26. Introduction to Rare Book Librarianship (Session I)

Daniel Traister
(The course was offered twice in RBS 1994; this is the evaluation of the first 1994 session)

Overview of the theory and practice of rare book librarianship. Topics include: the function of rare books in libraries; the interpretation of rare book collections to their publics; patterns of use; special collections' reference materials; security; environmental desiderata; exhibitions and publications; friends' groups.

I. How useful were the pre-course readings?

1: Very useful for professional development, although not crucial to benefitting from the course. 2: They were a good introduction to the many aspects of rare books and opened my eyes to other issues I had not considered before. 3: Very helpful. 4: Unfortunately I did not have time to complete all the pre-course readings. Those I completed were very helpful and I hope to complete the others as time allows. 5: The reading list was excellent. 6: Readings were useful to prompt thinking about the subject and better understand the lectures. 7: Very useful, though Cave's book seems a bit out of synch with current concerns. 8: Very valuable. I may have learned more of one type of special collections skills from the readings (ie, practical) than from the course. 9: Wonderfully useful for the course and for my job in the future. 10: Very useful. 11: The pre-course readings were well selected and appropriate.

II. Was your faculty member well-prepared to teach THIS course?

1: Yes. 2: He was prepared, but did not really use what he had prepared. I appreciated the handouts and will use them. 3-5: Yes. 6: Instructor was very knowledgeable and prepared. 7: Yes! 8: Yes, very well prepared. 9: Yes -- very well prepared. 10: Yes. 11: DT was not only professionally prepared by virtue of education and experience, but equally as important, by virtue of his uncommon range of intellectual and existential interests.

III. Was the intellectual level of the course content appropriate?

1: Yes. 2: Yes. Challenging questions and new ideas were brought up that will keep me thinking for a while. 3: Yes, higher than I expected. 4-5: Yes. 6: Yes, but I would have liked a bit more basic approach. 7: At times it was a bit too academic, yet overall it complemented the subject. 8: Yes. Pleasantly, it was better than I'd anticipated. 9-10: Yes. 11: The intellectual level of the course was at all times challenging and simultaneously engaged the participation of all the students. I commend DT for his conscientious attention to each student's unique circumstance and/or professional position.

IV. If your course had field trips, were they effective?

1: A very valuable component of the course. 2: The time spent in Special Collections was good for a practical viewpoint. I wish I had prepared a wants list for the trip to the bookseller. 3: Definitely. 4-5: Yes. 6: Time away from the classroom was well spent. It helps to have another knowledgeable opinion. 7: Absolutely! 8: Yes. It was nice to hear from another Special Collections department head and his particular views. 9: Yes -- the Special Collections visit was great. I would have liked more time to tour the facility top to bottom to be able to see, if only briefly, how the operation is set up. 10: Yes. 11: Yes. The site visit to UVa Special Collections and discussion with Michael Plunkett validated issues raised in the course.

V. Did the actual course content correspond to its RBS brochure description and Expanded Course Description? Did the course in general meet your expectations?

1: Yes, generally speaking, although the descriptions suggested a specificity in content that did not always materialize. 2: Most of the topics listed were discussed -- some more, some less. Fortunately, the ones I was interested in were the former. 3: It far exceeded my expectations. I did expect more in the line of contents and guidelines and standards, and was very delighted to gain a much greater understanding and appreciations of, eg, dealers, security, ethical issues, development and internal and external relations, exhibits, etc., etc. I will go back and look at things differently, and for that I'm grateful. 4-5: Yes. 6: I had hoped to have more definitive guidelines in an introductory course. 7: The content corresponded to the description, yet did not meet expectations. A lack of foundational introduction sometimes left the discussion ``high on the mountain top, surrounded by grey mist.'' And yet, the intelligence and dedication of the instructor were too much to resist in the end, and though I didn't learn what I thought I wanted to know, I learned a great deal indeed. 8: No. I expected more hands-on knowledge and the course centered on loftier, broad concepts in special collections. Yes, it met my expectations in that I expected to be a better librarian when I finished the course and I think that what I learned will help me be a better librarian. 9: Yes to both. 10: No, it did not correspond to the course description, and therefore the expectations developed from the course descriptions were not met. I do believe that the course content was appropriate and was taught well. The descriptive materials sent ahead of the course were somewhat misleading. 11: The course description did not correspond to the course content because it failed to indicate the method and context in which the specific subjects of rare book librarianship would be discussed. As a result, the course both exceeded and fell short of my expectations.

