Tag Archives: special collections archives

What’s the Tea?

Katie McCormick, Associate Dean
(she/her/hers)

For this post, I interviewed Kate McCormick in order to get a better understanding of the dynamics of Special Collections & Archives. Katie is one of the Associate Deans and has been with SCA for about nine years now (here’s a video of Katie discussing some of our collections on C-SPAN in 2014!). As a vital part of the library, and our leader in Special Collections & Archives, I wanted to get her opinion on how the division has progressed thus far and how they plan to continue to do so in regards to diversity and inclusion. 

How would you describe FSU SCA when you first started?

“…People didn’t feel comfortable communicating [with each other]… There was one person who really wrote for the blog, and maybe it would happen once every couple of months. When I came on board, my general sense was that we were a department and a group of people with a lot of really great ideas and some fantastic materials, who had come a long way from where things has been, but who hadn’t gotten to a place to be able to organize to change more or to really work more as a team… We were definitely valued as (mostly) the fancy crown jewel group. Really all that mattered was the stuff… it didn’t matter what we were doing with it.”

How do you feel the lapse in communication affected diversity and inclusion?

“While I don’t have any direct evidence that it excluded people or helped create an environment that was exclusive, I do know that even with our staff at the time, there were times where it contributed to hostilities, frustrations, an  environment where people didn’t feel able to speak or be comfortable in…Everybody just wanted to be comfortable with the people who were just like them that it definitely created some potentially hostile environments. Looking back, I recognize what a poor job we did, as a workplace and a community truly being inclusive, and not just in ways that are immediately visible.”

How diverse was SCA when you started? 

“In Special Collections there was minimal diversity, certainly less than we have now… [For the libraries as a whole] as you go up in classification and pay, the diversity decreases. That was certainly true when I got here and that remains true.”

How would you rank SCA’s diversity and inclusion when you first started?

“…Squarely a 5, possibly in some arenas a 4. Not nothing, but I feel like no one was really thinking of it.”

And how would you describe it now?

“Maybe we’re approaching a 7, I feel like there’s been progress, but there’s still a long way to go in my opinion.”

What are some ways we can start addressing these issues? What are some tangible ways you are planning to enact?

“For me, some of the first places [is] forming the inclusive research services task force in Special Collections, pulling together a group to look at descriptive practices and applications, and what we’re doing with creating coordinated processing workflows. Putting these issues on the table from the beginning is really important… Right now because we’re primarily in an online environment, i think we have some time to negotiate and change our practices so when we are re-open to the public and people are physically coming in to the spaces, we have new forms, new trainings, people have gone through training that gives them a better sense of identity, communication, diversity.”

After my conversation with Katie, I feel optimistic about the direction we are heading in. Knowing how open Special Collections & Archives is about taking critique and trying to put it into action brought me comfort. I’m excited to see how these concerns are addressed and how the department will be putting Dynamic Inclusivity, one of Florida State University’s core values, at the forefront of their practice. I would like to give a big thank you to Katie McCormick for taking the time to do this post with me and for having these conversations!

(C)istory Lesson

Our next submission is from Rachel Duke, our Rare Books Librarian, who has been with Special collections for two years. This project was primarily geared towards full-time faculty and staff, so I chose to highlight her contribution to see what a full-time faculty’s experience would be like looking through the catalog.

Frontispiece and Title Page, Salome, 1894. Image from https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/68775953/

The item she chose was Salome, originally written in French by Oscar Wilde, then translated into English, as her object. While this book does not explicitly identify as a “Queer Text,” Wilde has become canonized in queer historical literature. In the first edition of the book, there is even a dedication to his lover, Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, who helped with the translation. While there are documented historical examples of what we would refer to today as “queerness,” (queer meaning non-straight) there is still no demarcation of his queerness anywhere in the catalog record. Although the author is not necessarily unpacking his own queer experiences in the text, “both [Salome’s] author and its legacy participate strongly in queer history” as Duke states in her submission. 

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas

Even though Wilde was in a queer relationship with Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, and has been accepted into the Queer canon, why doesn’t his catalog record reflect that history? Well, a few factors come into play. One of the main ones is an aversion to retroactively labeling historical figures. Since we cannot confirm which modern label would fit Wilde, we can’t necessarily outright label him as gay. How would a queer researcher like me go about finding authors and artists from the past who are connected with queer history?

