The Vocabulary of the Book: Adventures at Rare Book School

This past June, I experienced what many rare book librarians only dream of – I was accepted at Rare Book School, also know as Summer Camp for Book Nerds. Rare Book School (RBS) was founded in 1983 by Terry Belanger to enhance the study of books across multiple disciplines and fields. Today, RBS offers over 60 courses at multiple locations, with the main hub being at The University of Virginia.

I was accepted into the most competitive class at RBS: The History of the Book, 200-2000 taught by John Buchtel, Head of Special Collections at Georgetown University, and Mark Dimunation, Chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress. The course promised a survey of printing methods and the evolution of the book, and the cultural impact of both. The course also provided a strong list of vocabulary words and phrases that all students who wish to stay in the field should know. I received my master’s degree a little more than a year before attending RBS, and in my current position as Reference Librarian, I find myself working with scholars from all over the world, all of whom have multiple perspectives on books. This course seemed promising.

Read more

‘To be buried alive is, beyond question, the most terrible of these extremes which has ever fallen to the lot of mere mortality.’

Cases of being accidentally buried alive date back to the 14th century when the corpse of philosopher John Duns Scotus was reportedly found outside his coffin with bloodied hands. Since then, there have been countless tales of people hearing cries and wails of the dead, longing to get out of their coffins. As recently as 2014, there was a noted case of a woman being buried alive in Peraia, Greece. The woman succumbed to cancer. Not long after her burial, her children heard screams coming from her grave. She was exhumed, and it was discovered that she actually died of cardiac arrest. To the horror of her family, it was discovered that her death occurred after she was in the grave.

The Historical Medical Library has an array of materials that touch on this subject – a subject that was, and is, still a fear to many.
Read more

Cripples, Prostitutes, and Quacks: Pamphlets and Reprints at the Historical Medical Library

Every librarian has come across a particular collection and has wondered what librarians in the past were thinking. The most recent such example at the Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia contains 700 boxes filled with uncatalogued reprints, medical trade ephemera and pamphlets. How and why did we end up with nearly 70,000 uncatalogued items?

Book Exchanges

Example of a book plate indicating exchange in the collection
Example of a book plate indicating exchange in the collection

Book and reprint exchanges were a very popular method for medical libraries to accumulate texts for their physicians without making purchases. At the head of the exchange was the Medical Library Association’s (MLA) founder and College of Physicians of Philadelphia Fellow, George M. Gould. Dr. Gould preached that resource sharing among libraries was the best way to advance knowledge for doctors. MLA’s original intent was for libraries to share their duplicate medical literature. This caused libraries to be proactive in asking for prints from publishers and for reprints from journals so they could trade them later for material they did not have. In 1890, libraries started to see increased cooperation with publishers and among each other – this is where our collection of reprints and pamphlets begins. In 1930, there is a shift from exchanging modern periodicals and pamphlets to exchanging medical treatises. This marks the end of the formation of this pamphlet and reprint collection. It can be concluded from looking at the Library’s history, and trends in medical publishing, that many of these pamphlets and reprints derive from these book exchanges.

Read more