No. 74: Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography

4-8 August 2003

Terry Belanger and Richard Noble

Coordinating Instructors

Lab Instructors

Julia Blakely

David Gants

Shef Rogers

David Whitesell

Curator of the Course Museums

Melissa Mead


John Buchtel with Haven Hawley


1)   How useful were the pre-course readings? How successful was the advance use of the videotape, The Anatomy of a Book, as a teaching tool?

1: Very useful. The Anatomy of a Book fairly useful although I did learn the word “bolt” from it. 2: The pre-course readings, and the tape, were bedrock. There is no way I could have slogged through without them, and I wish I could have read them more than once. 3: Pre-course readings were essential! The video was immensely helpful. Reading all the way through Carter was not that helpful. The glossary at the back of the workbook that came with the video was much more useful. 4: The readings were helpful though difficult to comprehend without examples in hand. The video was quite costly and for students with more instruction than others on book structure it seemed repetitive. Perhaps a greater explanation of the video and its corresponding materials would help students of varying degrees make more prudent decisions in its purchase. 5: Pre-course readings are essential. To all you potential Desbib wannabes: if you don’t do the reading, don’t bother coming! You’ll be hopelessly confused. 6: Readings very helpful and necessary. Perhaps more of Gaskell as required reading would be good too. Video was successful. 7: Pre-course readings are an absolute must for this course. Fortunately, I was already familiar with the readings beforehand. I cannot imagine that it would be possible to attend this course without reading Bowers and Gaskell at the very least. 8: Very useful. Bowers was difficult (!), but pretty much essential reading (I must say I struggled with it though). Gaskell provided extremely useful background information. 9: Absolutely necessary. Mandatory (especially for us visual/artistic types). 10: I think the video was useful. It could be viewed after arrival. But, since I now have it, hope to show it to other staff. 11: The pre-course readings were crucial. Not all of Carter was relevant or comprehensible ahead of time, and Carter was most useful as an adjunct to the other reading, so the advice to read it twice carefully may be overstated. But Gaskell, Bowers, the videotape, and the TB article were all quite valuable, even necessary. 12: The readings were essential. The videotape extremely helpful supplement to the readings. I hope the second video will be out soon. 13: The pre-course readings were essential to the class. I cannot imagine not reading Bowers or Gaskell and then trying to understand the homework. I found the videotape to be a wonderful tool because it was straightforward enough to assist in understanding Bowers and made me feel a lot better about what I was getting myself into. 14: Useful, but more importantly -- necessary. I was particularly fond of the Gaskell, which was not only engaging and fascinating, but offered an essential context for the more abstract Bowers. I found the videotape helpful, but wish I’d seen it earlier on in my preparatory reading. 15: The readings (“or equivalent experience”) was absolutely necessary. 16: Pre-course readings were essential and well-chosen. It might help to further emphasize the importance of having both Bowers and Gaskell -- I was unable to find a Gaskell until 48 hours into the course and found it impossible to use Bowers as a ready reference at speed. 17: The pre-course readings were a necessity. I can’t imagine taking the course without it. The video was especially helpful. (I wish it was on DVD when I bought it.) My only criticism is that it should be suggested that you bring Gaskell as well as Bowers. (I unfortunately did not read the reviews of the course.) 18: The pre-course readings and video are both useful and vital. As a student with no previous collational experience, I would have found a suggestion that I try some collation beforehand to be useful in my preparation. 19: Very useful. The videotape helped me to understand format before the course, so I could concentrate more on collation. Bowers is a must read. 20: Very helpful, especially the folding demos on the video (my brain’s capacity for spatial visualization is pretty low). Bowers made much more sense after the first Museums lab -- before that he made my head spin a little. 21: Pre-course readings were quite useful. The tape helped, too.


2)   Were the course syllabus, exit reading list, and other materials distributed in class useful (or will they be so in the future, after you return home)?

