The Library of Babel and Special Collections

The following is a guest post by student assistant Blaise Denton.

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The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges. (PQ7797 .B635 B5213 2000)

Here in the Florida State University Special Collections we have a very special volume, Jorge Borges “The Library of Babel.” The standalone volume in our possession is illustrated by Erik Desmazieres. The Book details life in the great and infinite Library of Babel. It is never ending, universal, broken up into hexagonal rooms and filled with an uncountable number of books. Filling each book are letters, clumped randomly to spell out nonsense. Every so often people find a book with words, real words that spell out ideas and thoughts. Because the library is infinite, there must be one book somewhere in the collection that details the past and future. There must be a book that catalogues the rest of the books. There must also be an infinite number of false narratives, false leads, and even more books that are unreadable.

Special Collection isn’t infinite. Most of the books in the collection are carefully catalogued and lodged in a place where we can find them. We know what almost all of them say. But the task of the librarian is the same, whether it is in the Library of Babel or here in Special Collections. We live in a big world, rather full of books, and more full of things. In Special Collections we find those books that “matter”, a rather subjective verb, and we keep them here, safe. They deteriorate; they get lost. We bundle them up safe with boxes and paper wrapping; we hunt them down and bring them back to their preordained place. The librarian’s tasks, in fiction and in life, are to bring order to chaos and to decide what matters.

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La Tour de Babel. Plate II etching by Erik Desmazieres

Many of the books in Special Collections are in languages we can’t read. Many of them are so small you need a magnifying glass to examine them, some are so big it takes two people to open them. Some are serious tomes on theology and philosophy and some are tiny children’s books. Some of them are pornographic. But they all have two things in common: they are kept in place by a complex cataloging system, and they are meaningful.

In “The Library of Babel” when someone finds a book with meaning, that book becomes incredibly valuable. People travel from all over the universe, that is to say the library, to look at it. Whether it is fiction, poetry, prophesy or biography the book becomes something invaluable. It has meaning, it proves that there is truth.

Special Collections is rather like that, if a bit less grand. People choose things as

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Haute Galerie Circulaire. Plate VII etching by Erik Desmazieres

meaningful enough to write about or otherwise document. Someone has combed through all the books to buy, all the books that have been donated, and selected these. These are the most valuable, the rarest, the oddest books that FSU libraries has. Come look at a book inscribed by a medieval monk. An Akkadian trader. A 60’s beat poet. Come look at “The Library of Babel” by Borges. There are books from every age and perspective here. There are so many books you could never read them all. Try reading a few, very different books and see if you, like the fictional librarian, find some meaning in order.

Summer Report

A look at what a student worker has been up to in Special Collections & Archives this summer

My name is Meg Barrett and I started working with Special Collections and Archives at the beginning of the summer. When I found out that I was going to be working on digitally archiving old pictures from the College of Nursing and the French Napoleonic newspaper Le Moniteur, I was ecstatic. I’m currently a sophomore, majoring in Art History and minoring in French, so old photographs and French newspapers are exactly the sort of things that I love.

Because I am working on two different projects, I generally spend the first half of the week in the Research Center Reading Room and the second half in the Digital Library Center (DLC). In the reading room, I go through and catalogue the volumes of Le Moniteur. On my first day, I started with papers from the year 1792, and I finished the summer with papers from the year 1800. I think it’s amazing to be able to say that I’ve gone through over 2,000 newspapers from the 18th century! In the DLC, I have boxes of photographs in file folders, and my job is to scan the pictures onto the computer, type up information about them into a metadata spreadsheet, and then upload them onto DigiNole so that people anywhere can access them. The dates of the photos range from the 1950s to today, and seeing things from pinning ceremony traditions and headshot styles transition from then to now is such an interesting thing.

School of Nursing Pinning Ceremony; April 29, 1988 http://purl.flvc.org/fsu/fd/FSU_HPUA_2014111_B42_F4_4_004
School of Nursing Pinning Ceremony; April 29, 1988 

Working in Special Collections has been such a wonderful experience: what I’ve been doing has been interesting, the people have been so kind and helpful, and I enjoy it every day. When I found out that I got the job a few months ago, I couldn’t believe it. It’s now the end of the summer, and I will continue working on these projects, and I still can’t believe it!

Happy Birthday, Beatrix Potter!