It is important to acknowledge LGBTQ+ erasure when discussing this topic. Since the LGBTQ+ community has historically been marginalized, documentation of queerness is hard to come by because:

  • People did not collect, and even actively erased, Queer and Trans Histories.
  • LGBTQ+ history has been passed down primarily as an oral tradition. 
  • Historically, we cannot confirm which labels people would have identified with.
  • Language and social conventions change over time.

So while we view and know someone to be queer, since it is not in official documentation we have no “proof.” On the other hand, in some cultures, gay relations were socially acceptable. For example, in the Middle Ages, there was a legislatively approved form of same-sex marriage, known as affrèrement. This example is clearly labeled as *gay* in related library-based description because it was codified that way in the historical record. By contrast, Shakespeare’s sonnets, which (arguably) use queer motifs and themes, are not labeled as “queer” or “gay.” Does queer content mean we retroactively label the AUTHOR queer? Does the implication of queerness mean we should make the text discoverable under queer search terms?

Cartoon depicting Oscar Wilde’s visit to San Francisco. By George Frederick Keller – The Wasp, March 31, 1882.

Personally, I see both sides. As someone who is queer, I would not want a random person trying to retroactively label me as something I don’t identify with. On the other hand, as a queer researcher, I find it vital to have access to that information. Although they might not have been seen as queer in their time period, their experiences speak to queer history. Identities and people will change, which is completely normal, but as a group that has experienced erasure of their history, it is important to acknowledge all examples of historical queerness as a proof that LGBTQ+ individuals have existed throughout time. How do we responsibly and ethically go about making historical queerness discoverable in our finding aids and catalogs?

Click Here to see some more historical figures you might not have known were LGBTQ+.

Light. A. Fire.

For this blog post, I am choosing to write this from a more candid place, in hopes that people understand why change in library description is necessary. My last post talked about How to Transition on 63 Cents a Day, showing how there are outdated terms referencing Lee Krist’s identity in the catalog record. Those terms are still in the catalog record. My first post discussed how there are 0 results when you search “LGBT.” There are still zero results in Special Collections and Archives for that search. I started these posts as a way to facilitate the conversation about white supremacy in library settings, and to create some tangible ways to start addressing them. 

I was initially hired by Special Collections to update the artists’ book inventory, focusing on the labeling of printmaking techniques, themes, and identities to make them more accessible. One of the first books I ever worked on was How to Transition on 63 cents a Day. I remember updating the SCA spreadsheet of search terms with every term I could think of, the first one of them was LGBT. These terms have yet to make it into the catalog record. It feels frustrating to me because I have been doing this kind of work since my first day in Special Collections, but it seems progress moves at a glacier’s pace.

Tackling systemic issues within universities and other similar institutions sometimes feels impossible. Contacting the right people, organizing multiple meetings to discuss an action plan, finding the resources to do so, etc. etc. etc. and all while following “proper protocol.” Following bureaucratic etiquette, more times than not, perpetuates a mess of red tape that always ensnares progress for marginalized communities.

Meetings are important. I understand that! I just want tangible progress, and the ability to keep track of what’s been done in this effort. In a predominately white cisgender heterosexual career and institution, meetings can often feel performative rather than action-based. So much has been written about performative allyship in the workplace when it comes to racism, feminism, and anti-queer sentiment.  A recent Fortune article discusses performative allyship in workspaces, where organizations are “condemning racism through broad gestures but enabling its effects.” 

We all acknowledge that prejudice is bad. We all acknowledge that we want to “get better.” But you don’t “get better,” you DO BETTER. We haven’t uplifted the community that these problems have affected, so how can we say that we’re addressing them? One of the most important parts of creating change is recognizing that no person or institution is perfect. True allyship doesn’t lie in perfection (OR POLITENESS); it lies in the ability to accept critique and take accountability, which is what I hope we can do as a division and as a library. Next week is our first meeting about this initiative, and I want to make this about ACTION, to “light a proverbial fire.” 

I’m asking my division colleagues to do this “Privilege Check Game” prior to the meeting. We’d love for you to play along, and to think of one way that you can make your work more inclusive. This can be as big or as small as you want. 

Privilege Check Game: Start with 10 fingers!

Put down a finger if…

…you’ve ever been called a slur?

