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Subject: Report on RBMS

Report on RBMS

From: Walter Henry <whenry>
Date: Sunday, July 7, 1991
The following appeared on NOTRBCAT and is reposted here with permission.
(Apologies to those of you who have already seen this, but
DistList/NOTRBCAT cross-subscription is pretty low).

    Date: 1 Jul 91
    Sender: Rare Book and Special Collections Catalogers
                  <NOTRBCAT [at] INDYCMS__BITNET>
    From: Kathryn Wright <LIBKAT [at] INDST__bitnet>
    Subject:      RBMS '91 partial overview

                 Keeping the Facts in Artifacts:
             Conserving the Physical Evidence of Special
           Collections Materials and its Impact on Research

                 Thirty-Second RBMS Preconference
                        June 25-28, 1991
             University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
                         Duke University

    That heading is supposed to take care of it for this and all other
    communiques relating to RBMS 91.
    Here starts (I hope) a series of reports on the 1991 RBMS
    preconference.  The sessions noted below are those that I attended.
    Like Michael Winship with his BAL, I'll enter only those that I've
    seen myself.  The "Some of us heard ..." entries indicate one of
    four concurrent sessions.  The others certainly were not without
    interest, and I do hope that we hear from them.  I am *not* intend-
    ing to imply that I'll be reporting more fully on each of those
    listed below, now.  There's plenty to go around.

    Especially since my notes seem not to be full enough to support the
    sensible abstracts that I thought they could.  So I propose that we
    utilize the ability of this e-medium to make available emendations
    from the NOTRBCAT group, other participants who happen to know more
    and better on certain points.  At least when you see something
    signed by y.t., *please* be appropriately suspicious and critical
    and post your corrigenda and addenda right here. -- Ksw

    I.  Brief partial overview

    We heard Nicholas Pickwoad, as the first to point out that
    conservatorial intervention inevitably destroys historical evidence,
    describe some of his findings in a collection of Italian parchment

    We heard Barbra Buckner Higginbotham trace some of the history of
    book preservation and conservation.

    We heard Paul F. Grendler describe how Italian Renaissance book
    buyers were able to identify popular vs. scholarly books on the
    basis of page size, letter of type, and number of columns per page.

    We heard Amy M. Thomas discuss the reading habits of a well-born
    Georgia lady of the nineteenth century, based upon her 40-year

    We watched Carmine Andrew Prioli show changes in the advertising
    strategy of White Owl cigars as it adjusted to changing social
    conditions from World War I to World War II.

    Some of us heard Laura Stalker, Jackie Dooley, Suzy Taraba, and
    Belinda Urquiza point out differences between the new _Descriptive
    Cataloging of Rare Books_ and the current _Bibliographic Description
    of Rare Books_.  LC begins implementation of DCRB on July 1 -
    *today*.  I hope that the presenters can be persuaded to contribute
    usefully to an e-presentation for the forum - perhaps to save their
    reputations.  My notes are certainly totally inadequate.

    A number of us heard Allen Tucker of RLG comment upon the much-
    discussed future of RLIN, in the wake of the RLG board meeting. The
    condensed RLG document that Officer Ed posted to NOTRBCAT has been
    well distributed electronically. So RLG members won't be seeing that
    "Welcome to OCLC" message after all.

    We heard Carolyn Clark Morrow present the politics and policies of
    preservation programs, drawing upon her experience at Harvard, and
    posit the characteristics of contracting outside for conservation

    We heard John Townsend tell of the pansies (restoration workers) and
    thugs (microfilmers of guillotined books) at the New York Public
    Library as an introduction to the considerations that he currently
    faces in directing the conservation/preservation program for New York

    We heard Margaret Child address means of developing conservation
    programs by appealing to both the idealism and the baser instincts
    of those with power.

    Some of us heard Alexandra Mason discuss provenance files at the
    University of Kansas and the use of PC databases for collection
    access; Rita Bottoms describe the control of contemporary special
    collections, using "appropriate technology," at the University of
    California at Santa Cruz; Gretchen Lagana describe the also
    relatively new special collections at the University of Illinois at
    Chicago, with emphasis upon the control of the manuscript
    collections; and Robin Overmier outline the results of her survey of
    practices in maintaining provenance files.

    Some of us heard Martin Davies describe the Incunabula Short Title
    Catalog and its methods of compilation at the British Library; Henry
    Snyder give an overview of major STC projects; and Jan Bos describe
    the STC Netherlands project.

    Relatively few of us observed Martin Davies call up the ISTC and
    manipulate it, in more sophisticated ways than RLIN allows, through
    Blaise on the British Library mainframe.

