A library tells many stories. Some items may not be specific to the main collection, but can enrich the historical context, and create further threads of study (See Walter Benjamin’s essay “Unpacking My Library: A Talk about Book Collecting”). Libraries include many threads of history, stories within the objects themselves, and the story of the various individuals who gathered the material. When approaching a collection of books, such as our History of Medicine collection, which had not been “unpacked” or interacted with in some time, there is an equal mixture of uncertainty and excitement. There were thousands of anonymous book spines, not necessarily in order, there was dust, and there are still conditional issues. And yet, the spirit of the enthusiasm that originally brought them all together is still innately there. To build a collection of anything is an act of passion, usually requiring deep interest in a subject and so. as a stranger coming in to engage these books, one should be open-eyed, ready to see the connections, to ask many questions. Authors and titles are the obvious first intrigue of any book collection, followed by year of publication, specific editions or printings, even the publisher may lead the inquisitive mind to a new historical link. Other, more subtle elements will then begin to emerge: binding style and materials, secondary texts, ownership signatures and inscriptions and association copies. These nuances are the gems original collectors seek when building the collection; it’s what gives the group that extra layer of depth and interest. Our library contains numerous of these details that prompt curiosity and we will be highlighting them throughout this blog.
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