Reports from bursary holders
My time working as the Inventory Assistant for the New Colleague Decant Project at the University of Edinburgh in 2019 confirmed to me that cataloguing and collections management are the fields I want to pursuit as a lifetime career. For me, cataloguing is like facing a big jigsaw: I need to pick up useful information from the items and put them in the right places on the system in order to create easier access for users. It can be challenging but at the same time very satisfying. This is especially true for collections whose history details are not as clear or easy to spot – for instance, rare books which don’t contain the modern colophon pages. I will then need to combine my research and detective skills to track down their provenance.
The one week I spent on the London Rare Book School course ‘Provenance in books’ greatly inspired me. Dr. David Pearson as one of the leading scholars in the field provided us with a comprehensive series of lectures which cover the ‘why’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ questions we may ask in Rare Book provenance research: ‘Why’ provenance research is important; ‘What’ are the provenance evidence we are looking for; ‘Where’ can we look for further information; ‘How’ do we interpret the provenance evidence we hold in our hand. Dr. Pearson would combine theory with case studies from his abundant experience and sum each lecture up by showing us some relevant examples from Senate Library in-house collections. Though the class mostly focused on British Book History, it still once again reminded me of my passion for provenance research in Oriental collections. Through this one week of seminars, I had the chance to rethink what other angles I can take on examining the history of printed collections from the Far East. Therefore, I decided to take the accreditation option and write an essay of provenance research on one of the Chinese Rare books in the University of Edinburgh. I am also currently considering pursuing another degree, this time from the Institute of English Studies in the University of London after taking this well-presented course.
I am now once again come back to my ordinary life in Edinburgh, however I truly believe my time in London Rare Book School has broadened my horizon. It is not only beneficial for me in pursuing my career in cataloguing but was also enlightening for me to enter the world of book history.
Sandy (Nai-Hsuan) Lin
June 2022 saw the in-person return of the London Rare Book School (LRBS). During the Pandemic, LRBS successfully offered online courses and events. This introduced new people, myself included, to the school and bodes well for possible hybrid futures which may extend LRBS’s reach to include those with obstacles to IRL attendance. The excitement of this year’s students, however, to be in Senate House and amongst people with shared interests was evident. I was very grateful to be one of these students thanks to the generosity of a Bibliographical Society bursary.
After a welcome address by LRBS Director, Andrew Nash, and Senate House Library’s Curator of Rare Books, Karen Attar, we broke into our respective groups. Six courses were on offer in Week 1, including: ‘The Medieval Book’, ‘Provenance in Books’, ‘The Art of Natural History Illustration’, ‘The Printed Book, 1455-2020’, and ‘Marginalia in Books’. My chosen course, ‘European Bookbinding’, saw nine librarians, cataloguers, conservators, booksellers, and book history students gather for an immersion in European bookbinding dating from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Our course convenor was Nicholas Pickwoad, Director of the Ligatus Research Centre, trained bookbinder and conservator, and bindings expert who has honed this richly detailed course over several years. Perhaps telling, was the presence of returnees in the class. Both were back in the hope that what inevitably passes over one’s head on the first take may hit one square in the cranium second time round. This is to say the coverage is comprehensive – do try to keep up, it’s well worth it!
During the course there was an emphasis on looking closely at the physical structure of books and being attentive to the practicalities and economics that informed how they were bound. Attention was given less to fine and highly decorative bookbinding than to more everyday and ephemeral bindings that reflected a craft which developed in response to commercial need. We proceeded at pace through: dating bindings; finishing tools; Medieval books; illustrations of binderies; endleaves; structural types (stitched vs sewn); sewing techniques and supports; spine types and linings; ephemeral bindings; boards and their attachment; endbands; covering materials, and, finally, titling and shelving. This list fails to do justice to all the topics covered nor the awareness we gained of how binding techniques developed in different countries between 1450 and 1830.
‘Field trips’, an important part of LRBS courses, allowed us to view examples of the binding techniques we had discussed. Dr Williams’s Library, the Wellcome Library, and Senate House Library kindly hosted our class. Evening receptions, one sponsored by the Bibliographical Society and the other hosted by Maggs Brothers, were good opportunities to meet fellow students.
The IES provides a great service to the rare books community in running LRBS. Its ‘European Bookbinding’ course is invaluable for anyone working with rare books who wishes to learn how to think more critically about bindings and what they can tell us. If you have the chance to take it once, you will glad of it, twice, and I’ll be quite envious.