the book. How do the stories and experiences differ. Now consider how our ancestors interacted with the story teller. In the end, the interaction is the same.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The evolution of books

As I was reading older issues of Atlantic Monthly, I came across this interesting article by Alan Jacobs called "How Books Learn" (July 2012)   In his article, Jacobs ruminates about the evolution of books. He perceives of books ranging from ever evolving and maturing oral poems and histories by Homer to those written down by Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, and most every author you can think of. Then he turns his thoughts to the formats of books from scrolls and beautifully bound and decorated medieval manuscripts to artists' books that are all about the form and not the content. Here's a link to the Five Colleges' Artists' Books site

Here are some pages from a curious Italian book made of cut images to form an ever changing story or play. The pages  tell different stories depending upon how you adjust the pages. 


Over the next few months we will explore the evolution of the book from scroll to codex, from poetry, plays, speeches, philosophy, and histories to religious commentaries, more philosophy, science, and literature. While the content within the pages ties the work together, the structure of the text, the pages of type, the quires, thread, and boards bind the content to the covers and makes the work portable. In this electronic age, it is the digital bits which represent the ideas of the author that are gathered together and then made available in some format readable through an e-reader, browser, or screen. 

When I think about the evolution of the book, such a provocative and contentious concept, I consider both the text and its structural parts. Words and ideas are combined on a page together with images, all wrapped into a cover or binding. Today the question and practice of studying the evolution of the book centers around two things, the contents and its packaging. Contents, that is what is composed by authors and presented to readers is ever evolving reflecting the reading interests of that generation. The structure, the method of accessing the contents is what is currently evolving from physical pages to digital images. So far, the shift is from tangible to intangible, from physical to digital facsimile. We still read from front to back, for the most part, and rarely jump around unless we follow those distracting hypertext links, curious notes and appendices, illustrations, maps, and whatever else steers us away from the main text.

What's the next step for the book along this evolutionary ladder? My crystal ball is still cloudy. What do you think?

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Type, Fonts, and Punctuation

This week, our third in the exploration of the history of the book, typefaces and punctuation are most intriguing. You've grappled with ideas of how letter shapes change over time. The evolution of the letter form continues from those shaped and rounded with a stylus or pen to those seen on the computer screen. Here's something to consider. How does the font the book designer selected change your experience with the book or the text itself?

For those of you with e-readers, take some time to change the typeface. Switch back and forth between letters with serifs and to  those without. If you read about the psychology of letter shapes, those with serifs are more formal. The serif connects the letters together so you read in a swath.
Text composed with san serif fonts are read a letter at a time. The reading goes more slowly and is choppier. San serif is great for advertisements, not philosophical disputations. 

Punctuation has also evolved and is varied depending upon time period, language, and culture. Greek used a dot or period for a pause in text, the colon :  as a full stop. Latin does the same. Modern Hebrew really only uses periods. Biblical Hebrew uses a colon, sometimes.   Some European language, French I believe uses  double angle brackets (diple)  instead of quotation marks, at least in older type set books. 

I've introduced the blog I love Typography to you.  Here's a nice article on their site called "The Origins of ABC"
I find fonts and punctuation fascinating to ponder. The literature is endless and the study is similar to the etymology and linguistics. There's a wonderful scholarly book by M.B. Parkes called "Pause and Effect: An Introduction to the History of Punctuation in the West" (University of California Press, 1993). While the book is out of my price range, you might look at a copy in the library.

If you are interested in letter shapes, you could read Simon Loxley's  Type: The Secret History of Letters(NY: I. B. Tauris, 2006).

My favorite book about letters when I was growing up was by Oscar Ogg "The 26 Letters". Now out of print, the text describes how letters evolved, how the shapes are formed in different languages, and how they change over time.

Monday, January 27, 2014

From manuscript to print

Have you seen this article about the book?    When looking at the page from this first printed book in Italy, we see examples from the manuscript tradition including a factotum (a letter in the blank spot at top left) that tells the illuminator or rubricator what letter to insert. In this case a C.

The blog post focuses on typography, that is typefaces, specifically those designed and created by Erhard Ratdolt (1442–1528), a Renaissance Typographer. He flourished in Venice where printing was an active and lucrative trade. The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art has an article about Ratdolt's printed work
  And you can find an example here

Careful examination of layout and design provide clues for how the page was composed and illustrations added. In Ratdolt's work, illustrations were either printed at the same type as the page using woodcuts that were colored later, or painted by hand afterward.

Ratdolt is most famous for printed work of Euclid There are not only beautiful borders framing three sides of the text, but also mathematical diagrams in the fore-edge margin, all printed at the same time.

Here's an example of his printing where the illustrations have been colored in by hand. The caption from reads "Schema zur Mondfinsternis. Holzschnitt, in drei Farben gedruckt, aus: Johannes de Sacro Bosco, Sphaericum opusculum, gedruckt von Erhard Ratdolt, Venedig 1485. Diagram, showing eclipse of the moon; woodcut, printed in three colours, from Sphaericum opusculum by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, printed by Erhard Ratdolt, Venice 1485." [To see a full size image of the page go to ]

For more information on Renaissance printers, check out "Typography & Graphic Design — Renaissance to Rococo Era" (History of Graphic Arts by Paula DiMarco, Ph.D., California State U Northridge course on typography) :

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On overview of the history of books

Do you want to read more about the history of books? We will be reading some during the course of the semester. The main text by Chappell will provide an historical overview of texts and printing.

Martyn Lyons Books: A Living History (Los Angeles: The J.Paul Getty Museum, 2011) is an illustrated overview of the history of books from the earliest written texts (about 2000 BCE) to the present. Although he says he's covering the world, most of his examples are from the Western World. There are some examples from Asia and Arab countries which provide context for developments of movable type in Europe and for woodblock prints that prevalent in Asia. The photographs are lovely and set the book in context.