…you’ve ever had to see the same slur you were called in a catalog record?

…you’ve searched your identity (race, gender, sexuality, etc.) and no results came up?

…you’ve ever had someone (actively) not address you by your name or pronouns at work?

…you’ve ever had your identity “explained” to you by someone not of that identity? 

…you’ve ever had your identity affect how people behaved around/treated you?

…you’ve ever been anxious about your job status due to federal/state law?

…you’ve ever not spoken out in a situation for fear that you might get in trouble/people will think you’re overreacting?

…you’ve ever gotten frustrated when people use gendered language (guys, dude, sir/ma’am)?

…you’ve ever felt unwelcome in professional/academic spaces?

… you’ve ever had to switch the way you present yourself in different settings (appearance, clothes/style, language/speech, name/pronouns, etc.)

Inspiration for game:

TRANSforming the Stacks

This post is one of a series..png

***Trigger Warning: trans slurs/derogatory terms***

 

kacee
Kacee Reguera (she/her/hers)

 

Our first submission is from Kacee Reguera, a recently-graduated student worker, who has been with Special collections for 2 years. While this project was geared towards the full-time staff, I chose to highlight her contribution first because I’m happy to see this conversation being engaged with by everyone in the community. Getting students involved in this process ensures that the conversation continues in the next generation of professionals.

 

 

The object she found is How to Transition on 63 Cents a Day by Lee Krist, which is an unbound letterpress-printed artists’ book by a transgender man that describes the author’s transition and coming out story through postcards addressed to his mother and other ephemera. It is a very intimate story meant to bring us into his gender and family experience in a personal way. When students interact with it, they report feeling as though they’re digging through a collection of personal memories, like an act of voyeurism. This book was published in 2013, making it fairly recent.

 

Video Excerpt of How to Transition on 63 Cents a Day by Lee Krist, 2013

Though How to Transition on 63 Cents a Day is an amazing book that is well designed and a beautifully told story, and I’m excited for the opportunity to share the text here, it does not qualify for the challenge I initially raised. This project is geared towards highlighting queer and trans BIPOC voices, which are sorely lacking in FSU Special Collections and Archives. Kacee’s efforts to provide an example, though not exactly what I was looking for, both demonstrates this lack and creates an opportunity to explore problems in subject headings for these materials. 

Keeping in mind that this is a queer and trans-focused project, it is important that we also recognize history. Black and Latinx trans women were at the forefront of the fight for queer rights. Aside from throwing the first brick, which is still a point of contention, BIPOC trans individuals were at the apex of the queer rights movement and that is something that all institutions must acknowledge and recognize when collecting these histories. As FSU’s Pride Union was founded the same year as the start of the Stonewall Riots, I feel that this holds especially true for us. Out of the three titles that appear when you search the term “transgender,” none of them are by queer or trans people of color. Equitability and accessibility must be taken into consideration at all library levels, from acquisitions to cataloging.

Reina Gossett: Historical Erasure as Violence from BCRW Videos on Vimeo.

How to Transition on 63 Cents a Day is a great text and has been very useful in giving some insight into the trans experience. Many in our library commonly pick it when they want LGBTQ+ related materials. However, when I looked at the catalog record for it, I discovered outdated and now offensive terms are found in the “Subjects, general” section of the entry. I don’t have a libraries degree (yet), and I have only been working with Special Collections for a year, but it blew my mind that these derogatory terms made it into a catalog record for a book published this decade. After ranting to my roommate for 30 minutes on the impact of white supremacy in library settings, I wanted to know where these terms came from. 

In order to unpack these issues, a little background is needed, and I thought I’d share what I discovered in the process of my research. 

LOCSH (LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SUBJECT HEADINGS):

Subject Headings for How to Transition on 63 cents a Day

In an attempt to standardize the organization and classification of information, the Library of Congress developed a list of terms to be referenced and used when creating records for materials. This list is one of the banks that institutions may pull search terms from when intaking materials into their system. Terms were chosen based on what they thought the ‘average patron’ would search to find materials about a certain topic… 

Take a guess what the ‘average patron’ looked like to these information gatekeepers. Search headings for identity groups were, it seems, determined by what they thought a cisgender heterosexual affluent white christian male would search to find it. The record for How to Transition on 60 Cents a Day is evidence of this historical practice. The thing that’s particularly cruel about this is queer and trans people (or any marginalized person for that matter) has to comb through slurs and strife to even look at their own history.

