From the Profession: Rare Books and Manuscript Conference 2017

by Julie Tanaka, Curator, Rare Books

Old Capitol, University of Iowa

Iowa City, the only UNESCO City of Literature in North America, hosted the 58th annual Rare Books and Manuscript Section (RBMS) Conference June  20-23, 2017. This city’s vibrant literary and book arts community provided an ideal setting for the venue, “The Stories We Tell.”

The Englert Theatre

RBMS’s 2017 conference focused on the role of storytelling in the mission and daily work of special collections. Over four days of papers, seminars, participatory sessions, and workshops, attendees discussed how telling a compelling narrative forms the heart of cultural heritage work. Narratives are the foundations for writing traditional scholarly monographs, but they also inform the encoding of digital humanities landscapes, building collections, designing courses and exhibitions, and many other endeavors special collections specialists undertake.

Plenary speaker, Micaela Biel (professional storyteller and Ph.D. candidate in Educational Theater at New YorkUniversity) launched into a gripping story—too long to recount here—that engrained in the audience’s minds the four absolute musts of a compelling story:

  1. stakes: what the conditions were to make it matter;
  2. change: transition from one world to another;
  3. theme: tell a story and let the audience gather the theme;
  4. show, don’t tell.

In a nutshell, “Stories are finding the thread of meaning through a collection of memories.” For special collections professionals, Biels stresses the importance not to tell people what collections mean but to let the collections tell a story and to open a space for people themselves to make meaning of the collections.

Themes

Commitment to Diversity
“. . . we are gathered on the land of the indigenous people of Iowa City,” reverberated through Englert Theatre as Petrina Jackson (Head of Special Collections and Archives, Iowa State University) welcomed attendees at the first plenary session, opening the first full day of “Stories We Tell.” Jackson’s recognition of an often overlooked people foreshadowed one of the major themes that emerged during the remaining sessions, RBMS’s commitment to diversity.

A key component of its vision and mission is RBMS’s commitment to a diverse profession and to collections representing all voices. RBMS recognizes that it needs to bring greater diversity to its membership and has made a concerted effort to attract, mentor, and support “people of any race, color, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability” as stated in RBMS’s Statement on Diversity. The effect of RBMS’s on-going efforts were demonstrated in the remarks by speakers of the various sessions, by the conference attendees themselves, over 300 scholarships awarded for first-time attendees, pairing new members with more experienced RBMS members to acquaint them with the conference and other members, and programming addressing diversity both directly and indirectly.

“Crown Jewel?”
A call for change—Panel speakers from George Washington University, the University of California, Riverside, and Columbia University challenged the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) statement in 2009 that special collections “define the uniqueness and character of individual research libraries.” They argued that this perspective separates special collections from the rest of the library and that this causes others in the library to view special collections, in fact, as “separate or ‘other’ to the larger library system.” This idea that special collections is a library’s “crown jewel” and that its “unique treasures” are what will distinguish the library from other libraries is misguided.

It is of fundamental importance as libraries face budget cuts, shortage of staff, and increasing needs and demands of users that special collections establish itself within the library as part of the whole and work together with all library faculty, staff, and administrators. Our message to our users and to our colleagues at our own institutions should not be that we are any more important than any one of them, that we are gatekeepers of hidden treasures, that we possess the library’s crown jewels.

The Lighter Side

Detail from image in Iowa State Gazeteer (1865)

Acknowledging the book arts community in Iowa City, home of the Center for the Book, attendees had the chance to print their own souvenir copy of the conference’s mascot, Prodigious (click to watch the press in action), and to take copious notes in the commemorative notebook printed by Tru Art Color Graphics, a family-run printer in Iowa City since 1896.

About RBMS

Rare Books and Manuscript Section, more commonly referred to by its acronym, RBMS, is a section of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of the American Library Association (ALA). Tracing its roots to 1948 and a mission to increase understanding about the value of rare books in scholarly research and improving the care, use, and recognition of rare books in libraries, RBMS has expanded its scope to include the broad range of special collections from rare printed books to manuscripts, archives, ephemera, graphics, and music. RBMS has assumed a leading role in the local, national, and international communities to represent and promote the interests of librarians, curators, and other specialists who concern themselves with the use, preservation, security, and administration of special collections.

RBMS is currently comprised of over 1750 members who represent librarians, curators, students, rare book sellers, conservators, and others interested in special collections. Members share the values of the library profession and are committed to the principles of fairness, freedom, professional excellence, and respect for individual rights. Because of the additional responsibilities special collections librarians have that arise from being entrusted with caring for cultural property, preserving original artifacts, and supporting scholarship based on primary research materials, special collections professionals adhere to the Code of Ethics for Special Collections Librarians and are expected to demonstrate “the highest standard of behavior . . . [because] propriety is essential to the maintenance of public trust in the institution and in its staff.”

