Sunday, June 20, 2010

Report from the Field: RBS Days 10-15

[Note: For previous installments, go here and work backward.]

Wow, I didn't realize I'd missed an entire week of updates on RBS, but that just goes to show you what a busy time it's been! Busy, and incredibly fulfilling. I'll do a full recap of the week in this post, so please pardon its length.

On Monday morning the students, staff and faculty met for breakfast, and then separated into their class groups for the first sessions. I led the papermaking class across to their classroom in Jefferson Hall and made sure John and Tim had everything they needed, then worked on other projects around the RBS suite in the morning. After lunch I got my orientation to special collections handling so that I could work with those materials, and helped out with a show-and-tell session of atlases for Alice Hudson's Introduction to Printed Maps class.

During the afternoon we got things ready for the Monday evening lecture, by UVa professor David Vander Meulen (also a student this week in the papermaking class). He spoke on "Bibliographical Analysis in the 'Digital Age'," an entirely appropriate topic for the week. He discussed various opportunities that computers as tools offer to traditional bibliographic of printed books, but also noted that "a shadow is growing," as libraries seek to decrease print holdings and the major digitization outfits are not concerned with capturing the elements or metadata bibliographers need in order to conduct effective analysis. It was a good talk, and I know it got people thinking carefully about these issues, as they turned up in conversations throughout the week.

On Tuesday morning I helped John and Tim with their special collections session, which was a great treat - John had pulled some excellent examples of interesting papers and books about the history of papermaking to show to the students, and told some great stories about Dard Hunter and other well-known papermakers of the past. During the afternoon we worked on putting some things away from the Monday classes, and then had the weekly movie night (instructional film first, then a feature). I watched a Dutch movie on hand bookbinding first (in another room we showed one on paper-marbling), then everyone converged for a viewing of "Desk Set," which is always fun to watch.

Wednesday was quite a long day: it started early with some setup for the history of bookbinding and papermaking classes, after which I had a couple periods of free time, which I used for some stacks research on the Bermuda project. At lunchtime Michael Suarez and I had a nice chat about life plans and projects and all those various things, and then I took some reference materials over to the papermaking class for their very fascinating watermark identification exercise (each student was given a couple paper samples and asked to determine the location and approximate time period of manufacture). They certainly seemed to enjoy the hunt!

In the afternoon on Wednesday I cleaned up the printing press and its associated parts after the maps class did their printing demonstration, and then assisted with setup for the evening talk by Dr James Goode, "Three Centuries of the American Bookplate." This was an illustrated discussion of American bookplate design, featuring examples from Goode's own collection (part of which is currently on display at UVa). I joined Goode, some faculty members and other RBS staff for dinner after the talk, where we continued our discussions of bookplates, collecting, and other topics of interest.

Thursday morning I spent working with the RBS course archives, and then going to special collections to snap some pictures of the bookbinding class at their show-and-tell session, which featured a whole series of absolutely lovely and historic bindings from the university's collections. I spent the afternoon reshelving books in the basement stacks, which was great fun for me since I got to enjoy the bindings as I put them away. Once we finished up with classes a few of us went over to Heartwood Books and raided their books on books section thoroughly - when you're in town, a visit to this shop is highly recommeded.

Friday was a reasonably quiet day: in the morning I worked more on the course archives project, then we met as a staff at lunchtime to talk about how the week had gone (very well, we all agreed!). In the afternoon a couple of us worked some more on reshelving, then got things set up for the final reception before heading over to our classrooms to hand out the course evaluations and see the students off to the party, which makes a very nice capstone to the week. Once all was cleaned up in the RBS rooms the staff spent a lovely evening enjoying food, games and a little downtime.

Yesterday morning I met up with Endrina Tay from Monticello for breakfast, and we talked Libraries of Early America business for a while (and I enjoyed some very nice ham biscuits). Then the RBS staff spent the afternoon clearing out this week's classrooms and putting the materials away, which went extremely smoothly; there are only a few things left to finish reshelving this week. Once we'd gotten to a stopping point we brainstormed ideas for a while, which was very productive and led to some really interesting conversations. In the evening I went with Richard Noble, James Ascher and Donna Sy to the South Street Brewery for supper, where I finally got my pulled pork sandwich for this trip and we discussed weighty matters of great significance (well, occasionally anyway).

And today I fly home - it's hard to believe how fast the last two weeks have flown by! As I told the rest of the staff on Friday I can't remember another experience that has made me at once so exhausted and so energized. Rare Book School is a very special place, where people from all points on the bibliophilic continuum can meet and learn from each other, where an amazing teaching collection is used to great effect, where a truly awe-inspiring staff manages to pull off the tricky proposition of five concurrent classes in five different locations, all requiring materials and support. It's impressed me, it's inspired me, it's invigorated me - and I have a sneaking suspicion that I'm not alone in that.

Let me just make a quick plug (in case these posts haven't persuaded you already): COME to Rare Book School. And from me, a huge thank-you to the wonderful staff, who welcomed me so warmly and were so incredibly patient as I learned the ropes, and to the William Reese Company, the sponsor of my fellowship this summer. It's been one of the most enlightening and enjoyable experiences of my life, and I leave Charlottesville already looking forward to my next visit.

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