Click here for the article I referenced for this section.

HOW DO LIBRARY OF CONGRESS SUBJECT HEADINGS GET INTO CATALOG RECORDS?:

Just because a subject heading exists does not mean institutions are required to adhere to them. Cataloging decisions and methodologies are governed by best practices, but the ultimate decision lies within the jurisdiction of the institution. In the next blog post in this series, I will be exploring current/best practices and the ways they perpetuate outdated/derogatory terminology. I especially want to take a look at copy cataloging as a practice, and how we can/will intervene when a copied record contains terminology that needs to be addressed.

Quick queer and trans history:

A quick overview of queer history:

A cursory overview of trans history:

 

LGBTQ+ in Rare Books and Manuscripts: A Pride Month Project Becomes a Blog Series!

Hello! My name is Gino Romero.

Gino Photo
Photo of Gino Romero (They/Them, Elle/Ellx)

I am a queer non-binary artist, researcher, and the Rare Books Assistant in Special Collections and Archives. My research deals with queerness, highlighting the erasure of queer history, primarily focusing on people of color. As an undergrad, trying to do research in this topic with no formal training in research proved to be next to impossible. I leaned on my professors for resources, but these results were not so fruitful. Later that year, we went to Special Collections and Archives to look at artists’ books and before the class started, a librarian helped us look through the catalog and find topics we were interested in. I shouted out “LGBTQ+ History!”: no results. We tried just “LGBT”: no results! We tried dozens of configurations until we found results, but even then, it wasn’t guaranteed that they would actually be of use to my research. 

As a student, it was comforting to know that it wasn’t just me, that the institution was also struggling to find these histories. But as a researcher, I was frustrated beyond reason. I wondered why it’s so hard to find these histories. Now I work in Special Collections and Archives, and I wonder what my fellow coworkers and I can do to fix this? I began asking these questions to my colleagues and decided to make it into a project.

LGBT Search
Image – “0 matching items” for “LGBT” or “LGBTQ”

We often think that libraries are neutral, that they are solely a source of information for Rainbow Pull Quotepeople to come and formulate their own opinions on the matter. Librarians are human; personal biases always creep into the work, often to the detriment of marginalized populations. Libraries are sites of power, organizing, labeling, and delivering information in ways that affect cultural beliefs and understanding on institutional, national, and even global scales. It is important that we take the time to acknowledge that power and privilege, and that the discipline evolves out of (perhaps comfortable) old practices that contribute to systems of bigotry, oppression, and white supremacy

Librarians are tasked with the role of making information discoverable and available. They have the ability to place subject headings and search terms on materials, are involved in the acquisition of materials, and even contribute to what is taught in the classroom. These factors, among many others, put libraries in a unique position of power, as gatekeepers of information. 

The project – asking my colleagues to engage with queer histories in archives

For Pride month, I tasked my fellow coworkers with taking a moment to reflect on our role in the distribution and accessibility of information relating to LGBTQ+ history. I asked them to look into our catalogs in order to find materials, to experience what it’s like to be a queer researcher in our institution. The rules for the search were to prioritize the following: 

  • LGBTQ+ people of color
  • Materials outside of the Pride Student Union collection (These institutional records don’t represent intentional acquisition, and while valuable records of queer life on campus, don’t tell the story of underrepresentation on a larger scale.)
  • Stories that do not relate to LGBTQ+ struggles/hardships (Look for stories that highlight queer joy/culture!)

I asked my colleagues to submit a write up of their findings, describing why they chose that object, and what their experience was like in the shoes of a queer researcher. I will curate these submissions and blog about them on a biweekly basis, in hopes that this conversation will continue past Pride month and help create sustainable change.

I’m happy that this Pride Month work is turning into a blog series! In addition to sharing my colleagues’ findings, I hope to interview librarians and scholars who study representation in the archives. Be sure to check out the next post (hoping for a biweekly schedule), where I plan to include some of the discovered materials and describe the challenges my colleagues reported in their search process. 

In addition to this prompt, I also sent my colleagues some LGBTQ+ resources that I would like to share here as well:

Other institutions have been researching and working towards a solution for this issue as well. UNC has created a conscious editing initiative to repair and fix any harmful/outdated language in their catalog

Whether we follow the lead of other institutions or create a new program entirely just for FSU, it is important to take the time to acknowledge the power information holds and to make sure that we are doing our part to make it accurate, available, and equitable.

