Tag Archives: Private Presses

The duties and qualifications of a librarian (in the 17th & 18th centuries)

During my stint last week in SCOLAR cataloguing some of the Rare Books Collection, I catalogued a couple of books from the “Literature of libraries in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries series”, published by A. C. McClurg, and printed by the Merrymount Press in 1906.  Just thought I would share some of the pearls of wisdom and advice that shone out from these texts.

From, The duties & qualifications of a librarian: a discourse pronounced in the general assembly of the Sorbonne, December 23, 1780 by Jean Baptiste Cotton des Houssayes.

Being helpful to users…

“He will never seek to steal away from the notice of all into some solitary or unknown retreat.  Neither cold nor heat, nor his multiplied occupations, will ever be to him a pretext for evading the obligation he has contracted to be a friendly and intelligent guide to all the scholars who may visit him.” (p. 39)

Collection management and cataloguing skills…

“He will therefore not admit indiscriminately every book into his collection, but will select such only as are of genuine merit and of well-approved utility; and his acquisitions, guided by the principles of an enlightened economy, will be rendered still more valuable by the substantial merits of an able classification.  It is impossible, in fact, to attach too much importance to the advantages resulting from an intelligent and methodical order in the arrangement of the library.  Of what utility would be the richest treasures if it were not possible to make use of them? Wherefore this complete arsenal of science, if the arms it keeps in reserve are not within reach of those who would wield them?  And if, as is said, books are the medicine of the soul, what avail these intellectual pharmacopoeias, if the remedies which they contain are not disposed in order and labelled with care? (p. 43-44)

Librarianship knowledge in general…

“A librarian truly worthy of the name should, if I may be permitted the expression, have explored in advance every region of the empire of letters, to enable him afterwards to serve as a faithful guide to all who may desire to survey it.” (p. 37)

From, The life of Sir Thomas Bodley, written by himself ; together with the first draft of the statutes of the public library at Oxon (1647)

Leave the books how you find them…

“Moreover, as it may be lawful and free for all comers in (being qualified in such sorts,as we shall after declare) to peruse any volumes, that are chained to the desks, in the body of the library, not forgetting to fasten their clasps and strings, to untangle their chains, and to leave as they found the books in their places: (whereas otherwise for their negligence, they shall be punished by the Purse, at the will and arbitriment of the Vice-Chancellor).” (p. 81)

Cataloguing hints & tips!

“Another chief point of the Keeper’s charge, is to range all his books, as well of the bigger as lesser fold, according to their Faculties: to assign to every Faculty their Catalogues and Tables; and to dispose of every table the authors therein names, according to the alphabet: Where besides the author’s name, and the title of his work, he must be mindful to express inwhat kind of volume the same was printed, with a note of the place, and year of that edition. For it so fareth often with a number of students, that the knowledge of some one of these petty particulars, may turn them in their studies to some singular advantage.” (p. 73-74)

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The delights of the Private Press

Since October I’ve been spending approximately one day a week cataloguing books in SCOLAR – the special collections and archive side of the library service.  Although we employed a Rare books cataloguer earlier in the year, the rest of the cataloguing team are getting a chance to help out with cataloguing the Rare Books Collection.  To ease us in ‘gently’ we have started on Private Presses because they are relatively modern, most likely to be in English, and just not as complicated as something from the 16th century! 

I’m really enjoying the work, although there’s been a bit of a steep learning curve, even with these books; extra fields to add, new vocabulary to get my head round in describing things, and lots of attention to detail (even more attention to detail than normal!).  I’m finding the Presses fascinating, and want to go off and do bits of research on them all, though there isn’t really time.  Luckily there is time for a bit, especially when it can be tied into a blog – and we do have a special blog for SCOLAR which I am able to contribute to.  I’m hoping in the next couple of weeks to add a few posts on some of the Presses we have been doing, and will possibly sneak a few pics onto this blog as well.  I love the whole idea of the Presses, small run enterprises, interested in beauty, art and literature rather than mass production; giving poets and illustrators wonderful outlets for their art.  Although I do wonder at times who could afford them!  Often these books are printed on hand-made paper, which gives such lovely impressions of the cottage-industies behind them.

Many of the books we have in our collection have been signed by the author, the illustrator, or even the printer, which adds another lovely slice of history to the book.  I’m hoping to do a blog on the signed books at a later point; so far the most ‘famous’ one I’ve spotted since we started cataloguing them, has been T. S. Eliot  – that was quite exciting, and I know there are many more in there.

The illustrations are often quite beautiful, engravings or woodcuts done specifically for the publication, and looking at the collection as a whole you get a good impression of the illustrative art movement from the end of the 19th century up to the 2nd World War.

I’m looking forward to continuing to work on the Presses, and to be able to blog about some of them in more detail.  As there are several of us working on them its not possible to handle everything, so I am relying on my colleagues to alert me to anything particularly interesting that they come across too!

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