Thursday, 22 October 2015

Rare books gifs - John Dee, volvelles, apples and things

Culture Themes is a twitter account that organises monthly themed days on Twitter, primarily for museums. This month it was museum gifs - #musgif - and I put together a couple for the RCPmuseum account from some of the star objects from the RCP's forthcoming John Dee exhibition.

To make the first three gifs, I set up the department camera on the department tripod and took a series of photos, stop-motion animation style. Then I layered up the individual images in Photoshop (other editing software is available), cropped them, resized them and saved them as gifs. To make the last, I took a pre-existing photograph and played about with it in Photoshop.

It was quicker and easier that I thought it would be, and I'm delighted with how well the gifs show off the materiality of the books.

If you like rare books gifs, then have a look at what's being posted on Tumblr at places like University of Iowa Special Collections.

One of twelve volvelles in Trithemius, Polygraphie, 1561. The title written on the fore-edge of this book suggests that it belonged to John Dee. It's a book about cryptography, and the volvelles are cipher discs used to encoding or decoding text.

Three-dimensional geometry explained with foldout diagrams in Euclid, trans Billingsley, The elements of geometrie, 1570. This was the first English translation of Euclid, and John Dee wrote an extensive preface to it.

A very hungry bookworm works its way through John Dee's annotated copy of Quintilian, Institutionum oratoriarum, 1540. 

Crab apple tree in Parkinson, Theatrum botanicum, 1640.

The RCP library has the largest known collection of books from John Dee's library. They're catalogued online in the library catalogue.
Addendum: I ended up making another three John Dee gifs and wrote up how I did it.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Pressed flowers in books revisited

One of the things I'd like to change about my working life is that I don't currently find time to keep up with the research that's being done about, and using, rare book collections.  This is a pretty major omission, really, given that supporting research is one serious why 'my' collection exists and is made available. I'm sure I would be making much better decisions about all sorts of procedures and practices if I had a greater understanding of what academic readers would like to know and the research questions they're trying to answer. And I suspect I may not be the only one who feels like this...

So imagine my delight when a historian friend of mine stumbled across my post from last year about discovering, preserving and describing preserved plant specimens in rare books.  She writes:
I was fascinated by how librarians deal with the issue and just want to say that it would be great if catalogues did mention specimens enclosed in books. You will see why from the attached paper I wrote some time ago - the bit about loose specimens in books is towards the end of the article. The idea that librarians can decide whether a specimen is 'relevant' or not, fills a historian like me with dread! As does moving the specimens from their locations in the book without noting their original location. But I can see that loose specimens would seem a problem to librarians. 
I completely take your point about librarians and lack of time, and the difficulty of coping with something so out of the ordinary realm of cataloguing practice.  But perhaps if they knew that these scraps of plants might have significance this might make them feel it was more worthwhile to add the info to the entry.
The attached paper was:
  • Anne Secord, 'Pressed into service: specimens, space, and seeing in botanical practice', in David N. Livingstone and Charles W. J. Withers, eds, Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2011, pp. 283–310.
So there you have it folks - it *is* worth carefully recording and keeping this things when we find them. If only there were time and staffing enough to describe all these copy specific features in the detail we'd like to.

If you have other examples of where going the extra cataloguing mile has helped research or other outputs, I'd love to here them.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Cambridge Library innovation and enterprise Centre

It's come to light today that Cambridgeshire Council has Big Plans for Cambridge Central Library. These plans were agreed at Tuesday's meeting of the Highways and Community Infrastructure Committee.

The report presented to the committee and the summary of decisions are both available online. I've had a very quick read through, and these are some of what I think are the salient points:
  • '1.4 The Council was approached by Kora to create a Cambridge Library innovation and enterprise Centre (CLEC)'
Kora are these folks, I think.
  • '1.5 Services are aimed at students, young people and adult career changers, those returning to work or growing their business, entrepreneurs, start-ups, corporations, individuals and groups.'
  • '1.6 The creation of CLEC is envisaged as an enhanced offer for customers, creating an opportunity to re-position the Adult Learning and Skills, Careers and Youth Support Services to more prominence' 
OK, so services for people who might want services from a library, and making those services visible...
  • '2.3 Kora would manage a large proportion of this floor, charging for the use of the entrepreneurs lounge, co-working and individual workspaces, and some events.'
Mmm-hmm. Private company managing part of the library space, and charging for it's use? Not so fond of that.
  • '2.4 ... current café would be replaced with a small, high quality coffee-bar style refreshment service' and in 2.9 'tailored to the needs of business users'
Current café is cheap, friendly, welcoming, sort of place parents can take squalling children, or older people can sit all morning, or people without anywhere much else to go can stretch out a cuppa.
  • '2.10 ... it would take 8 weeks to install the enterprise centre on the third floor and require at least one week closure of the whole library (three weeks maximum).'
Unless they find more structural problems like with the major refurb, I guess...
  • '5.1    Resource Implications
  • The Business Plan assumes returns from CLEC or a similar venture.  If it is not developed, further savings in the business plan will be required to make up the shortfall.'
The council's relying on the money from this, so if it doesn't bring in returns that's not good. But private collaborations like this always turn out fine, eh?

Anyway, I'm not perfectly sure what I think, but it seems to have sprung from nowhere rather quickly, which isn't great. And I don't like the idea of private running of library spaces, or of serious charging for space use.

There's a protest organised by the local MP and a  petition.