Library collections, archives and other information that aren't accessible online, and how to find them. Use the links at top right to ask a question or submit a post. Contact: jacquelinekbarlow [at] gmail [dot] com or tweet @thatsnotonline

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Read the Printed Word!

About 76% of museums in Africa

AFRICOM is a Nairobi, Kenya-based NGO tasked with supporting African museums.  They also maintain “an extensive computerised database of museums and museum professionals on the continent.”

AFRICOM lists African museums by country with links to museum websites where extant.  This list may be at least partly reliant on self-reporting.  From the site:

AFRICOM encourages each and every museum on the continent to send in one page of text and a photo to be included in this on-line directory. We will also place a link to your museum’s web site if you already have one.

Therefore it is not clear that the list is comprehensive.  24% percent of museums listed have provided web links, a few of which are broken.  Of those who do have an online presence, a minority provide online collections.  Six countries — Cape Verde, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Sao Tome & Principe and Somalia — do not report any museums at all.

AFRICOM also produces the AFRICOM News and maintains the Directory of Museum Professionals in Africa.  A major concern is the illegal trade in African cultural artifacts, and AFRICOM urges governments to ratify UNESCO and UNIDROIT conventions on the trafficking of cultural property.

EDIT: perhaps they should read this post about Vimuseo, software developed to put Finnish museums online.

Rare Books and Archives at the Osler Library of the History of Medicine

Image courtesy The Osler Photo Collection.

Sir William Osler, by the time of his death the most famous physician of his era, was born in Bond Head, Ontario, Canada in 1849.  He obtained his medical qualifications from McGill University in 1871, went on to help found the Johns Hopkins Hospital and medical school, and rounded off his career as Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, a post he held from 1905 until his death in 1919.  Osler was the author of The Principles and Practice of Medicine, for decades a key medical text.  He was also a collector of rare medical and scientific books.

Osler bequeathed his considerable collection of rare books to his alma mater.  These 8000 books, listed in the Biblioteca Osleriana, now form the heart of a collection of about 100,000, comprising rare and archival materials as well as current books and periodicals.  To date, the Osler Library has digitized two photographic collections: The William Osler Photo Collection and the Marjorie Howard Futcher Photo Collection (the daughter of an influential McGill University physician, Futcher’s photo albums feature many notable figures in medical history).

The Osler Library provides finding aids for the following collections:

All books and periodicals, rare and otherwise, held by the Osler Library are listed in the McGill University Library catalogue.

Lister copperplates

Credit: Bodleian Library/Univ. Oxford, Lister Copperplates 858; originally published on Nature's website.

Martin Lister’s Historiae Conchyliorum, an encyclopedic collection of known shells, was printed between 1685 and 1692. It was accompanied by over 1000 engravings, originally created on copperplates by his daughters Susanna and Anna. They were skilled artists who demonstrated an exceptional attention to detail when creating illustrations for Lister’s book. Some of the copperplates featured parts of seashells only visible under the microscope.

After a period of relative obscurity, the copperplates have recently come into the spotlight again at the Bodleian Library. Dr. Anna Marie Roos gave a lecture on how they reflect women’s role in 17th century science at the end of 2010. But Dr. Roos didn’t locate the copperplates by looking online:

When I was writing my biography of Lister, I assumed that the plates were lost. After all, Lister’s donation of specimens of natural history to the Ashmolean had disappeared with the vagaries of time. But then, through a friend of a friend, I was introduced to biologist Jeremy Woodley who mentioned that he had seen the plates in some “tea chests” at Oxford several decades ago. Lee Peachey at the University of Pennsylvania then confirmed that the plates still existed. But where were they?

Dr. Roos eventually tracked them down by writing to the Rare Books section at the Bodleian Library. The plates remain offline and it is only through the Rare Books section that an individual item level description is available, though the plates are described at collection level here. Slides of a few are available on Nature’s website.

Many thanks to Liz McCarthy for bringing these to our attention.


Anna (@annacreech) submitted:

Information Today publishes a magazine/journal called Online, but there isn’t an option for libraries to subscribe to it online, so we have to get it in print.

Indeed, while the Editorial and Subscription Information page gives various options for purchasing individual articles or viewing them through subscription databases, it does not appear as though an online subscription option exists.  Selected articles are available for free through the magazine’s website.

Online is published by Information Today, Inc., whose stated goal is “to provide users and producers of information, knowledge and content management products and services with the information they need to do their jobs as effectively as possible.”  Their curious choice to make Online relatively inaccessible to libraries does appear to be at odds with this statement.


Image courtesy SpindlierHades.

As useful as the web is for finding resources, sometimes it just can’t duplicate the experience of seeing them in person. This is especially true of non-written materials like textiles. Researchers are trying to create tactile pixels that would allow us to feel some textures on a screen, but in the meantime there are a lot of collections that are best consulted in person. Several do have a web presence, but there’s nothing like a visit for the true textile experience.

