Author Archives: Joseph Watson

Busy start to 2014 in Special Collections

Special Collections has enjoyed a busy start to 2014 with several J-term classes visiting this week to use our collections for coursework. Prof. Peter Lourie’s class Adventure Writing and Digital Story Telling came to see 17th to early 20th century examples of travel and adventure writing, as well as to view photos from the College Archives of students engaging in their own adventures over the years.

And below see some photos from Prof. Kacy McKinney’s class Space and Place in the Graphic Novel. Students learned about the history of illustrations in books, viewing everything from a 1484 illuminated Latin text, to recently published graphic novels.


Students looking at a wide selection of illustrated books


Special Collections Director Rebekah Irwin shares a large format art book.


Prof. McKinney and students view illustrated books from the 16th to the 18th century.

Better World Books and library book sales

Instead of holding book sales to get rid of unwanted books, we’re now sending withdrawn books to Better World Books, a company that turns them into money for the good of humanity.

In recent years, the quality of our local book sales has been declining because we are receiving fewer large gifts of books than in the past. When we accepted large gifts in the past, we often sorted through them and added appropriate books, which was sometimes a small percentage of the total gift, and put the rest of the books into the book sale. Our book sales had interesting duplicate copies and fun books that wouldn’t be appropriate for an academic library. Without that influx of gift books, the local books sales just consist of withdrawn academic books that relatively few people are interested in purchasing. After all, the reason those books are being withdrawn from the library collection is because nobody is using them, so it’s not surprising that hundreds of those books were left over at the end of the last sale. (We couldn’t even give them away for free.)

Rather than sending them directly to recycling, we found the Better World Books library program. We ship our withdrawn books to them at no cost to us, they market them to a world-wide audience, and when they sell them, a percentage of the profit comes to us and a percentage goes to the BWB Literacy Partners. It’s a very efficient way to dispose of our withdrawn books while benefiting both Middlebury and the world beyond.

If we ever have a quantity of books that we think will be of interest to our local community, we’ll probably put them in a sale, but for now, no book sales are scheduled for the foreseeable future.

Seeking 1948 film “Sno’ Time for Learning”

The Middlebury College Archives is searching for a movie about the College filmed in 1948.  It features scenes shot at the Snow Bowl in the winter and the main campus in the spring.  We’ve placed a request with Paramount Picture, which originally produced it, and we’re waiting to hear back from them.  But we also thought it was possible that somebody associated with the College might have a copy somewhere.  If you know where a copy can be found, please let us know.   802-443-3028.

Article in the Nov. 4th issue of The Campus about the release of Sno' Time for Learning

Article in the Nov. 4, 1948 issue of The Campus about the release of Sno’ Time for Learning

“Holding Walden” recently…

Snippet of The Roost blog.

Snippet of The Roost blog.

Sandy Stott of the Thoreau Farm recently visited Special Collections at Davis Family Library to see Henry David Thoreau’s personal copy of Walden with his notes in the margins. Stott wrote about his visit in this very nice blog post–

Thoreau’s personal copy of Walden is invaluable and one of Middlebury College’s most significant holdings.  Special Collections plans to digitize the pages with Thoreau’s marginalia so that this unique content can be shared widely on the web.  In order to preserve the hard copy safely for future generations, access to it is strictly limited and an advance appointment is necessary.  Please see the Special Collections page for more information.


Photos of Sicily on display at Davis Family Library


See-cily, by Antonino RiggioThe Italian Summer School is currently presenting a display of color photos in the Atrium of the Davis Family Library.  The display, entitled SEE-CILY,  will be in place until the end of the Summer Language Schools.

This exhibit depicts the inner life of Sicily, a rugged island, rich in history and art. It is a photographic journey through Sicilian culture and folklore, illustrating ancient and cherished traditions. You will discover the heartfelt festival of Saint Agatha, the centuries old handcrafted marionettes known as “Pupi Siciliani”, the superb craftsmanship of artisans working with wood, iron and textiles, as well as the preparation of delicious homemade foods. Churches, monuments and the unspoiled beauty of central Sicily’s landscapes will also be explored. The SEE-CILY exhibition will transport you to places tourists never see. It is a unique collection of forty-two photographs that serve as the nucleus of an ever-expanding exhibit, bearing witness to the sublime beauty and ancient rhythms of this most Mediterranean of islands.

