Rare Book School

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Frequently asked questions

“In this work, when it shall be found that much is omitted, let it not be forgotten that much likewise is performed...”

Samuel Johnson. Preface to A Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

This page contains answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about Rare Book School.

General information

  1. How much does it cost to come to RBS?

    See the Program Costs section on our website for more information about estimating expenses.

  2. Does RBS offer course credit?

    No. RBS itself does not offer formal academic or continuing education credit for its courses, in part because our faculty members cannot provide individual assessments for attendees. Because of the high reputation of the program, however, some degree-granting institutions and professional associations will arrange for credit for RBS courses. Contact your own institution or association with questions about arranging to receive credit for an RBS course.

    Students do receive a certificate of completion at the end of the RBS week, stating that admission to RBS courses (which typically meet for a total of about 28 contact hours over a five-day period) is competitive.

  3. Who comes to RBS?

    RBS attracts a diverse student body that includes academics, antiquarian booksellers, book collectors, bookbinders, conservators, curators, rare book librarians, teachers, and professional and avocational students of the history of books and printing. Some courses are primarily intended for particular constituencies (for example, professional rare book catalogers, or private collectors). While the average RBS student is a mid-career professional, in recent years attendees have increasingly included graduate students as well as exceptionally talented high school and undergraduate students

  4. What are the prerequisites for taking RBS courses? Do I need to be a librarian or have a degree?

    For most courses a genuine interest and commitment to the subject is sufficient; however, some advanced courses require additional experience. Consult individual course descriptions for more information.

  5. Does RBS offer online courses?

    No. RBS teaches the history of books as physical objects. The school brings students into direct, guided, focused contact with actual examples. Its pedagogical preoccupation is quite literally to rub students’ noses in books: to find ways to study the physical book directly from books, and not merely from reproductions of them via illustrations in books on books, or via 35mm slides, or films, or photocopies, or other facsimile formats.

    We have a great respect for online courses, but what we do requires real contact between students and the stuff.

  6. How many students are in an RBS course?

    Courses are almost always limited to 12 students. One notable exception is RBS course Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description (G-10), which uses a team of instructors (the average faculty: student ratio in this course is about 1:4). Each year, the total possible enrollment figure must cope with several variables, including the seating capacity of available classrooms, the availability of lab instructors, and evolving instructor/RBS staff requirements and preferences.

  7. What is the program structure?

    RBS provides intensive training over 5 consecutive days. Students make a full-time commitment to any course they attend, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday, with breaks (one 90-minute lunch and two 30-minute mid-morning and mid-afternoon breaks each day), for a total of between 28 and 30 contact hours in all. Attendance at RBS evening public lectures and other events is optional.

  8. Can I leave an RBS class early?

    No. If, after being accepted into an RBS class, you find that your plans change and you can no longer meet the requirement to attend all classes from Monday morning through Friday afternoon, we ask that you cancel or postpone your enrollment until another year.

  9. Can I audit a class?

    No. Because of the desirability of small student size in classes where a great deal of material is routinely examined, we never allow auditors in RBS courses.

  10. Can you give me the email address of a faculty member?

    RBS faculty members are working professionals who are only in residence during the week they are teaching. Many of our instructors are easily found online at their home institutions. If you are unable to reach an instructor after first contacting his/her home institution, we can forward your message. We do not give out email addresses of faculty members.

  11. Does RBS offer appraisals?

    No. A useful place to begin the investigation of a particular book of potential rarity and/or value is the Your Old Books guide, published by the Rare Book & Manuscripts Section of the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association. This guide addresses some frequently asked questions about rare and older books and their values; an appendix lists online and print resources for more information on the questions covered. See also our Links section for other resources.

    If you are interested in donating an item or collection to RBS, please contact the Curator of Collections.

  12. Where did the RBS lion come from?

    The RBS lion is derived from an early c19 English watermark, but with many Continental ancestors. The RBS lion made its first appearance on an RBS publication in 1984.

  13. What is RBS’s street address?

    For deliveries requiring a street address, you may use “Rare Book School, University of Virginia, 114 Alderman Library, Charlottesville, VA, 22904-4103” (i.e. omit the usual post office box 400103, but include the zip-code and the four-digit extension). If that doesn’t work, try adding “160 McCormick Road.” If all else fails, the loading dock of the library is located at 100 Newcomb Rd S, Charlottesville, VA 22904. The RBS office is located in room 114 on the first floor of Alderman Library at the University of Virginia (View Google Map).