    We heard Jan Paris evaluate the conservatorial role as providing an
    intelligent analysis of the need to preserve the historical veracity
    of an item versus the need to conserve it in usable form,
    illustrating the dilemma with an exceptional manuscript item
    preserving the record of a Jewish community in Lithuania over three

    We heard Michael Winship describe some of his guidelines and
    problems in editing the _Bibliography of American Literature_, also
    remarking on conservatorial techniques that destroy publication

    And we heard Terry Belanger from the floor challenge the view that
    [all copies of?] all old books should be preserved, calling instead
    for triage - consciously rejecting preservation for 90% of old
    materials in order to concentrate efforts on the most significant

    Kathryn Wright
    Indiana State University

    Date: 3 Jul 91
    Sender: Rare Book and Special Collections Catalogers
                  <NOTRBCAT [at] INDYCMS__BITNET>
    From: Kathryn Wright <LIBKAT [at] INDST__bitnet>
    Subject:      RBMS 91: Winship on research and the physical evidence
    of books

    I wanted to get this one, on the very last presentation at RBMS, out
    in order to fill in the Belanger statement and place it in its
    immediate context.  Sorry this got so long, though.  But typical. --
    Kathryn Wright, Indiana State U.

                       Exploring Content and Form
       Research Stemming from the Examination of Physical Evidence

    Michael Winship
    editor of _Bibliography of American Literature_
    Assoc. Prof.
    Dept. of English
    University of Texas at Austin

    MW stated that during the past fifteen years when he has been
    involved in completing the BAL, he has examined and prepared
    descriptions for some 100,000 books.  In order for a title to be
    listed in BAL, he insists on access to the original edition.
    Unrevised reprints are generally omitted; BAL focuses on the first
    appearance of editions.  Articles appear only if later published in
    book form.

    BAL describes the title page exactly and records volume size,
    binding, leaf size, and location.  Microfilm evidence was accepted
    from the Center for Research Libraries for one item of which the
    original location was unknown, but thought to be Duke University.
    Although Suzy Taraba of Duke sent a photocopy of the title page, for
    MW the book still was not real until he had seen it himself.  Now in
    North Carolina himself, he had still not gone to see it.  (And
    sounded as if he might not.)

    Another interesting case, still unresolved, involves the second
    publication of the Georgian William Tappan Thompson, _Chronicles of
    of Pineville_, which, after two changes of publisher, showed an 1843
    copyright date after its apparent first publication in 1845.  The
    1845 date appeared on the title page, as usual for first publication
    and was removed from later impressions, again as usual.  No copy
    carrying the date of 1843 on the title page has yet turned up.

    MW usually asks for all evidence included that might identify the
    first publication and to differentiate it from subsequent printings.
    Changes in advertisements are important - are they printed on
    integral leaves?  Dating of ownership marks can be significant.

    The use of an edition in cultural history relies on its usage marks.
    The ability to comprehend a text depends upon its physical form.

    Reading, MW said, is hardly the only use of books.  He pointed out
    some other common and not-so-common uses, including propping up
    other objects (like windows), throwing to vent anger, etc., etc.
    Books are definitely cultural objects.  As for reading, he believes
    that in academia "photocopy" may now be understood as equivalent to
    "read" -- when he asks a colleague whether he has read X-- X--- X---
    yet, the colleague will answer that he has and rummage around on his
    desk to produce the photocopy as proof.

    Preservation techniques destroying publication history do serve
    other uses, notably prolonging the life of the original text of the
    item. But if it is bad for the original publication to be utterly
    destroyed by microfilming, it is worse if the process not only
    obliterates that one copy but, through distribution of the
    microfilm, leads other repositories to destroy their own originals.

    Bibliographers, arguably the ultimate lovers of books, may also
    cause damage to them through their study.

    Tanselle's view that every copy of every book is a rare one and
    worthy of retention is impractical due to the numbers and the need
    for usage, which then becomes part of the book's history.

    As an example of the difficulty in finding physical evidence of
    known publications, MW cited his own dissertation, the goal of which
    was to examine as many copies as possible of the publications of
    Ticknor and Fields in 1856.  He had assumed that this project would
    be fairly easy for three reasons:

       1) the firm was a new one
       2) the firm contributed a copy of each publication to Harvard
       3) the firm's business records survived, leading a collector to
          start gathering one copy of each publication

    In spite of all this, MW found that some copies simply were no
    longer findable.

    The first use of a book, MW pointed out, is the first step in using
    up the book, and that is a natural process.  He knows someone who
    has a book uncut, one still in shrink wrap.  He himself has one that
    is still in shrink wrap.  But, he said, don't keep books in shrink

    From the floor, Terry Belanger rose to say that he disagreed
    strongly with the view that all old books should be retained, and
    cited  the Melcher lecture soon to be published.  He suggested that
    under present and foreseeable economic constraints, it was only wise
    to advise the willful triage of 90% of the surviving material in
    order to select the most valuable 10%.  Otherwise, circumstances
    will force selection of the 10% at random.

    MW agreed that, practically speaking, not everything could be
    retained.  He said that he was fearful that duplicate libraries
    would spring up all over the country due to vendors' approval plans.

    Alice Schreyer remarked that MW's statements suggest a need for
    cooperation in conservatorship.

                   Conservation DistList Instance 5:8
                   Distributed: Sunday, July 7, 1991
                        Message Id: cdl-5-8-002
Received on Sunday, 7 July, 1991

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