David Whitesell

Bibliographers' Toolkit: Printed Books to 1800

8-12 June 2009


1) How useful were the pre-course readings?


1: The readings were essential. I was glad to have covered the basics beforehand on my own time, since it allowed us to delve further within the course topics. I'm sure anyone who didn't read probably regretted it. 2: Extremely helpful—not only to the class. Before coming to RBS, as I was doing my reading, I became so much more aware of the rare materials I was handling at work. Perhaps consider making Bowers required reading. 3: They were useful in the sense that they fell into place as the week progressed. Beforehand, I completed the readings without comprehension. I am going to re-read them now, hopefully with comprehension. In any case, the books will remain part of my reference library. 4: Very helpful. Although I did not fully understand some of the pre-course readings. I was prepared insofar as I understood what our subjects of study would be. Last night, I reread most of what had been assigned. I was delighted to note that all of the pre-course readings now make sense, and I can see how to apply the knowledge in my studies. 5: Fine, except portions of Carter's ABC for Book Collectors would have been more helpful, i.e. list of most significant terms. 6: The readings were a bit difficult in places, but helpful after the course began and I had context and examples. 7: Very helpful. 8: Extremely useful. Will also read many of them again after class to solidify concepts. 9: The pre-course readings were essential, even if challenging at times. It offered the framework around which the class material was presented. Often a reiteration of those points that were unclear then this text. 10: They were very useful, and things considered, quite reasonable. Some of the readings were hard going—it was hard to visualize some of what was being explained—but going over those concepts made things clear, and it was immensely helpful to have done the reading ahead of time. 11: Very useful and necessary.


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


1: I am excited to explore my course packet when I get home. It's full of useful resources and information, and it will serve as an important future reference. 2: The workbook will be a wonderful, concise reference source for me. 3: DW's course workbook is excellent. It shows the same thoroughness and information as his lectures. We used each page. 4: Yes, all materials were certainly appropriate and useful. The workbook for our course will remain an excellent overview and a reminder of these subjects. DW did a superb job in organizing our materials, which were admirably organized, lucid, and apposite. 5: Yes. 6: Yes, in class, and I will use them at home. 7: Quite useful, now and in the future. 8: Yes—am especially grateful for printed packet, which will be very useful after class ends. Also am very grateful for such a lengthy bibliography. 9: Yes. And invaluable materials at that! 10: Yes—the workbook we got was excellent—both thorough and relevant. 11: Syllabus and materials useful and necessary for class, and will be used after returning home.


3) What aspects of the course content were of the greatest interest or relevance for your purposes? Was the intellectual level of the course appropriate?


1: Illustration techniques, bookbinding identification, and collation/format sessions were of greatest interest to me. The intellectual level was very appropriate. 2: The description exercises were the most useful, as they required us to synthesize everything we learned. I also appreciated the many examples passed around—the books illustrated the reading and lecture material very well. 3: The entire course—Monday to Friday—was useful. Of particular interest to me—as well as the greatest challenge—was the collation information and formulas. I've never been exposed to this system and expect to find it useful. 4: All topics covered were successfully applied to and integrated with our work in descriptive bibliography. Every element in a description now makes sense to me as arising from a book's physical characteristics, each of which we explored systematically. No introduction or orientation to these characteristics was too simple, and every detail was eventually intelligible as a potential factor in a book's particular nature. Levels were appropriately adjusted for each topic. 5: All was most helpful, pitched at appropriate level. 6: I will be able to use almost all aspects of the course in evaluating books. I think the work with collation was the most difficult for me, though it is beginning to make sense. If I continue to work with it, I think I may be able to use it. 7: The intellectual level was quite high. Of greatest interest at RBS is always the teaching from actual examples. 8: All aspects were relevant, in that all were essential to the study of bibliography. Class level was difficult but rewarding. 9: As a bookseller, this whole package is very relevant. The intellectual level was appropriate. 10: Since I'd originally applied for a different course, I'd been a bit concerned. But it was all deeply fascinating and gave me a much better grasp of the material processes behind the literary texts I study. While I think the influence of the course on my own research/publications will likely be largely indirect, I definitely feel that what I've learned here will change and inform my thinking profoundly. 11: Aspects of greatest interest and relevance were the study of paper, all parts of the course pertaining to printing, and learning collation. Intellectual level was fine.


