20 March 2011

White Gloves or No?

Great 'rant' on the white gloves debate from Confessions of a Curator, i.e. Lynn M Thomas, Head of Special Collections at Northern Illinois University, posted on 16 March:

Why don't you wear white gloves? [rant]

ILAB.org posted an article called "White Gloves: Functionable or Fashionable" yesterday, once again rehashing the whole "handling rare books requires wearing white cotton gloves" thing for their readers. They were fairly evenhanded, interviewing professionals who are both for and against white cotton gloves in rare book rooms.

Just in case you were dying to know my feelings on the subject, they are simple: I hate the darned things. I avoid wearing white cotton gloves while handling our materials whenever humanly possible.

Here's why.

1. I'm a clutz. Unlike folks who may have grown up during an era when wearing gloves indoors was de rigeur as part of ladylike fashion (or who are avid costumers and reenactors), and therefore have sufficient practice to function reasonably well, I can't actually be dextrous in the things. I'm far more likely to damage a book when wearing white cotton gloves than I am handling it with clean, bare hands, personally.

2. I think I look kind of dumb in them.  There, I said it. I feel like Minnie Mouse. And not in a good way. Look, walking in heels when I need to dress as a grownup is enough of a challenge on a regular basis, ok? Don't make my day even harder.

3. White cotton gloves don't protect me from anything. If I AM going to wear gloves, it's far more likely to be latex gloves that keep me from getting ink on my hands when using the Common Press, or when handling something fragile from our Southeast Asia collection. I can be dextrous in latex gloves, if need be. And if there's anything weird on the object that I don't want to touch with my skin (like, say, mold), the latex is a better barrier than cotton for protecting me. Plus? Disposable. I can just chuck them when I'm done, without the hassle of having to remember to bring them home to wash them.

4. I think they create an unnecessary social barrier. This is the real reason I hate them.

White cotton gloves feed into the whole social privilege aspect of special collections and rare books that keep people away from them and afraid of them, by silently telling patrons and guests "this is too fancy and expensive and special for anyone to handle, let alone you. I'm a fancy-pants curator and even I'm not allowed to touch it."

99.9% of the time, that's simply not true. Most books, even rare ones, are replaceable or repairable. (Obviously, not all, but in my university's collection? Most.) The tactile sensation of handling a rare book, however fleeting, is one that I think should be available to everyone, with reasonable precautions in place (such as handwashing before the fact and gentle handling). I've seen people cry when handling First Folios. (Not on the book! they were very careful about that!) That moment of handling a rare book can change someone's life for the better, putting them in touch with their own history, their own deeply-held passions. These materials can inspirepeople. Why are we trying to keep them away?

Goodness knows, wouldn't be a curator now if the curators I worked with at my alma mater hadn't encouraged me to touch the books, to look at them, to get to know them intimately (both with and without the vacuum cleaner I was using to gently clean them at the time). Handling those books made me who I am, because curators that came before me didn't think that I wasn't important enough to touch the books, even if I happened to be a working class first-generation college student, rather than coming from a family of rare books collectors and connoisseurs.

At the very least, making handling rare materials more democratic can only bring us more support in the long run. Rare books should be for everyone. I'm a public employee at a state institution. These are literally the people of Illinois' rare books, bought and paid for through gifts, taxes, and tuition. I am their steward. The more people that come to use their books, the better. Anything that creates even more barriers between the patrons and the books is not a good thing, in my opinion.

The best way to convince our public that cultural heritage materials are important is to encourage individual ownership of the notion. Especially when budgets are tight, we want our patrons to be fighting for the appropriate stewardship of our materials, not deciding that really, rare books are just a luxury for rich people only, and therefore can be cut from budgets in favor of other stuff.

Most patrons-off-the-street are exceedingly gentle with the materials that we bring them to use in our reading rooms. They already know that this stuff is special (it's in the name!). They don't need us to remind them of that fact by making them feel clumsy and unwelcome by forcing them to wear white gloves, or by wearing gloves ourselves.

It's just not worth it.

Thus endeth my rant on white cotton gloves.


19 March 2011

Exhibition: 'Guts, God & Gold: Dunedin in the 1860s'

The latest Reed Gallery exhibition, 'Guts, God & Gold: Dunedin in the 1860s', marks the 150th anniversary of the discovery of gold in the province of Otago, New Zealand, in 1861. The man who made the discovery, Gabriel Read (1824-94), was quoted as saying the precious metal was ‘shining like the stars of Orion on a dark, frosty night’. Read’s discovery touched off the Central Otago gold rush and led to a population explosion. Dunedin’s population trebled within four years, and the town became New Zealand’s largest and wealthiest urban city by the end of the decade with a population of approximately 15,000.

Bell Hill Excavation, Dunedin, 1863.

The more than thirty-five exhibited items include printed books, contemporary photographs, hand-drawn maps, original diaries kept by a settler and sailor respectively, land deeds on vellum, and even the bugle used by then postman John 'Jock' Graham (1817-1904). All of these objects do well to highlight the three themes of ‘Guts, God & Gold’. It took guts to board a ship bound for Dunedin. Leaving London, for instance, meant an arduous three-month journey at sea to start life anew. The construction of a myriad of churches during this decade expanded the word of God and remain at Dunedin’s spiritual heart; and lastly, but most importantly, it was the discovery of gold that allowed the immigrants, merchants, bankers and miners, to change an infant town into a thriving and vibrant city.
The exhibition was jointly curated by members of the Heritage Collections staff, each of whom wrote on a topic of interest. In addition to gold, such themes as religious expansion, social history, and communications are also examined.