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The light-pink, paper-board cover of the first edition of The Tailor of Gloucester published by Potter and printed in London in 1902

July 28, 2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Helen Beatrix Potter in Kensington, London. Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) is best known as the author and illustrator of children’s classics like The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. These delightful stories, set in the English countryside, were originally drawn and written as greeting cards and letters to the children of Potter’s friends. Beginning in 1900, Potter started sending her stories to publishers, but after six rejected submissions, she published the books on her own. As part of the John MacKay Shaw Childhood in Poetry Collection, FSU Special Collections has one of the original Beatrix Potter books: The Tailor of Gloucester printed in London by Strangeways and Sons in 1902.

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Letters to friend’s children were often the inspiration for Potter’s stories

After the success of her self-published children’s books, Beatrix Potter was picked up by the publishing house Frederick Warne & Co, who had originally turned down her manuscripts. In addition to the first edition of The Tailor of Gloucester, FSU Special Collections has over 100 works by Beatrix Potter in our rare book collections. The Gwen P. and Allan C. Reichert Beatrix Potter Collection contains biographies of Beatrix Potter and several editions of The Peter Rabbit stories, as well as adaptation pop-up books, cookbooks, coloring books, and more. A corresponding archival collection with Beatrix Potter related toys and ephemera will also soon be available to researchers.

Celebrating Independence Day

American Flag Behind Westcott Building, ca. 1940-1944
American Flag Behind Westcott Building, ca. 1940-1944 (FSU Digital Library)

Happy 4th of July everyone!

Special Collections & Archives is closed in observance of the holiday but will back to our regularly scheduled programming tomorrow morning.

New Acquisition: the FSU Panama City Collection

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Aerial photograph of FSU Panama City, ca. 1987

We are happy to announce HPUA’s latest acquisition of records from FSU Panama City. This collection contains records documenting the history of FSUPC, photographs, AV materials, and other ephemera about the campus.

While ground breaking for FSUPC wasn’t until 1983, FSUPC’s history extends back to the early 1970s. After the Naval Coastal Systems Center, Gulf Coast State College, Bay County School Board, and Tyndall Airforce Base began lobbying for an institution of higher learning, the Florida Board of Regents directed the University of West Florida to establish a center in Panama City in 1972. During that summer, 65 elementary education students and a staff of two began classes, using facilities at the Bay County School Board Office Building and Gulf Coast Community College.

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Program from the Dempsey J. Barron Building and the Florida State University Panama City Campus Dedication Ceremony, 1986

By 1976, the Bay County Commissions purchased 17.5 acres between GCSC and the waters of North Bay for use by the center. The Bay County Commission also donated another 2.54 acres and three quadriplex buildings. In 1983, ground was broken for the campus, and it was formally dedicated in 1986.

Since the 1980s, FSUPC has grown exponentially and now offers 30 degree programs, including Electrical Engineering, Information Sciences, Elementary Education, Social Science Education, and Social Work. The campus supports almost 1,500 students and has more than 30 full time faculty members.

To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.

Editions for the Millions: Early American Paperbacks

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Original, colored, paper wrappers on nineteenth-century American paperbacks

FSU Special Collections & Archives recently added 33 late-nineteenth century American paperbacks to our rare book collections. These include such famous titles as Great Expectations and Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, the Waverley novels of Sir Walter Scott, and The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. They were published between 1865-1874 by D. Appleton and Company of New York and T. B. Peterson & Brothers of Philadelphia, and, because they still have their original printed paper wrappers and advertisements, they are important artifacts in the history of nineteenth-century printing and the development of the modern paperback.

A Peterson “Cheap Edition for the Million” sold for 35 cents and would include illustrated plates, while the smaller Appleton editions sold for 25 cents. Authors like Dickens are famous for publishing their works as serialized novels, which could be bought in parts to make them more affordable to the growing numbers of working-class readers. Because they were often taken out of their wrappers and bound into single volumes, first editions of Dickens in their original covers (like FSU’s 1865 edition of Our Mutual Friend) are especially prized by collectors and historians.

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Advertisements for other publications by T. B. Peterson & Brothers

By the middle of the nineteenth century, London publishers realized the additional fortune they could make on cheap reprints.¹ These were often sold at railway stations and called “yellow-backs” because of their colorful, eye-catching covers. The paperbacks published by Peterson and Appleton attest that the trend of cheap reprints was common on both sides of the Atlantic. Advertisements, like the one pictured above, list other available publications, all of which testify to the growing commodification of print in the nineteenth-century and the new technologies which made it possible.