1: Useful beyond belief; as well, all class materials were supremely organized and user friendly. 2: I’ve already ordered some of the titles from the Exit List, on Amazon today. 3: Yes -- they are wonderful! I can’t wait to start reading. 4: Absolutely! The Exit List, in particular it being in an order of importance or relevance, is the real memento of this class. I am positive it will be an invaluable resource to me. 5: The amount of useful information distributed in the class (fantastic teaching aside) is a serious reason to consider coming. I’m especially pleased about the Exit Reading List, and the good sense that went into the recommended reading ordering (rather than alphabetical or chronological). 6: Especially useful. 7: Without a doubt. The Exit List is indeed most helpful, despite the fact that it is about a mile or so long. But, I suspect it would take that much reading to fully understand this subject matter. 8: Yes -- they are and will continue to be useful and are very clearly written. 9: Yes. 10: I hope I have time to make them useful when I return to work. They certainly have the potential to be. 11: Yes -- very much so. 12: Yes, I think they will prove a very valuable resource for me -- along with ILL. 13: Yes, especially after I return home. 14: Definitely. 15: Yes. 16: Yes, very. 18: Yes -- I sincerely appreciate having a list of useful books compiled to take home with me. 19: Course objectives and directions are clearly laid out on day one. I’m looking forward to tackling the immense Exit Reading List. 20: Yes, especially the museum handouts and booklets. 21: Yes, the reading lists and materials are relevant and useful.


3)   Was the intellectual level of the course content appropriate?

1-3: Yes. 4: Very. 5: Yes. 6: Yes. 7: Yes, indeed. Very stimulating. Whether or not a person intends to use the information learned in this course or not, it is an absolute must for anyone who deals with rare books in any way. So much history of the book and the book making process is introduced, which leads to greater understanding of bibliography (not to mention, a greater understanding of bibliographers!). 8: Yes. 9: Excellent, I learned far more than just Descriptive Bibliography. 10: Yes. 11: Yes. It was especially good that our cohorts were organized according to interest so that we could explore aspects of the subject most interesting to us. 12: Yes. 13: Yes. 14: Yes. Intense, thorough, pleasantly challenging. 15: Yes. In that I was paying my own way, I wanted something substantial for my investment. I was, then, pleased with the amount of time I was allowed/required to spend with the books. 16: Exactly right. 17: Definitely. 18: Yes, it was both comprehensible and challenging. 19-20: Yes. 21: I am amazed how brilliant people lectured on intensive, detailed, and highly specialized course content so conversationally, and without taking superior attitudes. Well done, it worked.


4)   To what extent did the Museums contribute to the success of the course? How could they have been improved? How useful to you were (or will be) the copies of the museum labels?