 

Research Finds: The Enduring Joy of Friendship for Young Women

While searching for primary sources she could access nearby to develop a seminar paper on the lives of women in the nineteenth century, Jenifer Blouin, a master’s candidate in History at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, ran across the online description of friendship albums and commonplace books at Notre Dame. Intrigued, she made the trek south.

As she read through seven or eight albums, Jenifer realized that they not only gave her, as she states in an email interview with Special Collections, “a really good look into the lives of young women in the 19th century—especially how their friendships played out”—but that they also provided unexpected access to the young women writers themselves. Her close reading of the texts told her “a lot about young women’s friendships,” but more interestingly, it revealed an interesting preoccupation these women had with “ideas of eternity and things that are everlasting.”

Given the dearth of scholarship on friendship albums, Jenifer’s project is a welcome addition. Her research, in particular, expands upon a topic that two historians, Anya Jabour and Catherine Kelly, according to Jenifer, only briefly mention, namely the enduring nature of friendship. During her analysis of the albums, Jenifer examined the messages friends left to the album’s owner as well as the physical artifacts themselves.

image of curry manuscript
MSN/EA 8606-1-B

One particularly fruitful investigation centered around the album of Harriet Curry. Jenifer noticed that a note, “drowned in Lake Erie,” after an entry by Abby Jane Williams differed in color from the ink used in the entry. This began Jenifer’s search to verify if Williams did drown in Lake Erie and to identify who wrote that note. Jenifer recounts:

After some online searching using the search terms “Abby Jane Williams” and “Lake Erie,” I found a book titled Lloyd’s Steamboat Directory, and Disasters on the Western Waters (published 1856) that detailed the account the burning of the steamer Erie in 1841. Among the listed dead was a Mrs. Giles Williams. I was later able to corroborate that this was the same Williams who had left an entry in Harriet Curry’s friendship album by locating her record on ancestry.com and findagrave.com, which confirmed that Abby Jane’s husband was indeed named Giles. Giles apparently survived the boat’s burning.

Still to be resolved was who wrote the note. After further analysis of the album’s contents, Jenifer concluded that “drowned in Lake Erie” was written by Harriet Curry herself. This was in line with similar notes in the diary “denot[ing] when one of her friends had gotten married, moved away, or died.” Jenifer further explains, “This, to me, showed that even after years had passed, Harriet still cared about her friends. Her friendship lasted forever, just like many of her friends wrote in her friendship album.”

The Curry example was but one among numerous pieces of evidence that Jenifer located in the albums she consulted to argue that these albums contained an “exhortation to . . . trust in everlasting eternal things,” rather than “temporal things that would eventually pass away.” She identified that there were certain everlasting qualities valued by these women; these were “God, prayer, and friendship itself.” Her research brought her to the conclusion that these young women writers:

valued the everlasting over the ephemeral. Transitory things such as youth, beauty, and suffering were dismissed in favor of enduring communion with God and friends. Friendship, of course, was the ultimate enduring joy to these women, and the survival of their friendship albums through to the present day proves the unending nature of their affections.

The argument substantiating these conclusions can be found in Jenifer’s article, “Eternal Perspectives in Nineteenth-Century Friendship Albums,” published in The Hilltop Review, Western Michigan University’s journal of graduate student research.

Jenifer Blouin earned her BA in History from Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana in 2015 and expects to earn her MA in Public History from Western Michigan University in December 2017. Her research focuses on the historical significance of cemeteries as sites of memory and cultural resources. More generally, Jenifer is interested in gender and women’s history.

Special Collections thanks Jenifer for her time and for sharing the results of her research that brought the friendship albums in our collections to light. We also appreciate the review she wrote of our department for the American Historical Association’s Archives Wiki.

 


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The Mary Huntington Morgan Diary and Campus Collaboration

Mary Huntington Morgan was the daughter of Daniel Nash Morgan (1844-1931), Treasurer of the United States during Grover Cleveland’s administration. Her diary from 1896 (MSN/MN 8009-1-B) recounts the life of this young, single socialite in the nation’s capital.

MSN-MN 8008-01-B 12v-13r

She narrates the demands of such a life—lunches and teas, dinners and dances, theater performances and lectures, ceremonial appearances at government events and diplomatic receptions. Yet, Mary also pens her personal endeavors, weaving through her music lessons and letter writing to her fondness for reading.