Black History Month: Celebrating Black Authors

Black History Month is upon us and it is time to reflect, recognize, and revere the numerous contributions that black authors have made to our society. Therefore, it is our pleasure to highlight some influential black authors (whose works we have in the stacks at Florida State University Special Collections and Archives).

Maya Angelou

  • Occupation: poet, singer, activist
  • Born: April 4, 1928
  • Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri
  • Quote: “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.”
  • Famous Works: “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969), “And Still I Rise” (1978), “Phenomenal Women: Four Poems Celebrating Women” (1995)
  • In Special Collections: “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” (1993) (Gontarski- PS3551.N464 L54 1993)
Source: Jack Delano

Langston Hughes

  • Occupation: poet, novelist, playwright, activist
  • Born: February 1, 1902
  • Hometown: Joplin, Missouri
  • Quote: “An artist must be free to choose what he does, certainly, but he must also never be afraid to do what he might choose.” 
  • Famous Works: “I, Too” (1926), “Montage of a Dream Deferred” (1951), “The Weary Blues”(1926), “Let America be America Again” (1936)
  • In Special Collections: “Shakespeare in Harlem” (1942) (Vault- PS3515.U274 S5), “Black Misery” (1969) (Gontarski- PS3515.U274 B5 1969), “The Dream Keeper and Other Poems” (1994) (Shaw- PS3515.U274 D74 1994), “One-Way Ticket” (1948) (Rare – PS3515.U274 O5), and more.
Source: Tullio Saba on Flickr

James Baldwin

  • Occupation: novelist, playwright, poet, activist
  • Born: August 2, 1924
  • Hometown: Harlem, New York, New York
  • Quote: “It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”
  • Famous Works: “The Fire Next Time” (1962), “If Beale Street Could Talk” (1974), “Go Tell It on the Mountain” (1953), “Notes of a Native Son” (1955)
  • In Special Collections: “Letter from a Region in my Mind” (1962) (Rare- E185.61.B196), “School Readings by Grades” (1897) (Shaw – PE1117 .B281-B286 1897)
Source: U.S. Coast Guard

Alex Haley

  • Occupation: writer
  • Born: August 11, 1921
  • Hometown: Ithaca, New York
  • Quote: “In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”
  • Famous Works: “Queen: The Story of an American Family” (1993), “Mama Flora’s Family” (1997)
  • In Special Collections: “Roots” (1976) (Rare- E185.97.H24 A33), “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (1965) (Grove- E185.97.L5 A3 1966b)
Source: United States Library of Congress

Zora Neale Hurston

  • Occupation: author, anthropologist, filmmaker
  • Born: January 7, 1891
  • Hometown: Notasulga, Alabama
  • Quote: “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.”
  • Famous Works: “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” (1928), “Sweat” (1926), “Mules and Men” (1935)
  • In Special Collections: “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937) (Florida- PS3515. U789 T5 1969), “Dust Tracks on a Road: An Autobiography” (1942) (Florida- PS3515.U789 Z5 1971), “Tell My Horse”(1938) (Florida- F1886 .H87 1938), and more.
Source: Christopher Drexel on Flickr

Toni Morrison

  • Occupation: novelist, essayist, book editor, professor
  • Born: February 18, 1931
  • Hometown: Lorain, Ohio
  • Quote: “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
  • Famous Works: “Beloved” (1987), “Song of Solomon”(1977), “Sula” (1973)
  • In Special Collections: “Five Poems” (2002) (Rare- oversize PS3563.O8749 A6 2002), “The Big Box” (1999) (Gontarski- PZ8.3.M836 Bi 1999), and more.

Pictured above are just a few of the pieces we have in Special Collections by these authors. (Slide 1: “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me” by Maya Angelou, Slide 2-3: “Shakespeare in Harlem” by Langston Hughes and signed, Slide 4-6: “Letter from a Region in my Mind” by James Baldwin, Slides 7-9: “Five Poems” by Toni Morrison)

By no means is this an exhaustive list of the amazing black authors whose works we hold on our shelves. Here at SCA, we have a plethora of black literature including novels, poems, children’s books, and historical materials. Black History Month is the perfect time to delve into these works, so head to Special Collections in Strozier and let us know what you want to read. We look forward to seeing you here!

