Tonight’s seminar was a tour of the Clements Library, which, in true U of M style, is the (insert assorted superlatives) of North American colonial and pre-colonial history. Many, many rare books. We viewed Christopher Columbus’ newsletter on that famous trip he took in 1492; an account of the Roanoke colony, by one of its residents; something called a Hacke Atlas, which is basically a 17th century TripTik of the South American coast, and oh, but there was so much. We viewed books that were one of only one or three or a dozen in the world. We learned the secret trick to finding Thomas Jefferson’s ex-libris mark from his personal collection. For one who loves libraries the way I do, it was 90 minutes that passed too quickly.
The director said something that stuck with me. The key to building a great collection, he said, is a) to have one smart person at the top and b) be prepared to act swiftly and decisively when items come on the market. It resonated because it’s the back story to the Allen County Public Library’s rare book room, the envy of libraries many times its size — the bulk of the collection was built by two former directors, who spent their vacation time traveling the country, combing used bookstores in search of unique volumes and slowly filling the U-Haul they were towing.
The Clements director said, “You can’t do these things by committee. If you wait, it’s gone.” It made me wonder if you can do anything worthwhile by committee. I guess boards of directors are committees, but I can’t say that I’ve ever been on a committee that got much of anything done other than busy work and that great committee favorite, advising. Love those advisory committees. Sit around, spout your opinion, have a lunch paid for by someone else and then go home content that you have done work.
Of course you haven’t. But you did have lunch.
Anyway, even for someone like me, who’s not particuarly wowed by relics, it was a great visit. There’s something about a 400-year-old book, isn’t there? (By the way, Amy : Someone asked who sells rare books these days, if they come from other collectors, or libraries, or what, and the director said that most come from individuals, but a few are sold by libraries trying to maintain a little cash flow — monasteries and religious orders, for instance. Sigh.)
Sorry for not much blogging today; my brain seems to be a little empty — or busy — these past few hours. Most of my blogging is meta now, so thanks to The Minor Fall, The Major Lift for finding Alcohoroscopes. I gotta say, it was like looking in a mirror:
In vino veritas — and, for Sagittarius, in booze blurtiness: When buttered, they’ll spill all your secrets and many of their own. Tactlessness aside, Sagittarius is just plain fun to drink with. This is a sign of serious partying (what else would you expect from the sign of Sinatra, Keith Richards, the Bush twins and Anna Nicole Smith?).
Have a swell weekend.