This semester (Spring 2017), the department piloted a new project to facilitate the diary’s use by a class in the Notre Dame History department, the United States’ Gilded Age. Collaborating with the professor, Special Collections digitized and made the Mary Huntington Morgan diary available in the Hesburgh Library’s new digital artifact viewer. In addition to being able to work with the physical object in Special Collections, students now have the opportunity to study the diary more extensively using the digital artifact, not only reading its contents but also learning skills such as how to transcribe text. The digitized artifact has made it possible for a class of 15 students to work on the same item simultaneously and to discuss their work and the diary itself in their own classroom.

MSN/MN 8009-1-B 4v

The Julia Stevens Buffington diary (MSN/MN 8009-1-B) has also been digitized for use this semester in another History class, the U.S. in the World in the 20th Century. Special Collections invites instructors interested in collaborating on similar projects to contact the department.

 

Summer Adventure: A Curator Attends the Western Archives Institute

WAI2016_GroupPhotoIn July, with support from Hesburgh Libraries, one of our curators attended the 30th annual Western Archives Institute (WAI) held at Santa Clara University (SCU) in Santa Clara, CA. Julie Tanaka was one of 26 participants who came from locations across the United States. Though many were from California, others flew in from Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, and Maine. The group spent over 80 hours in the classroom during the two-week institute learning the fundamentals of archives from Tom Wilsted, former Director of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center at the University of Connecticut and principal faculty member for the 2016 WAI, and 10 other professional archivists from corporations, public libraries, universities, and government agencies.

Background

WAI is an intensive, two-week, residential institute co-sponsored by the California State Archives and the Society of California Archivists. The institute was founded in 1986 to fill an existing gap in archival training on the West Coast. Modeled on the National Archives and Records Administration’s Modern Archives Institute founded in 1945 and the Georgia Archives Institute founded in 1967, WAI distinguished itself by becoming the only program that trains both people who already have appointments as archivists and those who do not consider themselves to be archivists but who manage archival materials as part of their job.

Scope

The institute provides participants with intensive instruction in archival theory and practices. Sessions cover more than thirteen major topics including an introduction to the archival profession, managing an archives program, grant funding, and professional ethics. Some of the topics related to practice include records management, arrangement and description, preservation, photographs, and electronic records.

WAI gives participants the opportunity to observe a variety of archives in operation and to gain different perspectives from practicing archivists.

Site tours included the Computer History Museum Archives in Fremont, the Society of California Pioneers at the Presidio, and the Santa Clara University Archives.

ComputerHistoryMusuem
Computer History Museum Archives, Fremont, CA
Image of archives
Society of California Pioneers, San Francisco, CA
A Typical Day

Each day began at 8:15 in the morning and ran to around 5:00 in the afternoon and was divided into two sessions. Because of the nature of the institute, many sessions devoted a significant portion to lectures in order to cover the required content. There were ample opportunities, however, to discuss particular questions people had, to seek advice from one another, and to share practices and ideas already in place at participants’ home institutions.

Some of the most memorable parts of the institute were sessions which featured a practicum. One practicum was devoted to arranging and describing a collection that contained correspondence, financial records, disciplinary records of a ship’s crew, and documents about individual crew members. Groups of five surveyed the collection and made decisions about how to arrange the collection before writing a preliminary description of its scope and contents.

Image of Treatment exampleAnother practicum was devoted to conservation. Participants had the opportunity to get hands-on experience doing some minor treatments such as flattening a crumpled document with a mist sprayer. Their finished treatments were then housed in polyester L-sleeves for storage.

After the second session concluded, the majority of participants who were staying on campus for the duration of the WAI had dinner together in the SCU’s dining commons. Conversations about the day’s sessions continued but often steered toward lighter topics and gave everyone the opportunity to decompress before heading back to the dorm to spend another 2-3 hours reading in preparation for the next day.

Take Aways

Two weeks of intensive archival training will not turn a newcomer into an archivist overnight, but this institute provides a solid foundation and the basic skills someone needs to work in and with archives. WAI provides participants first and foremost with an understanding of the profession, from the development of modern archives in France as a by-product of the French Revolution to the code of ethics that governs the profession.

WAI is an invaluable experience. The intensive, residential format encourages attendees to focus their attention on all things archival and to draw connections between policies, procedures, and practices. Participants all agreed that well-defined policies and procedures about the archives’ mission, collecting, access, use of materials, and preservation as well as for processing collections in a timely manner are critical to the professional integrity of an archives and help ensure equitable, high-quality, consistent services.

In addition to gaining knowledge of archival theory and practices, participants at WAI develop new friendships within the community of archivists. These connections form the beginning of a support network that will continue to grow and also serves as points of first contact to which the 2016 WAI participants may turn when questions arise and they need advice.