1: I would return for the Museums alone. It would have been nice if the Museums were longer, or offered more than once, but to work this staff any harder would be a crime. 2: Of course there was too much to see, but nothing could have been left out in my opinion. 3: Museums/catalogs were great; very useful. 4: Museum is interesting but too long. Given the extensive class time and homework, making a shorter Museum would be a welcome change. The descriptions in the catalog are at times difficult to apply or understand in relation to an object or activity. 5: The Museums were very helpful. In the Printing Museum I would suggest either a) a TV showing the “Making of a Renaissance Book” video playing or b) having one of the lab instructors walk through the making of the matrix and punch stations (nos 1 and 2). This is actually a Museum in which, if you have no background knowledge, the order in which one approaches the stations makes a difference. Additionally, I would suggest instructors put a greater emphasis on reading the Museums before coming. It makes them much more useful, and students who didn’t often missed out because they stayed at one or two for longer than they would have had they known what else was out. 6: The Museums were EXCELLENT; only more time to look at the materials could improve this element of the course. 7: The Museums are excellent! They give true examples of what you can only (and probably wrongly) imagine. 8: The Museums were a terrific enhancement and provided a hands-on, meaningful learning experience. Many points I was unclear on, e.g. what does an electrotype plate look like, were made clear. They were fascinating. 9: They were imperative to the understanding of the course. What is theory without application? I am amazed at the efficiency of the staff. So much hard work went into preparation and they did so with understated grace. 10: I found they added a great deal to my understanding. Fine as they are. 11: The only thing that could be improved about the Museums is the amount of time given to them. I always wanted more time. The first two Museums could have been arranged in an easier to follow and find order. But the exhibits and catalog were extremely helpful. 12: The Museums were wonderful. The staff eager to be helpful. The advice to prepare and choose before the Museum important. I was still overwhelmed and might like more time for viewing; however, one and one-half hours is about my physical limitation for one. 13: I found the Museums helpful in the extent that they were visual examples of what was discussed in lecture, which helped mold everything together. I did think they were a bit long sometimes. I think an hour would be enough time to get through the Museums. 14: I loved these. The material culture surrounding bibliography and bookmaking is wonderful stuff. Hands-on aspect was enormously useful. 15: The first Museum could be improved by emphasizing that it formed an opportunity to leaf though books and compare the physical piece with the collation provided to reduce the eventual shock that might ensue with Monday night’s homework. 16: Extremely valuable. Would have welcomed having the material in the catalog ahead of the course if this is possible. 17: The Desbib Museums were quite remarkable in the number and quality of the examples. I very badly wanted to steal the box of cloth binding samples. I know that I will refer to the catalog in the future. 18: The only possible improvement to my Museum experience would have been a higher degree of end-of-day alertness sadly not possible for RBS to supply me with. 19: The Museums are essential; they allow students to examine example after example of objects, and they cover in detail topics that would be impossible to get around to in lecture. I especially enjoyed the Paper Museum. 20: My favorite part. Concrete examples help so much to make sense of the reading, also to supply background information and explain peculiarities of some of the books we looked at. 21: The Museums and catalogs had good materials. However, the time set aside for the Museum was a bit long. In my group, there was ever-present distraction, that was characterized by the anticipation of our [very long] upcoming homeworks.


5)   How successful were your format-and-collation labs? How effective was your lab instructor in conveying the material to be covered? How could the labs have been improved?

Julia Blakely: 1: F-A-C labs were very successful (and tiring). 2: They were very useful. This is a good ‘format’ for the course. 3: Labs were very useful and Julia was great -- very helpful. I wish that, over the course of the week, each student could have been responsible for creating a complete bibliographic description of one book (in addition to other homework). 4: This was the best part of the course. The hands-on experience finally made Bowers understandable and the role of collation formulas clear. The small group format works very well and allows for questions, concerns, comments, and reviews to take place. 5: Lab was fantastic. We needed the small size class to be able to ask the questions that come up. Putting answers on the board helped you see your own mistakes. David Gants: 6: Overall the labs were successful, but I wanted more labs, or longer labs, and a more intense atmosphere. That is not to say the labs were too easy -- I simply wanted more of the concentration. 7: Very successful. This is the heart of bibliography (or, bibliographical studies?) and the labs put everything together for you. My instructor was excellent and very helpful. Not sure there was much improvement to be had. 8: The labs were very successful; our instructor was able to clarify difficult points. 9: The labs were successful; although it took several days to find the rhythm. We spent valuable time constructing notation: format, collation, &c. Perhaps examples of notation that could be verbally deconstructed would further Desbib understanding. 10: I think they were great. I was initially afraid of pressure and humiliation, but DG made the situation very comfortable. 11: They were very successful. Our instructor was patient, kind, and generous in his responses to our work, and he was very knowledgeable about the subject. I especially appreciated his careful explanations of different approaches to texts and the different logic by which individual bibliographers operate. Shef Rogers: 12: The pedagogical method employed to throw the adult students in and see how they swim has much merit. However, as a very traditional student out of the Public School System I would benefit from a lecture on “here’s how to do it.” Bibdesc that is. I’ve got it now, but it’s still a bit nebulous. Back to Bowers I guess! 13: I thought the labs were fine -- very helpful in answering questions and shedding light on the correct methods of collation, &c. 14: Very successful. He was extremely clear and helpful, followed up on all questions and confusions we had, was very encouraging. I enjoyed the perspective SR’s academic interests brought to the lab work we did. The homework and labs were the most agonizing and rewarding part of the course. 15: Excellent (this is why I came here, to handle books). Excellent (personable, supportive, but rigorous). Labs were the highlights. 16: Very good indeed. The material was covered thoroughly and clearly. A possible improvement might be to indicate in advance which are the more difficult books for better allocation of time. David Whitesell: 17: There wasn’t enough time in the day to devote to homework. The lab instructor not only pointed out what was right or wrong, but pointed out valid alternatives. 18: I found the labs the most effectively instructional of all Desbib components. David Whitesell’s lab instruction was notably educational and painless. 19: The labs were the best part of the course. David Whitesell’s patience, kindness, and clear explanations helped defog the actual practice of descriptive bibliography. David also shared his own practical experience with us, giving a context of use for des bib that can get overshadowed by detail. 20: Excellent -- nice to have questions so well answered, and also to know that sometimes you’re confused for good reason, not just obtuse. The small groups are an advantage. We didn’t always finish every book, but the make-up lab took care of that. 21: The lab for me was the most effective part of this process. My instructor was both low-key and highly detailed. He made sure that everyone got a chance to express their thoughts on the formulas, and he took care to point out all the different possibilities for collation and explained their significance. This was my first time at this, so I am very happy and grateful at his methods.