David Pearson's  Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Text (London & New Castle, DE: British Library & Oak Knoll Press, 2008, 2012) discusses how books fit in our lives and in the lives of our ancestors. Pearson takes readers beyond the text to consider why books are important.

If you are more interested in how the book changes over time, you should consult Frederick G. Kilgour   The Evolution of the Book (NY: Oxford University Press, 1998). Kilgour, of OCLC fame, describes how books evolve from the prehistoric period to the electronic book. Lacking color illustration, and indeed almost all illustration, this text focuses on the physical construction of books, their content, and markets.

To complement Chappell, you might look at S.H. Steinberg's  Five Hundred Years of Printing (London & New Castle, DE: British Library & Oak Knoll Press, 1955, 1996). Steinberg's expertise is printing, so he focuses on changes in type faces, layout, and design.

The newest book on the history of the book is a one volume work by Michael F. Suarez S.J. and H. R. Woudhuysen entitled The Book: A Global History (Oxford University Press, 2014). This work is a series of essays by scholars of the book covering every imaginable topic. Arranged chronologically and geographically, this book is perfect for the student and scholar who wants a thorough overview of scholarship of the field in the early 21st century.

There are many more books available on the history of the book from every imaginable perspective. I've selected a few from my favorites and my personal library. Let me know what your favorites are.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Project & Time Management

We are all busy. We have our own lives, jobs, school, and too many projects to let them all slide to the bottom of the pile or to the last minute. As an information profession, you will be expected to manage your time and projects. In addition to reference, cataloging, and bibliographic instruction, rare book and special collection librarians are expected to mount exhibitions of their materials. 

Exhibitions showcase special, rare, and unusual items within collections. In many cases, these exhibits market special collections and the wide range of materials, often hidden within the walls of the storage areas.  After selecting the subject of your exhibit, in the case of this course a specific author and work, you need to organize your project. Start with the date the finished project is due and work backward. For class, I've designed the project and have you delivering parts according to the schedule I've set. That's the project management aspect of the assignment. Your job is to budget your time accordingly so that the project gets finished on time and according to specifications. 

Managing a project is an important skill for all librarians and information scientists to master. In fact, it's an important skill for any job at any stage in your career. As a manager, you oversee your employees and direct reports to make certain the project has goals, objectives, and deadlines. Depending upon your management style, you may check on staff regularly to discuss problems that arise or just confirm that the project is on track. Master project management skills for yourself by setting short achievable deadlines that build upon one another. The key is time management. Set a time to do the work, remove all distractions, and complete that task. Check it off and set the next goal and deadline.  Before you know it, the project will be finished with time to spare.

Durer - the most amazing printer

There's a BBC radio program that discussesAlbrecht Dürer (1471–1528)
and his prints.  The narrative is fascinating. If only the program included images of his work.  

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a series of pages dedicated to his life and work 

There's a house museum in Nurnberg dedicated to the artist

The prints are so fine, fluid, and realistic. It seems as though the images could just walk off the page.  My favorites are the rabbit  and the rhinoceros. 

If you want to more about Durer, check out his website 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Examining the minutiae

Studying texts involves examining the way books look and feel, how pages are designed and laid out, the arrangement of the text, collation of pages, and many other aspects, including book plates, signatures, and provenance. Now and again, researchers stumble upon books that look authentic but aren't. These cleverly created forgeries force librarians and scholars to scratch their heads and examine very carefully all the clues embedded in the book. The same is true for works of art that are later deemed forgeries.

This week, two articles crossed my desk that deal with forgeries. The first is Galileo's Sidereus  which a professor at Georgia State University studied and determined was a forgery.    A longer article was published in the New Yorker (Dec 16, 2013) [Note, KSU provides access to the article through their catalog.] The scholars worked with Owen Gingrich, author of The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus who studied most copies of Copernicus' work, examining marginalia. In the case of this Galileo forgery, they looked at library property marks, bibliographies, and other textual clues.

The second article is about the Oath of the Freedman. There's a short article about the forgery here:

Rare Book Crime Capers: Forgery, Theft, Murder and the Holy Grail of American Printing

These article discussion the study of type, layout, and typography to determine the forgery. 

Bibliography is all about the book. Look for clues as to their construction and pay attention to how they differ. This skill takes practice and requires attention to detail. Can you spot a reprint amongst the books you are studying?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Rothschild Prayerbook Set to Break Record - The Fine Books Blog

As we start to explore the world of rare and special books, it's important to read widely. There are a number of blogs that include information about rare books. Fine Books & Collections Magazine is one of those blogs. Today (January 7th, 2014), they posted this article about a Book of Hours that's to be sold at auction. 
Rothschild Prayerbook Set to Break Record - The Fine Books Blog
What's a Book of Hours you ask? It's a Christian devotional, a book for meditation and prayer that is mostly psalms  that was read by individuals throughout the day and week as the hours chimed in clock towers or prayers were chanted in monasteries and cathedrals. The finest Books of Hours were decorated with illuminated boarders and decorated capitals. We'll see examples of all of these in the Rare Books / History of the Book course this semester.

Two questions that may come to mind are "Why is this called the Rothschild Prayerbook?" and "Wasn't the family Jewish?" The answer to both questions is that the prayer book comes from the collection of the Rothschild Family and even if it wasn't most recently owned by them, they were the famous owner. Naming manuscripts and books is like naming archaeological artifacts, the object is given the name of the owner, the museum, the location, or the discoverer.

If you want to read more about Books of Hours, here's a link to an exhibit at the Houghton Library, Harvard entitled "Picturing Prayer" with beautiful examples of these prayer books.