Summer Archives Workshop in RBSC

RBSC_NB_Flyer_ArchivesWorkshop-Sum16
Click for PDF.

This intensive workshop targets graduate students interested in conducting archival research. Participants will acquire a solid foundation in archival terminology, how to identify and use archives, and other fundamental skills.

The workshop will introduce best practices and some of the crucial cultural and practical differences between libraries and archives. It will also give attendees hands-on practice reading and transcribing different handwritings from various time periods, identifying important parts of manuscripts, and reading historical maps. We will also cover select participant-requested topics.

Monday-Friday, August 1-5, 2016
9 am-noon
Special Collections Seminar Room
(Hesburgh Library 103)

Register Online

Led by:
Rachel Bohlmann, Ph.D.
U.S. History and American Studies Librarian

Julie Tanaka, Ph.D.
Curator, Special Collections and Western European History Librarian

Questions or requests? Please email either Rachel or Julie.

Digging for Revolutionary Traces in the Rare Books Room

by Julia Douthwaite, Professor of French, University of Notre Dame

This summer I am spending my days in the Department of Special Collections at Notre Dame’s library, systematically making my way through 60-some of the most controversial-sounding titles of French books published during the French Revolution (of the 266 total). I am looking for clues about who read these books, what they liked, and when, as based on underlinings, marginalia, and any clues I can find on provenance; it is also interesting to learn about historical facets of book binding and illustration. The closest thing to being in a European library is being in a Rare Books room in the USA.

I am doing so in anticipation of the colloquium, Collecting the French Revolution, in Greoble and Vizille France, 23-25 September 2015. It will be fun to show how the collection of such materials ended up here, in the hinterlands of north-central Indiana!

So far, I have found some intriguing books. Two are interesting because of their ties to the university’s history: a 1794 book of revolutionary legislation is stamped “Treasure Room”–the former name of Special Collections–and a history of the Church dated 1791 is a living testimony to the ravages of fire and water damage which swept through the library in 1879. It was saved from the fire by a student, from whom it was returned years later.

Title page from a 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Du Contrat social.
Title page from a 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Du Contrat social.

The most intellectually vibrant example of marginalia has to be the 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s incendiary work of political theory, Du Contrat socialwhich contains notions such as general will and popular sovereignty–once owned by a certain Elizabeth Ann Seton. Inside the front cover one finds this inscription: “This copy is curious as an example of the new and foolish computation of time that the Revolutionists, out of hatred for everything Christian, wished to force upon the people. My grandmother (afterwards known as Mother Seton) used this volume at a period of her early married life when she was so unfortunate as to become somewhat enamored of the French infidel literature.” It is signed Robert Seton (a monsignor in the Roman Catholic Church and titular archbishop of Heliopolis, who donated it to Notre Dame). Better than any work by the philosopher Theodor Adorno or the intellectual historian Jonathan Israel, this one book holds within it a cautionary tale on the dialectics of modern thought, and the errors of Enlightenment philosophy , considered as a cause of the French Revolution. It also shines some light on the evolution in Mother Seton’s thinking from a youthful age; she would have been 21 years old in 1795, living the life of a wealthy New Yorker after marrying a successful merchant in the import trade two years earlier. Perhaps he imported new ideas along with the other stock from Europe!

Inscription by Robert Seton in the 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Du Contrat social house at Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame.
Inscription by Robert Seton in the 1795 copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Du Contrat social house at Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Library, University of Notre Dame.

The closest connection between Indiana and the French Revolution has to be the memoirs of Simon Bruté, born in Rennes in 1779, died in Vincennes, IN, in 1839 after serving as the first bishop of Vincennes. Its subtitle promises: “sketches describing his recollections of scenes connected with the French revolution.” I was initially wondering if the anti-revolutionary views of the clergy would be reflected in the collection and they are. But there are also an abundance of sources representing other political views. Along with several works by the infamous conspiracy theorist Abbé Barruel, there is a gorgeous edition of the Enlightenment’s most radical work of information sharing—the first Wikipedia one might say—L’Encyclopédie (the entire 17 volume set, dated 1765, with the supplement and the plates from later editions). Some say that L’Encyclopédie did more to promote a revolutionary consciousness than any other book of the time, by making trade secrets on industrial processes and artisanal practices accessible to all. This makes Notre Dame a great teaching library: students have a rich archive to explore in the search of learning how people thought long ago, why revolution broke out in 1789, and what it meant to diverse observers after the fact.

I could write more, but this will doubtless suffice to show you how interesting it can be connect a scholarly interest in revolutionary France with the history of the university and the Holy Cross order.

 


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