Spelunking in the Folios

When I’m not busy being a seminary student, or writing and signing songs, I work in the seminary library — the Jesuit-Krauss-McCormick Library, though in this age of acronyms as names, JKM Library. I don’t do anything terribly glamorous. I’m simply the assistant to the special projects and rare books cataloger. Mostly, this involves lots of grunt work, searching for books, putting them in boxes, and so forth.

It is an understatement to say the library has some significant issues, mostly surrounding how it was put together. The Krauss part of the library, which is the Lutheran part, was assembled over several decades as a number of smaller Lutheran seminaries — like Suomi Seminary and Rock Island Seminary — were glued together. I believe, but I may be wrong, that more than half-a-dozen separate Lutheran seminaries came together to make the Lutheran part of JKM. The Jesuit part explains itself, though Hyde Park’s Jesuit seminary went out of business many years ago. The McCormick seminary is itself a couple of collections glued together. A lot of books brought together over time.

It is one thing to bring libraries together; it is another thing entirely to actually rationalize the collections. And that part was never done. Depending on the cataloging strategies used at each of the predecessor libraries, one book might be at half-a-dozen different call numbers. Which makes dealing with duplicates … interesting. A goodly portion of our collection — most everything before 1980 — was not in our computerized catalog. Which was an accreditation issue several years ago. There was, at some point, a recon of all the material from B (philosophy and religion) through BS (the Bible) and BV (ministry and worship). In a recon, the shelf list card catalogue is scanned and bibliographic records, along with bar codes, are generated from the cards. This is how you can look a book up on Worldcat and find it. But JKM Library did a recon of the rest of the library, BX (church specific) through Z (reference). After the first surge of barcoding, I’ve been going through and cleaning everything up — finding books missed in the first barcoding.

And I just went through the folios, books too big even for the OVERSIZE section. This was a messy section, given how old the books were (letter covers of century old books and older turn to power, and the paper used from the 1850s onward also crumbles and becomes powder). But what was stunning was just how many of the folios, which had been in this library’s possession for many decades, had never been cataloged. Here’s my e-mail report on what I’ve found this week:

All of the folios with barcodes are stacked in the shelves nearest the east wall. There are three exceptions:
  1. The Codex Vaticanus BS64 V2 1868, which had no barcodes, but you catalogued and labeled vol. 3. so I brought the other four volumes in, and they are on the cart with the four oversize volumes waiting to have the labels applied (Bill told me to let Miranda do it).
  2. The British Ordinance Survey of the Sinai Peninsula 1868-69, five volumes. I brought this in because vols 1-3 are labeled such, but the remaining two are labeled maps and plates. On the same cart.
  3. Corpus Inscriptionum Graecum PA3381.B669. The barcode says vol 4, the book says vol 3. SL in book.
A number of folios had no barcode or LOC number (most come from McCormick collection, Virginia Theological Library, and some have an accession #, though some have no acquisition information in the book). I give title, author, publisher and date of publication as best as I could determine:
  1. The Palaeographical Society – Facsimiles of Manuscripts and Inscriptions (Oriental Series) / Edited by William Wright / William Clowes & Sons, Charring Cross Rd. 1875-1883
  2. Three very large folios of maps by the Palestine Exploration Fund, one undated on the cover (at this point, I was tired of breathing dust and trying to untie ancient double knots), one dated 1880 and one dated 1884. In addition, there is a separate book entitled Map of Western Palestine / 1880 / Palestine Exploration Fund.
  3. Voyage de La Syrie / author appears to be Leon de Laborde / Institut de France, edited by Firmin Didot et Freres, 1837. Same author and publisher produced Voyage de L’asie Mineure, 1838.
  4. Egypt, 1890 II by William Blair. Collection of photographs pasted in book with handwritten captions. I could not find publication information.
  5. Description de L’Egypte ou Recueil des observations … 1809, De L’imprimerie Imperiale. We have two volumes, tome premier from 1809 and a second volume of natural history etchings. I could find no date for second volume.
  6. A Complete Genealogical, Historical, Chronological & Geographical Atlas / M. Lavoisme, published by M. Carey & Sons, Philadelphia, 22 May 1821. Third American Edition.
  7. Carte Generale, this appears to be the record of some Frenchman’s trip from Paris to Toboslk in Siberia in maps (though it includes a map of Kamchatka). Barry looked this up on Worldcat and it appears to have been published in 1761 or thereabouts. There are only 13 other cataloged copies of this worlwide.
  8. Illustrated History of Chicago / Chicago Herald / 1887
  9. Chicago Great Central Market / Marshall Fields & Co. / 1921, it has the number D154318.10
  10. Appendix Codicum Celebernimorum Sinaitici Vaticani Alexandrini / Edit. Constantine Tischendorff / First Volume / has number B.30920a
  11. Atlas of Ancient Geography / Dr. William Smith / 1874, two copies (both in equally bad condition)
  12. Rand MacNally Atlas / 1889 / bears number Maps R18 (we have another copy that bears Maps R18 vol.1, and now that I think about it, I may have noted this book twice)
  13. Mitchell’s New General Atlas / 1879
  14. Atlas of Twenty-Four Large Engravings to Hami[lt]on’s Ancient & [Modern] State [of Egypt] / no publication date or information, may have been on cover but rubbed off, letters and words in brackets are attempted reconstructions (I feel like I’m dealing with ancient Sumerian). Sometime 1870 to 1890, but possibly earlier based on nature of engravings.
  15. Untitled Jewish worship book, no easily discoverable publication information (I took it to Esther Menn, who looked it over), was in someone’s collection in 1833 (dated) and used to study Hebrew.
  16. Six volumes of the collected Herald & Presbyterian, late 1880s and early 1890s. Four of these are wrapped in plain brown paper and tied up in string.
  17. Mizraim, Vol II. A collection of prints and engravings of modern and ancient egypt, late 19th century. Probably the largest folio we have.
The following books have LOC numbers but no barcode or SL:
  1. BS18.G493, The Masoorah, three volumes — two hardbound and one softbound (index?). Hebrew.
  2. HA205.A4B and A5Bgl, two statistical atlases of US Census, 9th and 11th.
  3. DF261.C65 A512c Corinth, two volumes 1-1 and 1-2.
  4. N7830.G24 Stori Della Arte Christiani, 1881, 6 volumes.
  5. CC165.S24 Sardis II Part I
  6. PF817.2 J52 (I did not note the title of this one)
  7. BX8901.H531, I did not note the title of this, but call no suggests somethintg Presbyteriany, and it could possibly be one of the newspaper folios)
  8. PJ3801.C822 (I did not note the title), 10 volumes
  9. BS15.G493 (I did not note the title)
  10. BV2830.T3 Maps, Protestant Missions in Latin America, two volumes, giant computer generated maps from the late 1970s or early 1980s. Now, there is a barcode from the previous recon for one book with this title BV2831.T239p Maps.
  11. NA4150.B312, I did not note the title of this.
The following books have SL but no barcode:
  1. DS102.P18, Survey of West Palestine Plates. Red clip in SL.
  2. DT73.M3 C531m / C532m / C532e Eight volumes on the survey of Medinat Habu and Mastaba of Mereruka, red clip in SL.
  3. DT62.T4  N326 Deir El Bahari, 4 volumes, two copies of vol. 1, red clip in SL.
  4. AN2.C532, Chicago by Chicago’s Builders.
  5. PA3401.C822, Corpus Inscriptionum Atticarum &etc, red clip in SL, cards marked removed in 1966.
  6. DS99.H3 R456 Voyage dans le Haouran &etc.
  7. BS764.W29 1910, Facsimile of Washington Manuscript of Deuteronomy and Joshua, Greek.
  8. DT57.E32M, The Temple of Deir el-Bahari. This looks like a part of a major collection of such books at the very same call number in oversize, and not folio.