A PDF of the item list is available for download:

The above link also leads to Emeritus Professor Erik Olssen's speech at the exhibition opening.
'Guts, God & Gold: Dunedin in the 1860s' runs until 12 June.

10 March 2011

Hocken Snapshop of photographs from the Library's collections goes live

From today's Hocken Library blog post:

The Hocken has just launched a new online service making the photographic collections housed at the Hocken Library more accessible to remote users.

Over 33,000 images have been digitized, relating to people and places from all over New Zealand.  A small portion of the Hocken’s large shipping collection is also included.  Copies of the images are available for purchase over the internet and a zoom function greatly assists in the use of the photographs for research purposes.

Emails from readers are already arriving on a daily basis confirming that the site is proving an instant success.  Coupled with the fact that the Photographs Collection database is also now available online, people are more able to see for themselves what we hold and direct specific questions and requests to staff.

The Hocken Snapshop link is as follows:


Children from Milton School visiting Thomson & Co. factory in Dunedin by E.A. Phillips, Dudley Collection, Photographs, Hocken Collections Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago. S10-243c.

Post prepared by Anna Petersen, Assistant Curator of Photographs.

09 March 2011

Recent Publication: 'Collections, Characters & Communities'

Collections, Characters & Communities: The shaping of libraries in Australia and New Zealand (Melbourne, 2010) reproduces papers from the Ninth Australian Library History Conference, held at Swinburne University of Technology in 2009, and the State Library of Victoria's 2009 Foxcroft Lecture 'Carnegie Down Under: A Century of the Dunedin Public Library' delivered by Mary Ronnie.

From the back cover:

'[This work] brings to twenty-first-century readers a kaleidoscope of the rich and varied library world of Australia and New Zealand in the 1800s and 1900s. It is a story of public and private endeavours, of co-operation and inter-state rivalry, of dominant, not to say controlling personalities, and of the reach of books into the outback as well as into the working-class suburbs of cities. There is a North American dimension in Carnegie's support for the Dunedin Public Library and in his Corporation's critical and often unflattering view of Australian universities in the 1930s. Even South America makes an appearance through the library set up in the Australian utopian colony at Cosme in Paraguay. Otherwise it is a matter of the dense network of schools of arts, athenaeums and mechanics' or literary institutes of commercial lending collections before public libraries came into their own in the second half of the twentieth century. Librarians' training and collaboration, under the watchful eyes of such outsize figures as Redmond Barry and John Metcalfe, are at one end of a spectrum that also encompasses the needs of people in the Queensland bush. Bringing print matter to all Australians and New Zealanders was manifestly never a straightforward process'.

The twelve papers are as follows:

'The Origins of Inter-Library Loans in Australia in Relation to Special Libraries' (Donald Keast, Edmund Balnaves, Judy Czuchnowski, John Balnaves)

'The Australian Law Librarians' Association' (Fiona Brown)

'Government Promotion of Public Libraries in New Zealand, 1869-1935' (David Verran)

'John's Gospel: Metcalfe and the Writing of Australian Library History' (David J. Jones)

'War between the States Averted: How the NSW Free Library Movement's Territorial Ambitions Came to Little' (Carmel Maguire)

'"Not Yet Ready": Australian University Libraries and Carnegie Corporation Philanthropy, 1935-1945' (Michael J. Birkner)

'The Impact of Overseas Agencies on the Development of Education for Australian Library Workers' (Mary Carroll)

'"To Elevate the Tone of Moral and Intellectual Attainment": The Braidwood Literary Institute and its Subscribers, 1858-1862' (Andrew Sergeant)

'"A Little Bit of Love for Me and a Murder for My Old Man": The Queensland Bush Book Club' (Robin Wagner)

'"Our Excellent Little Library": An Account of the Cosme Library (Mark Cryle)

'Melbourne's Circulating Libraries 1857-1974: Their Demography and Geography Revisited' (Peter Pereyra)

'Character in Conflict at the Library of the Supreme Court of Victoria: Redmond Barry and Robert Pohlman' (Sue Reynolds)

Collections, Characters & Communities was edited by Brian McMullin and published by Australian Scholarly Publishing. It includes a preface by Wallace Kirsop and an introduction by Donald Barker. Interested parties may ordered copies from the ASP website.

01 March 2011

Christchurch Heritage Collections - Early Report

I have been in touch with a colleague from University of Canterbury special collections. The campus remains closed, so she has yet to see what state the collection is in. The special collections weathered the September quake rather well due to the type of shelving and location on the ground floor. We can only hope it is the same this time. Thankfully, and most importantly, no staff have been injured.

The James L. Logie Memorial Collection of Greek and Roman antiquities (also held by the University) has been packed away since the September quake when the collection was badly damage. No news, but hopefully the packing has protected the objects.

There was an article in 'The Press' about the Art Gallery, which also mentions the Canterbury Museum collections.

So, no precise news to report at present. Will post an update as more information becomes available.