Thursday, September 15, 2016

I say Book

Reader, when I say "Book" what comes to your mind?  I have had a wonderful, wonderful bookish summer that ranged from shiny new titles at Book Expo to the soft pages of old books at the Newberry.  I was lucky enough to be in Chicago in May and August, and I'm going to write a little about those adventures here.

But first, what came to your mind when you thought "Book."  It is just one word, but let's consider what it can represent.  I'll go first, let fly the reins of conscience:

a beloved tattered much loved family copy of a children's book

the skinny  bindings of the Little Golden Books

a hardcover book:  "grown up book"  trade books, remaindered copies, the endless copies of That Book that show up relentlessly in used bookstores

treasured copies of a paperback you've dragged around since college, your marked up copy of 100 Years of Solitude, the Foucault you thought you understood

Comfort books, the books you feel are a part of your home, a novel, a book of poetry, a book that belonged to your grandmother

The missing books, the ones you gave away too soon and haven't repurchased

The gift books: two kinds, the glossy heavy type that see to be more of a object than a container, and the gifted book, one with perhaps a provenance known only to you, or one with a precious inscription.

The must have book, the extra book in case you finish the one you have going, the book packed with research notes that you wish would transform themselves into paragraphs.

What is your "book" feeling?

So on to the adventures:

May was pure indulgence--I had an invite to the divine Audio Publishers Awards gala and I relished every moment of that elegant evening.  The rest of my time in Chicago was divided between some research hours at the solemn Newberry and gorging on books at Book Expo.  I confess--I have a totebag of new books I still haven't unpacked, that's how many books I scored.  Book Expo is a truly fascinating gathering:  publishers from all over the world showing upcoming titles, authors and illustrators generously signing until the supply of books ran out.  I happily gathered signed copies from artists like Herve Tullet and Kwame Alexander.  My professional interest in art books was well sated by spending time at the Phaidon and Abbeville booths.  I was slightly perturbed at the number of publishers that have jumped on board the coloring book craze, c'mon now, be a little more original. I saw scores of enchanting picture books, more mysteries than I care for, and not nearly enough reference books, although it is true the reference books publishers are more likely to hang out at the library conferences.  Memoirs, biographies, novels, some but not enough graphic novels, all in all a worthwhile time.

Fast forward to August, when I found myself attending the Art Libraries Section meeting, a satellite meeting of IFLA, back in Chicago at the Art Institute.  I felt _very_ Mixed Up Files (remember that book?) as I got to enter the museum before opening time, and head past exhibits into an auditorium. This was one of the best and most humbling conferences I have ever attended.  My limits as an English only speaker/reader were never more in evidence as I heard speakers from around the world describe their collections.  Here on the edge of Americ-uh, the titles I purchase are 99% in English, yet so many of the world's documentation about art is in Italian, Spanish, French, German, get the idea.

I heard from several major institutions about the significant, physical spaces being constructed for the housing and consultation of print books and the plans and operations of digital support for exploring them.  I am much much in mull-ation over the constructs of searching vs. scanning vs. summarization, how researchers explore topics, and their awareness in comfort zone in seeking beyond what is seen.  More on that in a second.

I truly hope, and will begin to lay plans, to visit the Salle LaBrouste when it reopens in Spring 2017 to see a collection of art books from the Doucet, Louvre, and the INHA.  You may practice your French and read about it here:

I must also see, soon in this lifetime, the Warburg Institute collection.  I almost fear to tell you my lack of knowledge of this collection, having so immodestly proclaimed myself the Bookcharmer without even known about it barely a month ago.  But listen:

"The categories of Image, Word, Orientation and Action constitute the main divisions of the Warburg Institute Library and encapsulate its aim: to study the tenacity of symbols and images in European art and architecture (Image, 1st floor); the persistence of motifs and forms in Western languages and literatures (Word, 2nd floor); the gradual transition, in Western thought, from magical beliefs to religion, science and philosophy (Orientation, 3rd & 4th floor) and the survival and transformation of ancient patterns in social customs and political institutions (Action, 4th floor)."


Now that's a collection!  Forget about Dewey and LC:  consider arranging by Image, Word, Orientation, and Action!  I almost fainted two times during the presentation--especially when I heard that one call number can apply to one thousand books.  Now that's browsing!  Can you imagine?  No, I cannot, I must see it.

What do you think about when you think about "Book"?  I have 2 major frames of reference, my personal books and the library collections I have worked with in different places.  I learned about reference sources at University of Missouri in the Ellis Library when I was in library school, I handled hundreds of them at University of South Carolina, especially when answering questions from a certain publisher of a certain dictionary of literary something.  But the reference collection of my intellectual heart was at James Madison University, when I really learned the power and strength of bibliography from Mr. Gordon Miller, the history librarian.  I learned that you can know more about a topic and how to approach it from a solid 20 minutes with a quality subject specific reference sources than 3 hours of fragmented database searching.  Reference collections are in varying states these days because migrating a print reference tool to a digital platform successfully remains a challenge for various reasons, but let me not get on that soapbox today.

Reader, how do you remember a particular book?  Is it the way it felt in your hand, the weight it occupied in your backpack, the person who gave it to you?  I ask because I am teaching a class at the end of the month where the professor wants the students to see as many books as possible on a topic area in the class session perhaps picking up a different book every four to five minutes.  I am intrigued in this idea and willing to give it a go, but I'm also not going to rush someone who falls in love with a book.  I want to give them, or encourage them to create, their own method of bibliographic recall.  Me, I love my library catalog party tricks, and one of them is a take-off of 'Name that Tune.'  "Find that book" in five keywords or less!  What is the subject heading you could use to find that book again?  I'll let you know what happens.

For librarians of my certain age, who came of age when Major Reference Sources like the Dictionary of Art and the  International encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences were a big deal...well, let me not generalize.  But I'm trying to get better at capturing my awareness and recall of books and their relationship with their representation in the library catalog.  Geeky library words aside, what are my tools and strategies for remembering what Ellen Lupton said, and in which book?  Or how a certain Dashwood is described in Dictionary of National Biography?

I put a book in front of you.  What book is it?  How will you remember it?

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