VI. What did you like best about the course?

1: Interaction between students in and outside of class. Variety of experience represented by students. DT's stories. 2: Hearing the experiences of DT and the other participants brought the topic down to earth. 3: All of the above; the field trips and out of classroom experiences were a very important component, but probably the intellectual stimulation would get my highest praise. 4: The discussions were wide-ranging and thought-provoking. Some of the class members' comments added new perspectives to the instructor's presentation of the subject matter. 5: Discussion of the following topics: 1) criteria for rarity; 2) history of printing. 6: The instructor welcomed class comments. 7: The instructor, though he sometimes focused too much on one type of library rather than allowing the needs of all participants to have equal standing. The seminar format worked very well, however. 8: The ideas that I was able to gather for use in my own collections. 9: Readings assigned, plus those given out and suggested in class. Instructor's encouraging us to use time to ``schmooz'' -- that it is networking. Lengthy introductions of students was questionable, but I ended up getting a lot out of it and benefitting from it. It was also a great way to make us a group quickly. 10: The class discussions were worthwhile and most helpful. The visit to Special Collections was beneficial. 11: I profited most from the fundamental matrix of service orientation in Special Collections, providing the springboard for consideration of all the components in delivery of those services.

VII. How could the course have been improved?

1: By following the course syllabus more closely; by integrating students' accounts of their experience into the course more fully; by listening more closely to questions the students were asking; by having this course co-taught (to help keep it on track and to have a second voice/opinion). 2: This course is too broad for one person to cover adequately (even someone with DT's vast store). Either bring in another instructor or have presentations by others (ie, technical services librarian, bookseller). 3: The section on reference books was the least interesting and maybe the least useful. Inviting and encouraging more class discussion of personal experiences might have helped. 4: There was, inevitably, a lot of sitting around and talking. Perhaps a rare book dealer, perhaps from outside the immediate community, could have been invited into class to talk generally about dealer concerns before the visits to the bookshops. Some assessment of the actual materials might have been useful to newcomers to the field -- perhaps this is covered in another course. But generally, it would have been helpful to see at first hand what the instructor or a UVa rare book curator would have considered ``fine,'' ``very fine,'' etc. 5: More discussion of materials suggested on the reading list. A brief overview of the history of books would have been useful. 6: Introduce more tools of the trade in terms of reference books and the kinds of questions they can help answer. 7: By providing at least some context to the ``older'' practice or philosophy of rare book librarianship, so that we had a starting point for the frontal assault on it that constituted much of the course. 8: A little more practical information would have been helpful. 9: Possibly making it two sections, (1) for Special Collections librarians in academic settings; (2) for librarians in smaller, specialized libraries who don't deal with the size and scope of academic special collections. DT did try to address all our situations with examples and did this very well. Our backgrounds and job responsibilities are, however, very different. 10: It could have involved less discussion of the large academic research library setting and included more about varied business, government, and other institutional settings. 11: Perhaps a tad less abstraction and fewer references to the instructor's own collections.

VIII. Any final thoughts?

3: Very heartily recommend it. Thank you. 4: The course is well worthwhile. Thank you for offering it and for the care and professionalism evident in all the arrangements for RBS. I enjoyed it and hope to return in future years. 7: It's an often exhausting roller coaster ride, and a few more hard facts and answers would have grounded it more, for those of us with no background. 8: DT is long-winded and gets sidetracked occasionally, but what he has to say is worth listening to. This course is definitely worth taking. 9: You'll get a lot more out of it if you do the readings! 10: Contact the instructor of the course directly if you have questions about the contents of the course or to get an idea of what to expect, rather than the RBS administrators at UVa. 11: Be prepared to exercise critical thinking skills and to absorb all you can from your instructor and student colleagues.
Number of respondents: 11

Leave            Tuition        Housing       Travel

Institution      Institution    Institution    Institution
gave me leave    paid tuition   paid housing   paid travel

100%             98%            60%           64%

I took vaca-     I paid tui-    I paid for my  I paid my own
tion time        tion myself    own housing    travel

0%               2%             22%            27%

N/A: self-       N/A: Self-     N/A: stayed    N/A: lived 
employed, re-    employed,      with friends   nearby
tired, or had    retired, or    or lived at
summers off      exchange       home

0%               0%             18%            9%

Five students (46%) were general librarians with unspecified rare book duties; two students (18%) were archivist/manuscript librarians; and one student (9% each) was a general librarian with some rare book duties, half-time rare books/half-time collection development, head of technical services, or a rare book librarian.