A new project is helping Southwestern’s A. Frank Smith Library Center learn more about some of its oldest books.
This spring, the library began participating in The English Short Title Catalog Project, an international project to locate and create a record for every book published between 1473 and 1800 in the United Kingdom and North America. The project was started in 1976 by the British Library and currently has a record of 470,000 books.
Southwestern was able to start adding some of its books to the catalog project thanks to the help of a graduate student from the University of North Texas who needed an internship to complete her master’s degree in library science.
The student, Molly Bellow, identified more than 200 books in Southwestern’s library that would qualify to be added to the catalog project and put them in a spreadsheet. Lisa Hopkins, a cataloging specialist in the library, is doing the necessary research on the books and is adding Southwestern’s holdings to those already listed in the project. Hopkins has to carefully examine each book in order to document details such as bookplates, notes, dedications and the paper they are printed on.
Kathryn Stallard, head of Special Collections, said the project has given the library the opportunity to correct and significantly enhance the information about some of its most important works.
“Rare books generally have much fuller and descriptive records than ordinary books, but until now many of our catalog records for rare books have been more like records for ordinary books,” she said.
In the process of more carefully examining some of its oldest books, Stallard said the library has discovered some treasures it did not know it had.
For example, while examining a 1793 book called The Seasons by James Thompson, Hopkins noticed that the book was given to its original owner, Edward Rabone, by Mary Taylor, one of the first feminists in Britain and a friend of Charlotte Bronte.
The book, which has gold stamping on the margins, was donated to Southwestern by Margaret Root Brown, who donated many of the library’s most valuable books during her lifetime.
Most of the books Southwestern is adding to the catalog project come from either the Margaret Root Brown Collection or the Jackson/Greenwood Collection, which was donated to the library in 1975. The Jackson-Greenwood Collection includes many early Methodist-related publications, such as a journal by John Wesley that belonged to one of Abraham Lincoln’s vice presidents, Hannibal Hamlin.
Hopkins believes one book from the Jackson-Greenwood Collection – a small prayer book published in 1793 called Devout Exercises of the Heart – will be a unique addition to the catalog project from Southwestern.
Stallard said the catalog project is valuable to scholars for several reasons. For example, scholars doing new editions of books want to study all previous editions of the book. Sometimes the notes in margins of books also are of interest to researchers.
Many of the books in the database also are of interest to scholars who study the history of printing or who are interested in the ownership history of books. For example, Stallard said there is a project in one country to “recreate” an ancient library that is now scattered across the world by identifying all the libraries/persons who now own these scattered titles.
The project also makes it easy for scholars to identify nearby copies of books they are interested in.
As of the end of April, Southwestern had added 42 books to the database. Stallard said she would like to see students participate in the project.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for students to learn about the history of books and printing as well as what makes a book unique,” she said.