|The entrance to Special Collections at the local library where I grew up. (Source.)|
...were those actually questions? It was my engraved invitation. I had the interview, got the job, and now I’ve spent almost four years working with books: old and new, huge and tiny, illustrated and plain, unique and common, all special in different ways. I have gotten to know the collection here inside and out--and then, this past January, I organized and carried out a mass reorganization, so that now I actually have to use the call numbers to find books again. It’s gotten to the point where I talk about going back to “my” rare book room at the ends of breaks.
|Some of the "miniature" books in MHC Special Collections|
|A plate from Atlas, Designed to Illustrate the Geography of the Heavens (QB63.B93 1835). (Source.)|
Books, after all, contain history not only in words but in their construction and the ways people read them. A book (unlike many other historical artifacts) is something that you can touch: open the spine--though not too far--turn the pages, interact with it as people hundreds of years ago might have done. Feel the paper that has come to us through five hundred years of private ownership, libraries, plagues, floods, fires, love, loss, inheritance. You can still read the words they printed on it in that loud, sweaty workshop. The visceral sense of history is easy to lose, but these not-so-simple objects--old books--have the power to restore it.
|A papyrus fragment in the MHC Archives and Special Collections (MS0054). (Source.)|
Although if they really are grubby, I might ask them to wash their hands.