The Constance Howard Resource and Research Centre in Textiles is a valuable source of information for anyone interested in the traditional production or use of textiles. Based at Goldsmiths University Library, the collection includes:

traditional costume, folk art, social customs, textile materials, techniques and processes such as weaving and embroidery, domestic textiles and catalogues of international museum collections and textiles reference works. There is a substantial section on textile and fibre art…

The Constance Howard Centre also maintains a material archive and a textile reference library that includes rare books and first editions. Some photos of the material are available online, but a large portion of the collection remains strictly offline.

Not surprisingly, the Victoria & Albert Museum also has a large collection. The website is a great starting point, including subject hubs for forms of textile crafts like quilting and embroidery. They also have fun things like free 1940s knitting patterns. The textile archive collection is part of the larger Archive of Art and Design, housed near Olympia.

Expanding on the knitting theme, the University of Southampton houses a Knitting Collection and Knitting Reference Library. It includes examples of knitting equipment and completed knitting projects, as well as over 5,000 patterns.

More UK textile archives and libraries can be found through the UK Craft Council.

In the United States, the Textile Museum might be worth a visit. Its library has a large collection of textile samples and books about textiles. Both the museum and library are open to the public, and the website includes a convenient glossary of textile terms.

Fleeting, bookish thrills?

Are readers who prefer paper to pixels advocating scholarship, beauty, and serendipity?  Or is this a mere sentimental attachment?  James Gleick, writing in the New York Times Sunday Review, goes so far as to say that such people are in the throes of a fetish.

Gleick claims to know well the “contact high” of handling a rare book, but argues that rarity does not necessarily make information more valuable.

It’s a mistake to deprecate digital images just because they are suddenly everywhere, reproduced so effortlessly. We’re in the habit of associating value with scarcity, but the digital world unlinks them. You can be the sole owner of a Jackson Pollock or a Blue Mauritius but not of a piece of information — not for long, anyway.

True enough, but Gleick may be too optimistic about the longevity of digital images — something that remains an unknown.  Before he states, “The real Magna Carta, the great charter of human rights and liberty, is available free online, where it is safely preserved. It cannot be lost or destroyed,” [emphasis mine] he may want to read Allan Hoffman’s article, Internet History is Vanishing Into Thin Air.  On the 20th anniversary of the invention of the web, Hoffman notes, “the historical preservation of the medium is, in some respects, ragtag affair still at a nascent stage.”

Indeed, many of the earliest websites, twenty years old or less, can no longer be seen.  Four original copies of the Magna Carta, however, have survived 800 years since their creation and may be viewed at the Lincoln Cathedral, the Salisbury Cathedral and the British Library.

For some efforts at web preservation, see the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and the Library of Congress’s Web Archiving project.

Link to Gleick’s article via Emmy Komada at TheRumpus.  Thanks to Guy LeCharles Gonzalez for suggesting Hoffman’s piece.

I am looking for completed urban and neighborhood plans and projects in Canada. Would you mind guide me?
Zohreh Fanni

I recommend you contact the Urban Plans Collection at McGill University.  Even if they don’t have what you need, they can certainly direct you to it.

A priceless 12th-century illustrated manuscript containing what has been described as Europe’s first travel guide has been stolen from the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.
The Codex Calixtinus, which was kept in a safe at the cathedral’s archives, is thought to have been stolen by professional thieves on Sunday afternoon.

That’s Not In Church.
Or online, either.  Not as far as I can tell.

A priceless 12th-century illustrated manuscript containing what has been described as Europe’s first travel guide has been stolen from the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain.

The Codex Calixtinus, which was kept in a safe at the cathedral’s archives, is thought to have been stolen by professional thieves on Sunday afternoon.

That’s Not In Church.

Or online, either.  Not as far as I can tell.

(via awesomearchives)

Independent Cuban Libraries

The Cuban government is known internationally for what many consider to be strict censorship of Cubans and restriction of their access to information.  Reporters Without Borders puts Cuba at #169 out of 173 countries on its World Press Freedom Index (pdf).  Likewise, the Committee to Protect Journalists places Cuba at number 7 on its list of the 10 Most Censored Countries.  As far as internet access goes, the CIA World Factbook puts the number of Cubans with internet access at 1.6 million (of a population of about 11 million) and notes:

private citizens are prohibited from buying computers or accessing the Internet without special authorization; foreigners may access the Internet in large hotels but are subject to firewalls; some Cubans buy illegal passwords on the black market or take advantage of public outlets to access limited email and the government-controlled “intranet” (2009).