There’s a lot of detail here. (I didn’t note some titles because, having call numbers, I didn’t know they would be problems.) The notation “red clip” means the book has cataloging issues (such as serial, or not enough information on card to generate a proper bibliographic record). This library has been something of a mess — a few years ago, I discovered a book that had been acquired in 1967 and then set aside to be cataloged and then … was never cataloged. (We are not alone in this; a couple of years ago, a university library in Israel discovered one of our books in their library when they remodeled, the book having been there since the 1970s, and the librarian returned it in the hopes it had not been missed — it hadn’t.)

The books that most interest me are the unnamed Jewish worship book and the giant folio from Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt. The worship book was beautiful once, with locking claps (they fell off long ago) and commentaries within commentaries. I suspect it is much older than 1833. I’ve seen 300-year-old books, we have a few on the shelves. Generally, they are in better condition than 150 year-old books or even 200-year-old books. The cover of this book hasn’t disintegrated or come apart and it looks like it could be that old. It still is beautiful, and I wonder where this book has been — who used it, where was it used, who owned it. And the Napoleon folio, which is a first edition. The engravings of “life” in Egypt are quite lovely. Somewhere along the line, even though the folio was never cataloged, the spine for the first volume was shored up.

It’s kind of stunning just how easily it is to lose track of things. And not keep track of things. Or not even know what you have.

Most Things Turn Out Okay, More or Less

I really shouldn’t be blogging. I have other things to do. But… I cannot help myself.

I’m back at seminary, slaving away [sic] in the library, helping with the final recon project, which means putting barcodes on books. A good portion of our seminary library (itself the product of what might be a dozen mergers of smaller seminaries and their collections over the decades) is not in our electronic card catalog. This became an accreditation issue. And so, we sent out the “shelf list” — the card catalog that the librarians themselves use to keep track of the library’s holdings — to be scanned (reconned), and then from those scans, smart computer software generated “smart barcodes,” barcodes attached to electronic records about the books. It’s an arduous task, but it beats just simply slapping a barcode on a book and then creating a new record for each book.

But enough about the tedium of library work.

One of my tasks is to re-integrate the recently scanned shelf list cards back into the shelf list catalog (because about a third of the library had been reconned some time ago, and books after a certain date came equipped with electronic records). So I was integrating some of the H’s of the Library of Congress system. Can’t remember which part of the H’s, but it was that section that dealt with Marxism, Communism and the Christian response. Most of our books along these lines dated from the 1920s through the 1970s.

The titles broke down into three general categories: something must be done about Communism now or we are all doomed (!!), the church must do something to take Communism’s claims seriously or else it will lose all its relevancy in the tide of revolution or, worse, be partly responsible for the destruction of the world (!!!), or we must seek to understand exactly what communism is. All three approached their subject with the fierce urgency of the now, for there may be no tomorrow if the Reds take over, or there may be no tomorrow if we fail to appreciate that Marxism offers the world’s poor the hope of freedom, or there is no tomorrow if have no idea what we are talking about.

Something. Must. Be. Done. Now. Or. All. Is. Lost. There is more than a little implied doom in all that fierce urgency of the now.

It gave me pause. Yes, I understand that in 2011, I have a very privileged position from which to critique the hopeful or frightened writings of those living in 1958 or 1972. I know things they do not and cannot know about the world they live (and I have inherited from them). But I myself engage in more than a little fierce urgency of the now here at this blog.

And all these book titles, and subjects, are an important reminder — things may rarely turn out as well as we hope, but they also rarely turn out as badly as we fear.