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!

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.

Genizat Germania

For a time, manuscript fragments were often used as pastedowns or endpapers in newly bound books. Genizat Germania (link in German) is a project based at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz that recovers and investigates some of the documents that were victims of this practice  — Hebrew and Aramaic manuscript fragments discovered in library collections throughout Germany. By analysing the fragments and searching for provenance information, researchers hope to contribute to a clearer picture of Ashkenazi Jewish culture in the late Middle Ages. In particular, the project hopes to find out what books were being read in different parts of Germany and how often, thereby discovering regional religious identities.

All fragments discovered are being catalogued, but only a sample catalogue is currently available online. The four page sample catalogue can be downloaded from the project’s main website; click Katalogbeispiel in the list of downloads. The text is in German, but there are a few photographs of manuscripts. A few more images can be found here.

A book of articles about the project was published in 2010. Dr. Andreas Lehnhardt, leader of the project, also presented at the 2011 European Association for Jewish Studies colloquium, which focused on the role of binding fragments in uncovering information about Jewish history across Europe. An English summary of the conference can be found here. Genizat Germania is part of a larger project called Books Within Books (link in English) dedicated to studying Hebrew manuscript fragments found across Europe.

The project’s title is taken from the Jewish term genizah. Genizah is essentially a synagogue’s corpus of writings containing the holy name, which cannot be destroyed in Jewish tradition.

The Vatican Library, mostly, for now

In March 2010, the Vatican announced that they would be digitizing, in conjunction with Hewlett Packard, 80,000 manuscripts equal to about 40 million pages. The project has a planned duration of 10 years and three phases, employing from 60 to 120 people at a time. At the moment, it does not appear that any of these documents may yet be viewed digitally.

The Vatican Apostolic Library has a long history. Evidence of a manuscript collection in the Roman church dates back to the fourth century and the first Vatican librarian to the eighth. (Given this it is perhaps fitting that the Vatican has its own School of Library Science.) The collection itself has moved between France and Italy only returning to the Holy See in 1891. In the seventeenth century the library was augmented by libraries “of princely or private origin”, many of which have been maintained as separate collections. The twentieth century saw further acquisition of entire libraries as well as substantial physical and technological development. See the Library’s website for a detailed history.

At the present time the Vatican Library “preserves over 180,000 manuscripts (including 80,000 archival units), 1,600,000 printed books, about 8,400 incunabula, over 300,000 coins and medals, 150,000 prints, drawings and engravings and over 150,000 photographs.”  This means the manuscripts selected for digitization count for about 44% of the entire manuscript collection and represent a fraction of the Vatican’s holdings.

The Vatican provides several online catalogues: search the catalogue of printed books, the manuscript collection, the collection of prints and drawings, and that of coins and medals. Information on each collection may be found on the catalogues page. Unavailable manuscripts are listed here.

The website provides details of the criteria for admission, including necessary documentation. Eligible readers will be issues a “reader’s ticket”, valid from the day of issue until the next annual closing, which according to their calendar starts in mid-July and ends mid-September. Photographic reproductions may be requested only if you have registered on the private area of the website. Rules for readers are quite extensive. Maps of the reading rooms are provided.

See also this clip about the digitization of the Vatican’s photographic archives. Please note that this post does not cover the Vatican’s Secret Archives.

Contents of the Joe Fishstein Collection of Yiddish Poetry

Image of Vilyam Shekspir’s sonetn from A Garment Worker’s Legacy: The Joe Fishstein Collection of Yiddish Poetry online exhibit.

The Joe Fishstein Collection of Yiddish Poetry was donated to McGill University in 1981 and represents the collection of Joe Fishstein (1891-1978), a Bronx, New York garment worker.  According to the collection’s website it “is considered to be one of the finest private collections of its kind in the world.” Read a description of the collection from Library and Archives Canada.