Indeed, censorship has a long history in Fidel Castro’s Cuba.  So when, at the International Book Fair in Cuba in 1998, Castro stated, “In Cuba, there are no prohibited books, only those we do not have the money to buy” (En Cuba no hay libros prohibidos, sino que no hay dinero para comprarlos), some Cubans reacted with surprise.  Berta del Carmen Mexidor Vazquez, co-author (with Ramon Umberto Colas Castillo) of this 1999 FAIFE report on Cuba, took it as a cue to prove him right.  Mexidor supervised the founding of Cuba’s first independent library in Las Tunas in 1998.  As of 1999 there were 18 independent libraries operating in Cuba; current numbers are not clear.  This 2001 article claims 80 such libraries.    This undated website (Spanish only) lists 48 libraries, as well as the names and contact information of the movement’s supporters.  And Friends of Cuban Libraries, which seems to be regularly updated, lists 76.  It seems likely that the number of independent libraries fluctuates, due to opposition within Cuba and without. For reports of threats made against independent librarians in Cuba, see Friends of Cuban Libraries.

Is there any justification for the opposition to independent libraries?  The Cuba Solidarity Campaign denies their necessity, pointing out that there are now over 400 (government-operated) public libraries in Cuba, whereas before the Cuban Revolution there were 39.  Eliades Acosta, director of the National Library from 1997-2007, dismissed the need for independent libraries, stating, “I challenge you to find a book on [the independent libraries’] shelves that I don’t stock.”  Among opponents of the movement, there is the sense that independent libraries, partly funded by American donors, are part of a CIA-funded plot against Cuba.  (Democracy-building action in Cuba certainly is supported by American legislation; for reference, see this ALA Resolution.)  Acosta, meanwhile, denies that censorship occurs in Cuban libraries, an assertion in which he is supported by American librarians Rhonda Neugebauer and Dana Lubow.  The Havana Journal claim that “there is no official black list of forbidden books in Cuba,” but suggest this only serves to muddy the waters, making it unclear which books could anger officials.

Of interest to information professionals is another allegation by the Cuba Solidarity Campaign: that the “librarians” running independent libraries are anything but.

Cuba’s critics falsely claim that the people who work at the “independent libraries” are librarians. FACT: Not one of the “independents” has ever been a librarian, library worker, or been associated with libraries in any capacity.

Friends of Cuban Libraries issues an eloquent response:

This argument is an effort to distract attention from the real issue: intellectual freedom as a universal human right.  A library is a library, regardless of its size or whether it is sponsored by a government agency or a private organization.  All libraries have a right to exist, no matter what any government may claim to the contrary.  It cannot be a crime to open a library, any more than it can be a crime for “unofficial” authors to write books or for “unofficial” journalists to publish a newspaper.  Directors of libraries are commonly referred to as librarians, whether or not they have a university degree in the field.  For example, neither the director of Cuba’s National Library nor the U.S. Librarian of Congress has a degree in librarianship.  We believe volunteer librarians without a degree who endure persecution for opposing censorship are more “professional” than librarians with a degree who fail to support intellectual freedom, the cherished core principle of librarians throughout the world.

Whatever the truth of the matter, one thing is certain: no online public access catalogue of Cuban independent libraries exists.  The national collection, on the other hand, is searchable here.

You ask, we deliver. Vassilki Veros (@VaVeros, shallowreader) submitted this instance of information that can’t be transmitted online: the tactile experience of wood.  If pictures of wood grain don’t do it for you, and if you have a rather healthy travel budget, read on.

The Museum of Wood at Mikata-Gun Forest, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, was designed by Tadao Ando and built in 1993-4 to celebrate the National Tree Festival, a commemoration of the destruction of Japan’s forests in World War Two.  Probably not a museum in the strictest sense, the structure

gives the impression of a temple, a place for meditation and contemplation where the “poetic” construction of space and relationships between buildings and landscape, between the manmade and the natural, in a compositional device typical of Ando’s projects, acquires the timeless value of a sacred place or a “ruin” in a natural setting.

The 1st Tyrolean Wood Museum in Auffach, Austria, is run by wood carver Hubert Salcher and contains “interesting facts and curiosities all about wood” including a wood worm research centre and wooden underwear.

The Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts and Crafts is a private museum in Fez, Morocco, that “displays Morocco’s various native woods, 18th- and 19th-century woodworking tools, and a series of antique wooden doors and pieces of furniture.”

Finally, if teak is what you’re after, go to Nilambur in Kerala, south India.  The region is famed for its forests, and boasts a number of teak-related attractions, including Conolly’s Plot, a teak plantation which includes the oldest living teak tree; The Teak Museum, established by the Kerala Forest Research Institute and the Kerala Forest Department; and the biggest living teak tree, the Kannimara teak, in the Parambikulam Wild Life Sanctuary.

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