Sunday, June 07, 2015

Links & Reviews

- For the second week in a row this roundup must lead with the Boston Public Library, but at least some of the news this time around is good. On Thursday afternoon the library announced that the missing prints had been found (by Conservation Officer Lauren Schott), having been misfiled within the library's secure stacks. The Boston Globe ran a full story on the (re)discovery of the prints, followed by a piece focused on the methodical search for the prints and the immediate aftermath.

- This came less than a day after BPL president Amy Ryan submitted her resignation (effective 3 July) following an emergency meeting of the BPL's board; Ryan said that she wanted to "allow the work of the [BPL] to continue without distraction." At the board meeting earlier on Wednesday, Ryan had announced an action plan for collections management, which includes the transfer of 24,000 paper catalog cards to the online catalog over the next year, as well as an item-by-item inventory of the print collection, a full assessment of special collections in advance of a full inventory, and staff redeployment. Ryan noted that a high priority for many years was on acquisition, rather than cataloging: "For its nearly 170-year history, the collecting philosophy of the [BPL] has been to acquire as much as possible. Before 2009 a priority had not been placed on cataloging or on access to those materials by the public. In the 1980s there were substantial financial resources and grants available to libraries across the U.S. to automate their collections and convert catalog cards into electronic records, however, the BPL did not take advantage of the financial resources at that time."

- Following the recovery of the prints, at least one BPL trustee, Paul La Camera, told the Boston Herald that he wants Ryan to remain as president, though Ryan has said that her resignation stands. Boston City Councilor Stephen J. Murphy has called for the entire board of trustees to resign, and in an editorial, the Boston Herald also called for more resignations, faulting Ryan for blaming her predecessors (for acquiring without cataloging) and saying "Frankly it's the board, which has had way too cozy a relationship with Ryan over the years, that needs a house-cleaning. And that needs to happen before her successor is chosen. That coziness, that lack of independence, that absence of people willing to ask tough questions and demand straight answers—in fact, that ongoing lack of transparency in all that the BPL does is at the heart of its problems. ... This is about coming up with new ways of doing business in a digital age to protect the library's many treasures and finding ways to make them more—not less—accessible. [Boston mayor Martin] Walsh needs a new generation of leaders on the board who can help make that happen. Ryan's departure should be only the beginning."

- It's also worth noting the release of an "Operational and Financial Assessment" by Chrysalis Management [PDF], dated 15 May 2015, which highlights major deficiencies in inventory control and discoverability (p. 7) among other areas. Just 19% of the BPL's research and special collections are currently searchable online, the report maintains (including fewer than 2% of the manuscripts, 16% of rare books, and 6% of maps and atlases). This report calls recommends that the library "Complete full inventory of owned assets, deaccession non-core special collections, pause purchasing in rare books and prints, refocus special collections away from acquisitions and toward discoverability" (p. 15). Read the full report for more in-depth analysis, not all of which makes good institutional sense but some of which certainly does.

- Two books stolen from the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian) in the late 1990s have been recovered following a four-year investigation. No word, however, on whether any charges will be filed.

- Penn has acquired a fragmentary manuscript almanac from 1746/7 with a possible attribution to David Rittenhouse.

- A rare Apple I computer, hand-built by Jobs and Wozniak, turned up at a recycling center near Silicon Valley. The computer was sold for $200,000 and staff at the recycling firm are looking for the woman who brought in the computer, so that they can share half of the proceeds.

- An inscription by Tolkien in a first edition of The Hobbit (which sold for £137,000) was not actually in Elvish (as the auction catalog description had it), but in Old English.

- The Berkeley bookstore Shakespeare & Co. Books closed suddenly this week after 51 years in business, with the store's stock purchased en bloc by Powell's.

- Bill Reese talked to Rare Book Monthly for their June issue to mark his fortieth anniversary in the book trade.

- Hyperspectral imaging of the Wadham Gospels has confirmed what ultraviolet imaging showed in the 1970s; that there is a preliminary sketch of St. Matthew at the start of his gospel not visible to the naked eye.

- A remarkable find in Oklahoma: contractors removing chalkboards at a high school discovered earlier chalkboards behind the existing ones, still containing lessons from 1917!

- As part of their Endangered Archives project, the BL has posted images of a series of documents and photographs from the island of Montserrat.

- A guest post by Austin Plann Curley at The Collation outlines "the mystery of gridded paper."

- The AAS has published the Twitterstream from last weekend's Digital Antiquarian Conference.


- Michael Pye's The Edge of the World; review by Russell Shorto in the NYTimes.

- Andrea Mays' The Millionaire and the Bard; review by Dennis Drabelle in the WaPo.

- Kenneth C. Davis' The Hidden History of America at War; review by Gregory Crouch in the WaPo.

- Kara Cooney's The Woman Who Would be King; review by Christina Riggs in the TLS.

- Robert Zaretsky's Boswell's Enlightenment; review by Josh Emmons in the LA Review of Books.

- John Palfrey's BiblioTech; review by Michael Lieberman at Book Patrol.

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