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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Special Collections at the University of Pretoria

Image from the Netherlands Cultural History Library, University of Pretoria

The University of Pretoria Library Special Collections consist of seven collections, including a digital research repository which can be searched here. Non-digital collections include: the Africana collection, consisting of “books in all disciplines limited to Africa south of the Sahara” as well as the collections of “eminent persons” and a pamphlet collection; the South African Music Collection, consisting of sheet music, photographs, and ephemera relating to South African musicians; the Jurriaanse Collection, which “covers the classics in literature and medicine”; the UP collection or works written by University of Pretoria scholars and/or relating to or funded by the University; the Reserved Collection of non-Africana, antiquarian collections; and perhaps most significantly, the Netherlands Cultural History Library, “the most extensive Dutch collection in the Southern Hemisphere”.

With the exception of the digital research repository and the Netherlands Cultural History Library, little information on these special collections is given online. Of the latter collection, we know that it consists of about 40,000 books and 40,000 journals, and that some are accessible only via card catalogue. Items that have been catalogued electronically can be found via the online catalogue.

Contact information for the Special Collections library can be found on their home page. Policies state that the special collections are freely available to University of Pretoria researchers, and that private researchers may access the collection at the rate of 50 rand per day.

The Webometrics Ranking of World Universities (compiled by the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas in Madrid), whose mission is to promote web publication, support open access initiatives, and increase electronic access to academic materials, rates the University of Pretoria 4th in Africa and 646th in the world in terms of academic web presence. Eight of the top ten African universities in this ranking are South African, a statistic that mirrors listings of online African museums by Africom, according to which South African museums are far more likely to have an online presence. We reported on Africom here.

Art at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

Image courtesy of Jennifer Howard

The Library, Art and Archives department at Kew Gardens has one of the most impressive botanical collections in the world, containing over half a million items. While the library has a detailed online catalogue, and there is a digitisation project for part of the archive collection, the art collection remains offline apart from a few online exhibitions.

Its offline status does not diminish the collection’s significance at all, though. Among the holdings are:

  • A complete run of Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, the longest running horticultural periodical in the world, which started in 1787 and continues to be published today. Early issues include hand-drawn and hand-coloured illustrations by leading botanical illustrators such as Walter Hood Fitch and Lilian Snelling. The exceptionally detailed nature of the drawings makes them an important reference for botanists all over the world. A few can be seen on the National Agricultural Library’s website, but the majority of them remain undigitised.
  • A copy of Anna Atkins’s Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions. Only about a dozen copies of this handmade book of experimental photographs exist today, and it is a fine example of how the Victorian discovery of photography interacted with the popularity of exploring the natural world.
  • A large portrait collection. Subjects vary from the expected ones like botanists to rather more unusual ones, like Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine.

The art department also has a huge collection of early books of botanical illustration, including the influential Flora Graeca and works by Redouté. All this illustration is in addition to the paintings by Marianne North (prints of some of her paintings can now be purchased online) and Shirley Sherwood held there, and the work of previous artists in residence at the gardens.

More information about the collections of art department is available on its website.

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.

Textiles

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.


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.

From Meanwhile, The San Francisco Public Library, a collection of watercolour sketches by Wendy MacNaughton.  These vignettes are far more effective than words in showing us what would be lost without libraries.  What ebrary provides companionship, social workers, a refuge from the street?
Via TheRumpus.

From Meanwhile, The San Francisco Public Library, a collection of watercolour sketches by Wendy MacNaughton.  These vignettes are far more effective than words in showing us what would be lost without libraries.  What ebrary provides companionship, social workers, a refuge from the street?

Via TheRumpus.

This lock of Mary Shelley’s hair is part of a collection of realia and rare documents currently on display at the main branch of the New York Public Library.  May 23rd marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the iconic building in which it resides.
This article from Salon defends the idea of the library as place, as well as noting that not all of the items held by the library are scannable documents.  Also on display: Charlotte Brönte’s writing desk, Jack Kerouac’s Valium box, and a pamphlet, entitled “What To Do If You’re Arrested,” distributed in the 1960’s by the gay-rights organization the Mattachine Society.
See also: This video, a news story on the anniversary from WABC.  In response to some more controversial items on display, such as a Ku Klux Klan robe and pointed hood, curator Thomas Mellins cautions, “the library’s mission is to be our collective memory, it is not to be our collective conscience.”  For more information on the New York Public Library, see their Tumblr page, NYPL Wire.

This lock of Mary Shelley’s hair is part of a collection of realia and rare documents currently on display at the main branch of the New York Public Library.  May 23rd marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the iconic building in which it resides.

This article from Salon defends the idea of the library as place, as well as noting that not all of the items held by the library are scannable documents.  Also on display: Charlotte Brönte’s writing desk, Jack Kerouac’s Valium box, and a pamphlet, entitled “What To Do If You’re Arrested,” distributed in the 1960’s by the gay-rights organization the Mattachine Society.

See also: This video, a news story on the anniversary from WABC.  In response to some more controversial items on display, such as a Ku Klux Klan robe and pointed hood, curator Thomas Mellins cautions, “the library’s mission is to be our collective memory, it is not to be our collective conscience.”  For more information on the New York Public Library, see their Tumblr page, NYPL Wire.

awesomearchives:

housingworksbookstore:

A rare book dealer, Ken Sanders, could not stop looking at what may have been the biggest findings of his career, when a man paid $2 to have his antique book examined.
“A gentleman walked in and said I’ve got a really important book here and I’m sitting there rolling my eyes and thing, ‘yeah, sure you do,’” Sanders said. “Then he opens it up and it’s a Nuremberg Chronicles from 1494.”
(via A 600-year-old book is found - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana)

I think book dealers live for these moments.

Yes, you can look at the Nuremberg Chronicle online — notably, at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek or the Morse Library of Beloit College.  But the thing about rare books is that, even if two copies were identical at first (unlikely in the 15th century), after five hundred years no two copies can be the same.  Printing or binding errors, smudges, marginalia will always distinguish one book from another, and so, for now, this amazing discovery remains offline only.

awesomearchives:

housingworksbookstore:

A rare book dealer, Ken Sanders, could not stop looking at what may have been the biggest findings of his career, when a man paid $2 to have his antique book examined.

“A gentleman walked in and said I’ve got a really important book here and I’m sitting there rolling my eyes and thing, ‘yeah, sure you do,’” Sanders said. “Then he opens it up and it’s a Nuremberg Chronicles from 1494.”

(via A 600-year-old book is found - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana)

I think book dealers live for these moments.

Yes, you can look at the Nuremberg Chronicle online — notably, at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek or the Morse Library of Beloit College.  But the thing about rare books is that, even if two copies were identical at first (unlikely in the 15th century), after five hundred years no two copies can be the same.  Printing or binding errors, smudges, marginalia will always distinguish one book from another, and so, for now, this amazing discovery remains offline only.

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