Principles of Astronomy as detailed in an atlas by James Ferguson

Ferguson’s planetary phases diagram.

While combing through the vast amount of science related items we hold in Special Collections & Archives, I came across quite the peculiar book. I decided to scour the stacks for it as astronomy has always interested me and I was hoping for some interesting images. I knew from my initial search in the catalog that this item held images; a total of 25 plates, in fact, however what exactly those were was a mystery.

James Ferguson’s
Atlas of plates illustrative of Ferguson’s principles of astronomy is a book that holds multiple illustrations of astronomy related technology from the 1800’s. Ferguson was a Scottish astronomer best
known as the individual who improved and invented many astronomical and other scientific instruments, many of which can be found imaged in this atlas. Surprisingly, the totality of Ferguson’s formal education was met at a single grammar school at Keith in his younger years. His works within the field of astronomy and other sciences can thus only be attributed to his own self discipline, and an ambition to study the sciences.


Remaining cover of the atlas.

The cover of the atlas was made of a cloth fabric that was designed to look like leather, a cheaper alternative for the time, and only has a few pieces left attached to the bare surface show in the image to the left. It is a delicate artifact that needs support when opened however the pages themselves are mostly intact.

I couldn’t help think the images I found in this atlas were the epitome of aesthetic pleasantries. The amount of suns with faces was something I enjoyed most along with the inclusion of zodiac related constellations. Although this is a nice book to look at, there aren’t very many descriptions to go along with them, save for those found on the Orrery illustration on the first page and that found on the map of the world found in the very back of the atlas (see slideshow below for map). As someone who isn’t versed in this subject, I found it difficult to understand not only what these devices were but what they were used for. Despite this, the appreciation for the work itself is still present as it is clearly a magnificent collection of one man’s journey of discovery and invention.

Although his inventions are used for scientific inquiry, they were an item that caught the eye of a totally different set of individuals. I find it funny when researching Ferguson that many of his creations lean more toward the genre of clock-making than scientific discovery, despite the fact that they go hand-in-hand in this particular case. Many of his books detail designs for astronomical clocks that give time of day as well as day of the month, phases of the moon, and the position of the stars. Sometimes, his clocks would even include the state of the tide. If I had a clock like that, I’d want to show it to everyone and, clearly, this sentiment was not lost on clock-makers as they used his designs to build some of the greatest functioning timepieces of the time.

Fascinatingly enough, I’d never heard of James Ferguson until now. When most people think of the sciences, astronomy in particular, names like Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, or Johannes Kepler come to mind and rightly so. These scientists created many works and made many discoveries that have led up to where we are today. Ferguson is not lacking in these works either. He produced a number of books during his life, including The use of a new orrery… (1746), Astronomy explained upon Sir Isaac Newton’s principles… (1756), The young gentleman and lady’s astronomy (1768), and The art of drawing in perspective… (1775). 

Regardless of how well-known Ferguson is today, he was widely influential in his own time and has been mentioned by personalities such as Founding Father Thomas Paine and German experimental physicist Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who is most known for his discovery and study of the Lichtenberg figure which is named after him. Ferguson died in London on November 17, 1776, leaving works like this extraordinarily illustrated atlas as a legacy.


You can explore this item further at the Special Collections Research Center at Strozier Library.

  • Plate 11 of the 17 still present in the atlas.

Sources:

https://blogs.adelaide.edu.au/special-collections/2016/11/28/astronomy-explained-upon-sir-isaac-newtons-principles-james-ferguson-1757/

All image are taken by and credited to the author of the blog.

(re)Introducing the Dime Novels Collection

Subbasement
A view of one of the Special Collections & Archives storage modules in the subbasement

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Bilbo tells his nephew Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business… going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The same might be said for visiting the subbasement of Strozier Library; it’s a dangerous thing, because you never know what new projects you might stumble upon. In this case, it was six boxes of uncatalogued dime novels stuffed unceremoniously into Hollinger boxes. Where did they come from? How long had they been here? Although we seemed to have more questions than answers, we knew we wanted to get these items stored properly and cataloged so that they would be available to researchers. And so, I was given the opportunity to rehouse and process my very first archival collection. Now, I would like to (re)introduce the Dime Novels Collection!