6)   What did you like best about the course?

1: RN and TB. I am quite impressed with their sensitivity to gear their responses to the intellectual levels and needs of the individual. 2: The fact that I started with nothing, but background reading on Monday, and ended up with a useful, solid body of knowledge on Friday. 3: The instructors! Also, the Museums -- the chance to see things we talked about. 4: The small groups, the hands-on experience with books and the breaking up of the day to keep my mind focusing on different, but related topics. 5: Everything! Particularly the resources, both human and non (i.e. the packets, books, Museums, &c.), which were available at every turn to ease the way. 6: The books and real materials used in labs and Museum. The course is unimaginable without these materials and I considered it a great luxury to have access to them. Also, the lab instructors and lead instructors are especially generous with their help and time. 7: I like the fact that it is broken down to about a one to three ratio of instructor to student. I believe this proved to be the most helpful. 8: Lab sessions and Museums. 9: TB and RN’s lectures. Labs. 10: The course is taken seriously, but with a pinch of fun. The high level of enthusiasm and knowledge of the staff. 11: The hands-on experience of working with the books and discussing them in labs probably contributed most to my learning, but all the parts of the RBS week -- lectures, Museums, informal conversation work together brilliantly. 12: Museums. Lectures. Labs. Homework. 13: I really enjoyed the homework and labs for the simple reason that although not exactly fun at times, they gave me the hands-on experience I need to understand descriptive bibliography. I believe that in doing it and practicing you learn best. 14: I learned a ton in five days. It was all-consuming. 15: Again, the opportunity to really examine a variety of books. 16: It was excellent in every respect -- so perhaps overall the best thing was the balance between the different elements. I had expected more time in the collation labs, but was happy to switch from these to the lectures and Museum sessions because they were all so good. 17: Lab. 18: As a bookseller, the most astonishing result of Desbib was my near total inattention to the content of the book as I collated it. I am very pleased at having the rudimentary means of looking at books in an entirely new to me way. 19: The labs! -- but also the integration of lecture, observation, and practice. 20: Museums -- all those things which I may never or rarely see, all in one place at one time so that I can compare them and identify them when (or if) they come my way again. 21: The labs.


7)   How could the course as a whole have been improved?