These nineteenth-century paperbacks can be requested at the Special Collections Reading Room Monday-Thursday 10am-6pm and Friday 10am-5:30pm. For more information about titles in the collection, contact the Rare Book Librarian, Katherine Hoarn.

  1. Gaskell, P., A New Introduction of Bibliography, New Castle 2012, pp. 248-9.

What is the most viewed object in the Digital Library?

We get asked this question a lot from people. Most are simply curious. However, to the staff of the FSU Digital Library (FSUDL), this is actually an important question. Understanding what our most viewed objects are can help us decide what materials to digitize and make public next for our users as well as understand where current research interests lie within the FSU community.

However, it’s not quite as simple as looking at Google analytics or the basic collection usages statistics that our digital library platform gives us. We’ve only had some of our statistic reporting tools in place for a short amount of time so what Google says is our most viewed collection doesn’t necessarily match what the Digital Library itself tells us. For example, Google says that our Yearbook collection is the most viewed collection in the Digital Library; our Digital Library tells us it’s the Heritage Protocol & University Archives collection, the Yearbook’s parent collection, that is most viewed. This shows the different granularity upon which the two systems collect information; one is looking at the entirety of the Digital Library; the other is looking only at a certain level at any given time. That difference is why we need both systems tracking together to get us the information we need to make decisions about projects moving forward in the FSUDL. It’s also helping us to continue to refine how we collect usage information from the FSUDL.

Page from the 1952 Tally Ho
Page from the 1952 Tally Ho

While the Digital Library platform might not be the best fit for tracking what collection is most viewed, it is the platform which can tell me the answer to the question that prompted this blog post: what is the most viewed object in the Digital Library? Right now, this still is not an easy question to answer (takes a bit of work to get it out of the DL system) but I can say that the Tally-Ho of 1952 (the FSU student yearbook) has been viewed 990 times since we started tracking at object level at the beginning of this year.

In second place is Paul Dirac’s dissertation with 755 views and rounding out the top 3 is a Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey clown college (because who doesn’t love clowns?) In fact, this item is also in our top ten of exit pages meaning this object is often what people are looking for so they leave the FSUDL after finding it.

We’ll continually be working on tracking usage in the Digital Library to make sure the materials we share in the digital environment are the most useful and interesting to all our users. What do you think we should digitize next?

Now Available: Charlotte Edwards Maguire Collection, 1930-2014

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Dr. Charlotte Edwards Maguire in her Orlando office, ca. 1963. Charlotte Edwards Maguire Collection, 1930-2014 (HPUA 2015-011).

We are excited to announce that the Charlotte Edwards Maguire Collection is now available in the FSU Special Collections & Archives!  This collection documents the involvement of Charlotte Edwards Maguire (1918-2014) in the development of the Florida State University College of Medicine through meeting minutes, correspondence, program pamphlets and flyers, photographs and reports. The collection also includes documents from her non-FSU professional endeavors, as well as personal photographs, correspondence, drawings, and more.

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Dr. Charlotte Edwards Maguire, ca. 2010. Charlotte Edwards Maguire Collection, 1930-2014 (HPUA 2015-011).

Born in 1918, Charlotte Edwards Maguire was a distinguished pediatrician and early supporter of the FSU College of Medicine. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Memphis Teachers College in 1940 and her medical degree from The University of Arkansas in 1944, she opened her first pediatrics practice in Orlando, FL. She served as the director of the Orlando Child Health Clinic, chief of staff for the Central Florida Division of Children’s Home Society Florida, and was the first woman president of the Florida Pediatric Society in 1952. Dr. Maguire was a pioneer for women in the medical industry, but was almost prevented from pursuing the field due to prejudice from the faculty at the University of Akansas. Often singled out for being the only woman in her field (and regularly referred to as “Girl Doctor” in newspapers), Dr. Maguire carved out a niche for herself and began to influence the medical industry in Florida.

In 1999, Dr. Maguire donated $1 million to create the Charlotte Edwards Maguire Endowed Scholarship Fund. Maguire’s dedication to the FSU College of Medicine earned her the nickname “Mother of the FSU Medical School.” Dr. Maguire was also heavily involved in the development of the College of Medicine, advocating for the institution and mentoring students in the program. In 2002, Dr. Maguire was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters by President Sandy D’Alemberte, “making [her] Dr. Dr. Maguire,” and had the distinct honor of having the FSU Medical Library named after in 2005.