4) If your course left its classroom to visit Special Collections (SC) or to make other field trips away from your classroom, was the time devoted to this purpose well spent?


1: Yes, we visited SC to view examples of book bindings, which was both fun and intellectually stimulating. 2: Yes—the SC visit was helpful in supplementing the RBS materials, and we had a chance to see a wide array of items. The hand press demonstration with TB was entertaining and illustrative. 3: We went to SC and were duly impressed with UVa's collection and facility. 4: Yes. The visit to SC to explore the history of bindings was very helpful. 5: Yes—SC visit was very good. 6: The trips to SC and the printing press were very helpful. 7: Useful, but really no more so than the examples in class. A tribute to the superb RBS collections. 8: SC to see bindings. Very much enjoyed seeing these items. 9: Yes! And well organized so that there wasn't wasted time. 10: Yes. 11: Our visit to SC was slightly less useful (but much enjoyed!) because it didn't directly relate to what we were studying. I'm not sure what in SC would be, though.


5) What did you like best about the course?


1: I liked that the course began with basics and worked up to complex issues of descriptive bibliography. Also, I really enjoyed DW's sense of humor and expertise. 2: Marvelous instructor! The material was challenging, and a lesser teacher would not have been able to explain everything so clearly, patiently, and interestingly. Also: the description exercises were great. 3: DW's intellectual rigor, enthusiasm for his topic, and very dry wit. 4: The practical exercises were excellent. I made a lot of mistakes but certainly learned from them. Working with many kinds of books, paper, bindings, and all with practical, analytic methods, was invaluable. Most importantly, DW was a superb instructor. He was patient with us as we mastered the subjects in which he is deeply learned. His patience, organization, and deft management of complexity were exemplary. 5: DW is an excellent teacher. 6: I liked the many physical examples and the instructor's depth of knowledge and sense of humor. 7: DW is a great detective whose actual field experience, quite broad (auction houses, private libraries, booksellers) has much to teach. 8: Class was interesting, well-organized, concepts build upon one another in very logical ways. Sincerely appreciate instructor's extensive preparations for course. 9: DW's thorough and accessible teaching style. He really made the course for me. 10: It's hard to pick just one thing! I can't commend DW highly enough for the design, planning, and execution of the course. And he himself is a wonderful instructor—unassuming but an absolute fount of knowledge; patient, kind, and with a wonderfully dry wit. 11: Best was the way DW presented the course and the pace, so that I could assimilate all the information. I understood well what was taught.


6) How could the course have been improved?


1: I'm not sure; it was great. 2: More exercises and time spent on description. Maybe make Bowers required reading. 3: I can't think of a thing. 4: In the sessions in which many examples were displayed and discussed, an RBS staff member could have expedited DW's management of these materials. Otherwise, the resources and their management were organized very well. 5: Examples of typesetting—using press with actual set type, rather than plates, would have been great. 6: At times I found it difficult to examine a book and follow what was being said on a different subject. Not sure what to do about this. 7: Everything can be improved, but this course very little. Extremely well thought out, with the relative proportions almost perfect. 8: Got a lot out of Thursday's homework, but wished in Friday's class discussion I could see all the examples. Perhaps a few images of each item would improve this? 9: I'm not sure I know ... short of extending it into a second week. My experience is limited here at RBS, but I was quite impressed! 10: I can't think of a thing. 11: I don't know how it would be improved.


7) We are always concerned about the physical well-being both of the RBS teaching collections and of materials owned by UVa's Special Collections. If relevant, what suggestions do you have for the improved classroom handling of such materials used in your course this week?