The 2300 items in the collection consist of monographs, serials, and ephemera like bookmarks and postcards in Yiddish. Front and back covers and title pages may be viewed by subject category in the online exhibition; the entire collection has been catalogued and may be searched. A print catalogue (ISBN 0-7717-0511-5), edited by Goldie Sigal, appears to be online in its entirety. The collection may also be browsed by topic and index.

The Joe Fishstein Collection is housed in the Rare Books and Special Collections division, McLennan Library, McGill University, Montreal.  Opening hours and contact details may be found here.

Other notable collections of Yiddish literature may be found at Leeds Central Library (Porton Collection of Judaica), The Jewish Public Library in Montreal, the Bodleian Library’s Hebraica, Judaica & Semitics Collection, and Tel Aviv University’s Sourasky Central Library (Margulies Collection).

Collections of the Rugby Museum of New Zealand

The Rugby Museum of New Zealand is located in Palmerston North, on the North Island of New Zealand, about 500 kilometres from Auckland. Auckland, of course, has been hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup and today was the site of the New Zealand All Blacks’ defeat of France in the World Cup final. According to the Independent, the museum underwent a NZ$2 million overhaul in anticipation of the event.

No digital collections are listed on their website. Exhibitions include “The Origins of New Zealand Rugby, 1870”, “The 1904-1908 British Showcase”, “Provincial Jersey Display”, “Whistle & Coin Display”, “Schools Rugby Display”, “1924/5 ‘Invincibles’ Display”, “Boots ‘n’ Balls Cabinet”, and “Die Springbokke”, this last dedicated to the South African national team.

The museum’s website contains facts and figures concerning the history of rugby in New Zealand, including a list of all players to have played for the All Blacks, as well as team members of the Black Ferns, the national women’s rugby team. A Help Identify page asks for visitors’ help in identifying mystery artifacts held by the museum. The museum was closed to researchers during the renovation, but should now be open to them by appointment: “A spacious library, with IT capability for visitors and a generous work area allow for comfortable investigation.”

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.


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.

Charlie Chaplin’s Zepped

On Wednesday, 29th June, Bonhams will auction off the only known surviving copy of Zepped, a seven-minute Charlie Chaplin film that features the Little Tramp taking down a German zeppelin.  Until 2009, when Morace Park purchased the reel on Ebay for a pittance, this film had been lost to history. From the Guardian and the Daily Mail:

Park – who, when he is not buying and selling antiques as a hobby, runs a company that develops products with inventors – bought the film “from someone else who deals in bits and bobs”. When his parcel arrived, he didn’t even bother to open it for a while. But when he did, he unfurled a little of the film and saw the title: Charlie Chaplin in Zepped. “I Googled it,” he said, “and then my interest was pricked. I couldn’t find any sign of it on the internet.”

Further research by film historians showed that the film was probably produced in about 1916, as propaganda to reassure Britons concerned by zeppelin raids from Germany.  It was likely a compilation film, put together from existing footage, and possibly against Chaplin’s wishes.  An advertisement for a showing in Manchester in 1917 is the only surviving evidence of the film having shown publicly.

ClearChampion, an independent film production company, is currently producing a documentary about the lost film, The Rarest Film In the World?  See excerpts on their YouTube channel, or follow the project on Twitter here.

Marginalia: Playing the Margins

Playing the margins is a project headed by Sian Prosser and Paris O’Donnell, two MA LIS students at the University College London Department of Information Studies.

The aim of the project, funded by UCL’s Train and Engage programme, is to bring drama students into the UCL Special Collections, allow them to interact with early printed books, and ask them to consider what annotations in these books might reveal about their authors’ engagement with these works.

The last workshop was held on 24th May in the Petrie Museum.  The site does not indicate when, or whether, another workshop will take place.

O’Donnell included a post on this project in her Day of DH blog and another on the UCL DIS student blog.  The latter contains an account of the first workshop, held on 9th May.

You can follow the project on Twitter here.

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