Photographs by Antonino Riggio.   Art Curator: Valentina Morello

I wouldn’t define SEE-CILY as just an exhibit. I see it more as an itinerary, a path through the places and people I grew up with. It is my inner subconscious through the eye of my camera.”  Antonino Riggio.

For more info:

Caution: Recent weather may cause mold to grow on your books!

The weather we’ve been having so far this summer could encourage mold to grow in places it normally wouldn’t.  Damp places like basements can be bad year ’round and should never be used to store books, but even the nice book shelf in your living room will be susceptible to mold growth after many days of rain, heat, and high humidity.  Mold spores are everywhere, just waiting for the right conditions to sprout and grow, so be on the lookout.  If you discover an infestation, read this excellent article from our friends at Cornell University Preservation Dept. to learn how to deal with it.


Class Report- Rare Book School at UVA

I recently took the class “The Printed Book in the West to 1800” at Rare Book School at the University of Virginia.  Several colleagues had attended classes there and told me they were excellent, and it did indeed turn out to be a fantastic experience.  Classes were held Mon.-Fri., 8:30 to five, four sessions each day, with one session each day being hands-on in UVA’s Special Collections.  There were only twelve people in the class.  My teacher was Martin Antonetti, the Special Collections Librarian at Smith College.  Martin is an excellent lecturer and has an amazing depth of knowledge of the history of the book, and world history in general.

Despite the title of the class, we actually began our week with a survey of the book in the manuscript era.  Just as the printed era is now overlapping with the digital era, the manuscript era overlapped with the era of the printed book for about two hundred years.   Early printed books were often trying to imitate manuscript books.  We explored the context of manuscript production, the role of the church and the rise of humanism, and the role of literacy or lack thereof.  We learned a lot about the invention of paper, paper manufacturing, and developments in metallurgy that made the invention of the printing press possible.

Of course we learned a lot about Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press in 1450.  We studied various forms of early fonts, explored their origin and politics, and learned how they can sometimes be used to identify the date and location of the publication of a book.  We learned about the way an early print shop operated, and explored the influence of the church and the impact of the guild system on the restriction or advancement of printing and publishing.  Each of us got to operate a reproduction of a 16th century hand press and print a leaf that we then folded into a signature.  (The press looked exactly like the one pictured above.)

We studied early bindings, styles of sewing, and learned about the many kinds of animal  hide, cloth, and paper that were used to cover cases.  A book conservator from NEDCC demonstrated book binding.  We also examined many different styles of bindings and binding decoration.  We learned about the relationship between text and pictures, the history of illustrations, and the various methods of producing images for books.  Antonetti also covered the history of libraries and book collecting.

Throughout the week we examined materials from UVA’s Special Collections library seeing everything from a stunningly beautiful 14th c. illuminated choir book to18th century printed books bound in amazing Grolier style bindings.  I also attended an evening lecture “Bibliography in the Digital Age”, by Stephen Karian, (some of our catalogers would have enjoyed this a lot, I only somewhat did) and a second forum “Thinking Inside the Box: Protective Enclosures for Your Collections” by Kara McClurken, Head of Preservation Services at UVA.  (I tried to connect with Kara for a tour of their work units, but schedules didn’t allow it…  hopefully another time.)

So why does it make sense for me to study early printed books now, at the dawn of the digital age?  The short answer is, I’m now going to be much more involved in the preservation of our Special Collections and we have many rare and valuable items to care for.  I can now tell the difference between hand laid and machine manufactured paper.  I can tell if an illustration was printed from a wood block or from a plate, and whether that plate was etched or engraved.  I can evaluate whether a book’s case is the same age as the text block or newer.  I understand how paper and books were produced… etc.  Because I have a much deeper understanding of how books were made during the first part of the print era, I am better equipped to make conservation treatment decisions about those materials.

The book is changing a great deal as we transition from the print to the digital era.   With e-readers of one model or another becoming more and more ubiquitous, most of us are changing our attitude toward our printed collections.  We’re now thinking of the vast majority our printed books as ephemeral, when just over a decade ago we thought of them as permanent.  As attitudes concerning typical books evolve and they become less valued, I believe our Special Collections, those books whose physical characteristics make them unique, rare, beautiful, or particularly interesting, will become more and more valued.  That’s why I’m glad I’ve learned more about those materials so I can more readily facilitate the preservation of them.

Addendum:  I’ve just stumbled upon a blog post that talks about RBS and even includes a picture of my class looking at a medieval bible.