2: Maybe start Sunday afternoon? 3: See #5. Also, please tell future students to bring Gaskell, along with Bowers, to class. His format charts and diagrams are very helpful. 4: I would have liked a bit more instruction from TB or RN on HOW to perform analysis or formulation. Their methods and experience as bibliographers is why I came -- I wish I heard more from them. 5: My specific suggestions would be -- make sure every group has at least one cancel for homework. We didn’t and we all wished we had. I would have liked to have a day to do contents. Although this may be unpopular! I would have like to have had (even just one book) on Thursday for homework, in which we did contents (and possibly notes). 7: I suppose the only thing that can improve the situation is to spend more time doing it, but spending more than five days straight, eight hours a day would not set well with most students. We’re all ready to go, and I know the staff needs a break too, so only more experience and exposure on our own time can do it. 8: Perhaps provide some sort of digest of rules or general advice for people reading Bowers. 9: Bookseller Night on Thursday evening when there is no homework and we can visit the stores at leisure. 10: I can’t imagine. 11: Advise future students to bring Gaskell in addition to Bowers and a bookbag for all of our necessary materials. 12: Thirty hour days? 13: I think that it would have been nice to discuss briefly what was to be done for homework during the lectures. I sometimes felt that I was entering homework blindly (or with just Bowers, which can, at times, be the same thing), and it would have been nice to get a brief intro before I did it. 14: If I had slept better.... 15: Provide a little more initial explanation of the course’s mechanics. Provide more full collations (for comparison, as initial examples) in the workbook. Provide small cheap solar calculators in the tool kits (for use in tallying leaves, comparing foliation and pagination). Provide an opportunity for a pre-homework tutorial for true novices. Perhaps it would also be possible to send photocopies of a brief quarto book along with its formula out with acceptance letters. 16: Perhaps a slightly fuller advance description of the course content would have reinforced and directed the advance reading -- my only regret was having missed some of this ahead of the course. 17: Make it two weeks. 18: While some extraction of Bowers is necessary for understanding, I felt that I would have learned more about applying it to books had at least some small portions of it been extracted for me. An example of a book collation provided on the first night would have been wonderful. 20: More hours in the day? 21: Less homework, or more time to do homework. To do the amount of books in the few hours was traumatic.


8)   If you attended the Sunday and/or Monday night lectures, were they worth attending?

1: Yes, very worth it. 2: Didn’t. 3: Yes, both were very interesting. 4: Sunday’s lecture with TB made me feel welcomed into a small community. I felt part of the school and privileged to be here with so many interesting and exceptional others. Monday’s lecture was not nearly as interesting. The lecture’s title seemed to misrepresent the topic and given the work load, was not a profitable period. 5: Yes. 6: Yes and yes -- Leon Jackson was fantastic. 7: Yes! 8-9: Yes. 10: The lecture was great. World view changing. 11: Yes. It was a shame, though, that there was no question period after the Monday lecture. 12: Yes. I thought Leon Jackson exceptionally good and regret I missed the Sunday night lecture. 14: Absolutely. 16: The Sunday overview was very interesting. The Monday lecture was quite interesting. 18: I did not attend. 19: The Monday night lecture topic was entirely on topic for Desbib. 21: Couldn’t go. Homework.


9)   If you attended Museum Night on Wednesday, was the time profitably spent?

2: Yes. 3: I only attended on Thursday -- incredibly interesting -- I wish I’d had more time. 5: Yes! RBS has so many resources -- these nights had a number of unusual things to see and do, and you should take advantage of them. 6: The general Museums are excellent and they do a great deal in showing what kind of materials are available for other courses. 7: Yes! 8: Absolutely, but did not have time to attend the Wednesday night Museum (too much homework) -- my only regret. 9: Yes, excellent on Thursday night. 10: Yes. My only regret was spending too much time on homework and not quite enough at the Museum on Wednesday. 11: Couldn’t attend Wednesday because of Desbib homework! Thursday definitely. I only wish I’d had more time there. 12: Yes! 14: Missed Wednesday’s but love Thursday’s (printing surfaces). 16: Yes, both were very valuable. 18: Yes. Our exposure to such significant numbers of book-related material was very useful in understanding our homework. 20: Definitely. 21: Couldn’t go on Wednesday (homework of course). Thursday night I needed a drink after so much homework.