1: I think the materials were handled appropriately. We didn't handle anything too fragile—DW held them instead. 2: Perhaps brief the class about proper handling of rare materials. 5: All was handled well. 7: Great care was taken, always at the instructor's constant reminding. 8: In instances where many items were passed around during sessions (e.g. bindings), I had sometimes forgotten their relevance since items went both ways around table. Would have liked it better if items always traveled in one direction, so that related/chronological items appeared in logical order. 9: I was delighted to be able to handle and investigate so many books. It seemed there was sufficient care taken to treat the books as safely as possible and still allow the students "hands-on" learning. 11: All the material we used was handled well.


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


1: Yes! Our Monday night lecture [by Stephen Enniss, Librarian of the Folger Shakespeare Library] was terrific. 2: Yes! The Monday night lecture and the video showings were particularly good. 3: I attended every event and found them all useful. However, get those DVDs re-mastered; interesting topics, lousy quality. 4: Yes. 5: N/A. Would have liked some non-rare book options, such as a tour of the old city, &. —more general social options. 6: I was interested in the Sunday lecture. I was unable to attend on Monday evening. 7: Of interest, but not vital. 8: Yes. Especially enjoyed topical lecture given by SE. 9-10: Yes. 11: I went to video night and watched the 1st film which tied into the class I was taking quite well. The two evening lectures were great, time well spent. Our class had an in-class evening assignment that was most valuable.


9) Did you get your money's worth? Any final or summary thoughts, or advice for other persons considering taking this course in a future year?


1: I think this course was well worth the tuition, especially with the extra evening lab with DW. For future students: do your reading! Try to handle as many 1450-1800 books as possible before you come to establish a frame of reference. At least take a look at the recommended optional reading. 2: Highly recommended—fantastic instruction, a wealth of rare materials, and a very useful set of skills to have. This was perfect for someone with some experience but little formal rare book training. 3: Do not stay at Brown College! RBS demands a lot from participants. Without a comfortable place to relax at the end of the day, it's difficult to recharge. Also, the food quality at RBS-sponsored events is poor. Food is integral to our culture and could have been more imaginative than the factory-made foods of Harris Teeter. But you got your main mission right—in spades! Thank you. 4: I have learned as much as I had hoped I would. More importantly, I feel I have gained both knowledge and expertise, which will support my immediate and long-term scholarly projects. This program is, in short, first-rate. I am eager to return for another full week of study. I have much to learn; I am still a beginner in bibliography. But I've made a good start this week. 5: Yes. Well worth it. 6: I certainly received my money's worth. Persons planning to take this course should be prepared for an intense but enjoyable experience. 7: Certainly got my money's worth. Were I retired or independent, I'd spend the summer here. 8: Definitely. Hope to be able to return for additional courses at some point. Would especially go out of my way to take other courses taught by DW—he's a phenomenal instructor. 9: Yes! It's a bargain. It is an excellent course and will make me better at my job. 10: Yes. I hope to come back! This has been such a great experience; I've had so much fun and learned so much that I hate to leave—and I'd really like to take more RBS courses in the future! 11: The course is well worth the tuition. Preliminary reading must be done even if not completely understood at the time.


Number of respondents: 12





Institution gave me leave: 36%

I took vacation time: 18%

N/A: self-employed, retired, or had summers off: 45%



Institution paid tuition: 36%

I paid tuition myself: 36%

N/A: self-employed, retired, or scholarship: 27%



Instution paid housing: 45%

I paid for my own housing: 54%

N/A: stayed with friends or lived at home: 0%



Institution paid travel: 36%

I paid my own travel: 63%

N/A: lived nearby: 0%


There were: 1 rare book librarian (9%), 1 archivist/manuscript librarian (9%), 1 general librarian with some rare book duties (9%), 2 teacher/professors (18%), 1 full-time student (9%), 4 antiquarian booksellers (36%), and 1 rare book library support staff (9%).