  14. What is RBS’s federal tax ID number?


Course offerings and timelines

  1. When will you be offering a particular course next?

    The current schedule lists courses offered in any given year. Most courses are offered on a yearly basis, some are offered every other year or so. If the course isn’t listed in the current schedule, it means that the course isn’t being offered in the next four months. If you have questions about a specific course, contact the RBS Program Director.

  2. How often are courses offered?

    Not all of the courses listed in the Course Descriptions are offered every year. Some courses are offered in alternate years, and on occasion RBS faculty members may wish to take an informal sabbatical, and their courses may disappear from the schedule for a year or two as the result.

    In general, courses missing from the schedule this year may be expected with some (though not complete) confidence to reappear in the schedule in the next few years.

  3. When will the course schedule be available?

    The summer schedule of courses in Charlottesville is usually posted in early November. Courses offered at other times throughout the year are announced at least four months before a course begins.

  4. Do you accept suggestions for new courses?

    Yes. A successful course requires extensive materials, one or more experienced faculty members, and an audience. If you have a suggestion for a new course (and – equally important – a person who could teach it), please contact the RBS Program Director.

Course applications & admissions

  1. When are applications posted?

    Applications are generally available at the time the schedule is posted, no later than five months before a course begins.

  2. When should I submit my application? What is the application deadline?

    RBS accepts applications until the week the course runs, but chances of admission are greatly increased if an application is received two weeks ahead of the first round of admission decisions, i.e. four and half months before the course begins.

  3. Can I apply to more than one course?

    Yes, although not within the same week. If you do apply for more than one course (in different sessions), you will need to submit separate applications for each course to which you wish to apply. The application contains instructions for indicating your course preference. Bear in mind that admission to RBS courses is competitive and many courses have waiting lists; you may want to contact the RBS Program Director about your strategy in applying for especially popular courses.

  4. Who determines admission for courses? What is the likelihood I will be admitted off the waiting list?

    All admissions decisions are made by faculty members, based primarily on the applicants’ personal statements. Invariably, there are many more qualified applicants than there are spaces. Some qualified students may be placed on a waiting list. In general, faculty do not indicate a preference order for wait-listed students. If for any reason an admitted student is unable to attend, the instructor(s) will make a selection from the applicant pool, which will include those students on the original waiting list as well as any additional applicants. In our experience, it is uncommon for an offer of admission to be declined, or for a student to withdraw. We encourage those on the waiting list to contact the RBS Program Director for advice in applying for alternatives. If you wish to apply to another course, you will need to submit a separate application. We cannot hold your application for future years.

  5. Can you tell me which RBS courses still have space available?

    Admission to RBS courses is by competitive application, i.e. the availability of space does not guarantee admission. If you have been waitlisted for a course, or are unsure about which course to take, please contact the RBS Program Director for suggestions.

  6. I’m having trouble downloading the application form; is it possible to receive a hard-copy?

    Yes, however, many problems can be resolved by downloading a recent version of Adobe Reader. If you’d still like to receive a hard-copy, please contact the RBS Administrator.

  7. Can I submit additional material along with my application?

    A resume or curriculum vitae may substitute for the professional and work experience portion of the RBS application. Be sure, however, to indicate previous RBS attendance. Faculty do not require or make evaluations based on letters of reference, certifications, and other supplementary material unless specifically requested in the course description (e.g. samples of cataloging records).

  8. To whom should I address my personal statement?

    The primary reader of your personal statement will be the course instructor.

  9. Did you receive my application?

    RBS acknowledges all applications by email upon receipt. Bear in mind that it may take a day or two for your application to be entered into our system. If your application has not been acknowledged after a few days, please contact the RBS Program Director.

Certificate Program

  1. When and how can I join the RBS Certificate of Proficiency Program?
    Students can enroll in the program starting 1 February 2011. Prespective students should complete a Proposal, available online.
  2. Can my former RBS classes count toward my certificate?
    Yes, so long as all of the courses counted toward the certificate are attended within the required eight-year period. This means that a student completing a certificate in 2011 can apply courses to the certificate from 2004 and on (but not before 2004), a student completing a certificate in 2012 can apply courses going back to 2005, and so on.
  3. If I’ve already taken the five courses within the last eight years, can I get a certificate?
    Yes, so long as the courses fulfill the requirements for one of the programs outlined below.
  4. Can the same course count towards two certificates?
    No; you cannot “recycle” courses for multiple certificates. Students who have concerns about meeting specific requirements should contact and consult with RBS’s Program Director.

Scholarships & fellowships

  1. Do you offer scholarships?

    Yes. The Scholarship page on our website provides more details. See especially the scholarship Terms & Conditions page.