Dime Novels
Different dime novel formats (MSS 2015-003)

“Dime novels” is the term given to mass-market fiction publications from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, which really ranged in price from five to twenty cents. They are essentially the American equivalent of Great Britain’s “penny dreadfuls.” Dime novels revolved around themes of action, adventure, and crime, sometimes drawing on contemporary and historical events like the American Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War. Some come in a magazine-sized format, others as thicker, twenty cent pocket-sized editions. While they were never prized for their literary excellence, dime novels were a widely popular form of entertainment and continued to remain popular among collectors, inspiring periodicals like Dime Novel Roundup, a collector’s guide.

20 cent novels
20 cent thicker-format dime novels stored in boxes, protected by transparent sleeves

Although dime novels can be cataloged as books and given individual call numbers, the FSU Dime Novels Collection has been kept together as a collection. While a single dime novel might be an object of interest to a researchers studying depictions of Native Americans in popular literature or turn-of-the-century graphic design, the collection is also valuable as a whole. Along with the dime novels, I found handwritten note cards with titles and check-marked lists of issues owned, which bear testament to an unnamed collector. These sorts of notes give us a sense of how the dime novels were used and what importance they held. The value of the collection as a whole, as it was developed by its collector, would be lost if the dime novels were separated and cataloged individually.

FullSizeRender
Pocket-sized dime novels stored in a Hollinger box

Because they were designed to be cheap, mass-produced, and temporary, dime novels have often not survived over time or survived in poor condition. The FSU Dime Novels Collection has some serious condition issues. The acidity of the paper has made the novels extremely brittle, and this was exasperated by less-than-ideal storage conditions. Now, each dime novel has been placed in an archival-quality plastic sleeve, grouped according to titles, and stored in acid-free boxes. The smaller, pocket-sized dime novels were stored upright in individual folders separated by dividers in a Hollinger box. Pocket-sized novels with loose or detached covers were given additional protection from a card stock enclosure.

To find out more about this collection, view the Dime Novels Collection finding aid, which includes an additional description of the collection and list of titles included.

Judging Books by Their Covers

bookbindings_leather
Fig 1. Back cover. Leather binding, tooled in blind over wood boards, c. 1450 (BT769 .A56)

When it comes to studying the history of the book, the study of bookbinding presents a unique set of challenges to scholars. While today we might be tempted think of a book as an all-in-one package, whether we buy it in a bookstore or download it to an e-reader, historically the process of creating a book from conception, to publishing, to binding has been anything but neat and tidy. Prior to the mechanization of printing in the early nineteenth century, books were often bound years, even decades, after publication. Some books were bound by binders associated with publishing companies, some were “bespoke” by wealthy patrons according to their personal specifications, and others were shipped as unfolded, uncut sheets to be bound in distant countries. Since a book can be bound and rebound any number of times in its life, associating a bookbinding with a particular place, time, and bindery is at best a game of educated guesswork. Even so, bindings have a lot to tell us about the history of the book, and the FSU Special Collections & Archives rare books collections contain many notable examples of bookbinding materials and techniques.

Materials

bookbindings_fabric
Fig 2. 18th century embroidered binding with metal clasp (BR1705 .A2 V526 1547)

The most common coverings for books through the nineteenth century were those made out of animal skins, either leather or vellum.¹ One of the oldest leather bindings in our collection is on a fifteenth century Italian manuscript (fig. 1), believed to be in its original binding. Although much of the leather has worn with time, a pattern of knot-work stamps worked in blind around a filleted central panel is still visible. A manuscript like this would have taken considerable time and labor to produce, and its binding reflects its preciousness.