10) Did you get your money’s worth? Any final thoughts?

2: I absolutely did get my money’s worth. Students: do the reading and start about two months before the course starts if you can. 3: Yes! Read Bowers several times! 4: Absolutely. Come with enthusiasm to learn and patience with yourself. This is at times frustrating stuff, but a real sense of accomplishment was felt in the end. And you certainly appreciate TB’s line that “Bibliography is not for sissies!” Thanks for a terrific week! 5: This is an amazing course; you learn an enormous amount; it is well worth coming. 6: The Desbib course is worth all the work required. Future students should not be intimidated, but rather embrace the opportunity to get the training this course offers. 7: Yes! I loved it. I want to come back and I want to learn more. I have always been very interested in printing history, and I teach certain aspects of it, but RBS has helped me clear up some things that I was a little confused about myself (especially type casting! No words can do a justifiable explanation for that! Your video tapes helped the most in that situation). 8: Yes. It’s a very useful and interesting course. Do the reading! 9: What I got from this experience is invaluable. It has been a privilege and an honor to be here. 10: Yes. If the money was coming out of my own pocket though, I am not sure I could afford it. I don’t think it is overpriced, but it is a fair chunk of change for a librarian. 11: Yes. I was lucky enough that my employer paid my expenses, but I would have felt the money well-spent if it were my own (and it may be in the future). This is a marvelous course! 12: Yes, and I think my institution will benefit too. Pack warm sleepwear. Don’t even try to do anything but RBS while here. Thanks also for the care and creativity that went into planning the parties. 13: Definitely. I learned so much and felt much more comfortable working with rare books. It was a really good experience for me. 14: My institution footed the bill, but now that I know what I’d been missing, I will be seriously considering buying myself another RBS class for Christmas. 15: $1000 is a substantial amount of money for me just now; hence “money’s worth” is difficult to say, when I see the figure written on the page and ponder the opportunity costs. Nevertheless, the educational value of the course was great. As for advice, please advise students at the point of acceptance to go to a rare book collection, page a few books, and actually to try to work out a few formulae before coming here. Trying to write out collation based solely on a reading (and pre-reading) of Bowers is a bit like sitting down with the U.S. tax code and expecting to be able to fill out your tax forms. 16: Yes -- the course was superbly conceived and executed. I would strongly recommend the course to anyone who has sufficient interest to have reached the point of hesitating to sign up! Reading Gaskell first makes Bowers vastly more accessible. 17: As I said earlier -- bring Gaskell! 18: Absolutely. The ability of RBS to provide an extraordinarily informative course while keeping the cost affordable for most attendees is astonishing. I recognize the amount of time and care put into the organization of RBS and acknowledge that my tuition has certainly not covered it. Thank you. 19: RBS has consistently been much more valuable than any professional conference I’ve attended. 20: Yes. Or rather I think Powell’s got its money’s worth! Sleep -- very important. 21: Yes, I got the value, more than I imagined for the price. My advice, and not flippant: bring Bowers and Gaskell. Don’t stay till midnight at the library working on homework. You will make as many (or more) errors if you stay till then versus staying till 7pm. Enjoy the intellectual experience and the social experience of being part of such a rare group.

Number of respondents: 21


Leave                       Tuition                    Housing                   Travel

Institution                 Institution                 Institution                 Institution

gave me leave            paid tuition               paid housing              paid travel

52%                            57%                            57%                            57%

I took vaca-                I paid tui-                  I paid for my              I paid my own

tion time                    tion myself                 own housing              travel

10%                            29%                            38%                            43%

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

38%                            14%                            5%                              0%

There were six full-time students (29%), five rare book librarians (23%), four antiquarian booksellers (19%), three general librarians with some rare book duties (14%), one general librarian with no rare book duties (5%), one teacher/professor (5%), and one rare book reference assistant (5%).