To see more photographs, ephemera, and artifacts related to the history of Florida State, check out the FSU Heritage Protocol Digital Collections or like the Heritage Protocol Facebook page.

The Miscellanies of Mr. John Shaw

Happy 119th birthday to John MacKay Shaw, founder of our Childhood in Poetry book collection and bibliophile extraordinaire.  To celebrate Mr. Shaw, and in our ongoing commemoration of 400 Years of Shakespeare, we present a Scope and Content Note for John Shaw’s papers in the style of title pages from the early hand-press era.  Mr. Shaw would surely appreciate our gesture, as the Shaw rare book collection feature works by Shakespeare along with many, many other authors.

shaw scope note

Further Reading on Mr. Shaw and his collection:

Much Adieu About Something: Reflections of Our Undergraduate Assistants (Part 2)

In our final farewell post to our graduating student assistants, view the previous post by Mary Kate here, Blaise Denton and Shelby Yant reflect on their experience in Special Collections. Both work exclusively in Special Collections with our rare books, manuscripts, historical artifacts, Napoleon, Shaw and various other collections. I should also add that both have found time, between graduate school, to stay with us for part of the summer. And we are happy to have them for a bit longer.

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Shelby, Blaise and Mary Kate in the Special Collections Research Center

Blaise

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One of a variety of Artists’ Books found in Special Collections: Paradise Lost: an allegory. This book has a case and is accordion shaped. (N7433.4 Z56 P37 2013)

“My name is Blaise Denton and I have been working here for a little under two years. I had walked into Special Collections before, but been scared off by an unfriendly and perhaps confused receptionist. When I came back for my interview, Lisa Girard was so friendly and painted such a glowing picture of Special Collections, I was excited to work here. My first week I went through the Special Collections Vault, pulling out and examining the rarest and most valuable books in the collection. It was incredible. There were ancient pirate biographies, 4,500 year old stone sale receipts and [Salvador] Dali paintings. It was like being in a museum, except you can touch the art and you’re getting paid. The artists’ books are definitely my favorite collections. All the books that fit under N7433 are designed less to be read but more as pieces of art. They’re beautifully made and bizarrely interesting.
After graduation I am hoping to go to graduate school here at FSU, for Urban Planning and Public Administration. I am going to be very sad to leave Special Collections. This is by far the best job I’ve ever had. If there were one thing I wish more people knew about Special Collections it would be that we want you to come in and we are happy when you get to look at something unique.”

 

Shelby

“Prior to working at FSU’s Archives and Special Collections, I was a little apprehensive about applying for the job. While I loved all literature, I knew very little about what occurred “behind the scenes” of a library and did not feel completely qualified to fill the position. As I began my work, throughout the following months, I immediately felt at ease. Although I did not know the ins and outs of Library Science my supervisor Lisa Girard, as well as other staff, showed me all that I needed to know. I felt welcomed, supported and appreciated and to this day I feel that is what facilitated my growth of knowledge and passion in this field.

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A General History of the Pyrates is one of our rare books housed in an area called the vault, which means it requires extra care, and is always available to all visitors (F2161 D4 1724)

I generally love the items that are located in the vault. My favorite book however is volume one of A General History of the Pyrates from 1724. On my mother’s side of the family, one of our ancestors is Bartholomew Roberts- a notorious pirate. It was incredible getting to read all of the family stories about him in this book! I would say that my favorite project is any sort of reshelving or pulling a work for a patron. It is like a scavenger hunt replacing an item or looking for the call number! I tend to make a game out of anything.

Working in Special Collections helped me to develop a deeper appreciation for the text I read as an English Literature major. The ability to know firsthand about how books were created during the Renaissance, for example, is simply priceless. After graduation, I plan on staying in Tallahassee and continuing to work in Special Collections until the end of July. Then, I intend on moving to Jacksonville to attend the University of North Florida for my MA in English. Eventually I hope to teach high school English, Theatre, and German.

I think that the most important thing that I would want people unfamiliar with Archives and Special Collections to know is simply all that we have to offer and how easily accessible everything is. I tell people all the time about the amazing glimpses into history that I get to hold (with utmost caution, of course!) in my hands, and that the same materials are available to them as well! People think that we only have very old and specific books, but our variety spans centuries and it is always growing!”