  2. How many scholarships does RBS award annually?

    The number of scholarships awarded each year varies depending on the funding available. In recent years, RBS has been able to award between 30 and 50 full-tuition scholarships a year, thanks to support from William Reese Company, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Book Club of California, Atlas Systems, the Council on Library and Information Resources, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and annual support from the Friends of Rare Book School.

  3. When will the current scholarship application form be available?

    The scholarship application is posted on the Scholarship page in early August, with a 30 September application deadline.

  4. How do you determine who receives a scholarship?

    In making its awards, the RBS Scholarship Committee gives special consideration to applicants at the beginning of their professional careers, or who represent under-served communities (or whose institutions do so). The Committee is especially interested in supporting first-time attendees.

  5. How soon can I use my scholarship?

    Scholarships are awarded in the fall, take effect in January, and are redeemable for aproximately two calendar years. Please note that the timelines between the awarding of scholarships in the fall and the January sessions are very tight. If you contemplate applying for a January course, please indicate your intention as part of your personal statement when you submit your scholarship application. Do not apply for a course with the hope that you will be awarded a scholarship to pay for it.

  6. Can I use my scholarship at a related institute? (e.g. California Rare Book School, London Rare Books School, &c)

    RBS scholarships are not valid for courses administered by related programs or organizations. You can, however, redeem your scholarship for a course offered by RBS outside of Charlottesville (e.g. in Baltimore, New York City, or Washington, DC).

  7. If I have a scholarship, do I need to pay a deposit?

    No. To claim your scholarship, please indicate the year of your award on your tuition invoice and return it to us to adjust your balance.

  8. If I am unable to use my scholarship, can you extend it to another year?

    Scholarship recipients must claim their awards within two years of the award (generally January of a given year). If you are unable to use your award within that period, please reapply in a later year, explaining the circumstances of why you were unable to use your original award. Because of the high demand for scholarships, we are unable to issue extensions.

  9. How do I apply for a fellowship?

    Applications for fellowships are by invitation only.

After you’ve been admitted...

  1. Did you receive my confirmation form and/or payment?

    Please note that it may take a few days to process your information. If you have questions about your confirmation form and payment, please contact the RBS Administrator.

  2. My institution is processing payment, what should I do?

    Please indicate on your tuition invoice that your institution is processing your payment. Also, please ask your institution to submit a copy of your invoice with their check so that we can apply the payment to your admission record.

  3. When is payment in full (i.e. less my deposit) due?

    Your balance is due two weeks before your class begins. If you have a scholarship, see the Scholarship section above for details about claiming your award.

  4. Can you send me a receipt?

    The confirmation form enclosed with your admission letter functions as a receipt for most RBS students. If you need a more detailed receipt for accounting purposes, please contact the RBS Administrator.

  5. If I cannot attend, will RBS issue a refund?

    Your $100 deposit is non-refundable. The remaining part of your tuition is refundable so long as you let us know at least two weeks before the start date of the course.

  6. What is the best way to get to Charlottesville? Where should I stay?

    RBS has created a information guide to help guide you in making these decisions. See also our program costs page.

  7. What should I bring with me to class?

    RBS participants are encouraged to come to class prepared and on time. Before leaving home, check the RBS Information Guide and your online course description for specific instructions on what to bring. It is not always necessary to bring copies of your advance reading, so be sure to refer to the course information on the RBS website. Additionally, you may find it helpful to read previous course evaluations online for information about what to expect.

  8. When do I need to arrive for an RBS course?

    RBS begins in an informal way on the Sunday evening with an optional reception before the first class on Monday. Returning students should note that dinner will not follow the reception as in previous years. Final registration for all courses (for those who have not already registered on Sunday night) will take place at 8am Monday (courses outside Charlottesville may have slightly later start times, consult the RBS Information Guide guide for details). On the first day, RBS will announce classroom assignments and a member of the RBS staff will lead students to their classes.

  9. What should I wear?

    At RBS, dress is informal for all events. All RBS classrooms and other spaces are well heated and/or air-conditioned; however, if you chill easily under refrigeration, bring a sweater.

  10. What happens during the RBS week?

    The information guide gives a day-by-day look at what happens at RBS when you come to take a course here.

  11. I haven’t received my admission letter. Can you resend it?

    Yes. Please contact the RBS Program Director if you have not received your admissions letter. Please also include your address information, so that we can correct it in our files.

  12. I'm supposed to order a DVD. How do I get it?

    If you are in courses G-10 or G-20, part of your course preparation given on the reading involves watching the DVD The Anatomy of a Book: Part I: Format in the Hand-Press Period. Use this order form, and mail, fax, or email it to RBS using the address at the bottom of the page. If you are not admitted and enrolled in this class, but would like to order this DVD, please visit the RBS store.