Leather was the material of choice for monastic and university libraries, but books owned by private (i.e. wealthy) collectors were often covered in embroidered fabrics or velvet. It is difficult to determine just how widespread the use of fabric bindings was because so many of them were not made to withstand the test of the time as well as their leather counterparts.² The embroidered binding in fig. 2 is believed to date from the eighteenth century, and it covers a 1547 Italian printed book on the lives of the Saints (Vite de Santi Padri). It is precisely these types of devotional works that were often given special coverings by their owners.

bookbindings_paper
Fig 3. Paper covering on an 18th century almanac (PQ1177 .A6 1767)

On the other end of the spectrum, increased book production after the Renaissance led to a shortage of binding materials, and cheaper methods of binding came into use to meet growing demands. By the eighteenth century, simple paper wrappings had become a common cover for inexpensive pamphlets and small-format books, such as the almanac in fig. 3.³ This copy of the 1767 Almanach des Muses, a serial of French poetry published annually from the mid-eighteenth to the early nineteenth century, is comprised of seven quires with untrimmed edges sewn together and wrapped in decorated paper, which is glued to the first and last pages of the volume. The use of blue paper was often characteristic of French paper bindings.³  Unlike modern day book jackets, these paper coverings bear no relation to the text within. Since these bindings were not designed for longevity, they often do not survive intact or are removed when the books are rebound and the pages are trimmed.

The FSU Special Collections & Archives rare book collections run the gamut from medieval manuscripts bound in tooled leather with gilt edges to untrimmed almanacs wrapped in publishers’ scraps. Their value, form, and function may vary, but they all contribute to the same history. Prior to the mechanization of book production in the early 1800s, each book was constructed by hand, and, as such, each can be thought of as a miniature work of art, just waiting to be discovered.

Katherine Hoarn is a graduate assistant in Special Collections & Archives. She is working on her Master of Library and Information Science degree at Florida State University.

Notes

1. D. Pearson, English bookbinding styles 1450-1800, London, 2005, p. 20-21

2. P. Needham, Twelve centuries of bookbindings 400-1600, New York, 1979, p. 107.

3. M. Lock, Bookbinding materials and techniques 1700-1920, Toronto, 2003, p. 48.

A Place of Pilgrimage

While assisting with Special Collections & Archives instruction classes as part of my graduate assistantship, I have found the following quote from Michael Suarez, director of the Rare Book School, full of plenty of food for thought:

Great Bible
Great Bible, 1541 (Vault BS167 1541**)

How is the way that your collections are mediated telling those who are in contact with them about their treasureful-ness? About the power of materiality that’s ritually taken out and placed in someone’s hands (or not)? … If we don’t understand our institutions as places of pilgrimage, as places of material embodiments that have profound effects on community, identity, and the expression of humanities, then we do not understand the vocation of the librarian … a high and noble vocation in which we are the custodians of a materiality that is absolutely intrinsic to the identity of our civilization (as cited in Overholt, 2013, p. 19-20).

If at first this seems like an overly lofty vision, I am happy to report that, as a graduate assistant, I have been lucky enough to catch glimpses of this lofty vision in action. Whether it’s watching students interact with 4,000 year old cuneiform tablets or discussing how a 21st-century artist’s book pushes the boundaries of what we think a “book” should be, I am in a privileged place  to help mediate what are many students’ first interactions with rare books and manuscripts.

Instruction
Katie McCormick, Associate Dean for Special Collections & Archives, discussing printing with Introduction to the History of Text Technologies students.

For FSU Special Collections & Archives, instruction classes are an invaluable means of outreach. By taking materials out of the secured stacks and setting them up in a classroom setting, we are bringing them to students who might not know where we are located, what we have, and what we can offer. Most importantly, we want students to know we exist for them!

When we bring rare books and manuscripts to the classroom, we want to communicate the “treasureful-ness” of these items, many of which are one-of-a-kind. The value of the items means they must be handled with respect and care, and yes, this means rules (no pens, markers or highlighters, no food and drinks), but perhaps these rules can be thought of as part of the ritual of scholarship rather than an imposition designed to make people stay away. Along with the commitment to preservation comes the commitment to providing access, and one of the most exciting things about working in Special Collections & Archives is learning to find the balance between these seemingly polarized goals.

The description of Special Collections & Archives as a place of pilgrimage is an apt one. Students and scholars come to us from across campus, across the country, and sometimes from across oceans; they come from across disciplines. Sometimes they come in person, sometimes they call us, and sometimes they come digitally. During instruction classes, we get to come to them. No matter how simple or complicated their information needs are, Special Collections & Archives has the awesome privilege of putting our unique and distinctive materials in their hands and on their screens.

Katherine Hoarn is a graduate assistant in Special Collections & Archives. She is working on her Master of Library and Information Science degree at Florida State University.

Sources

Overholt, J. (2013). Five theses on the future of special collections. RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, & Cultural Heritage, 14(1), 15-20.