RBS Mourns the Loss of David Ferris

ferris_july_1989This weekend we received the sad news that former Rare Book School staff and faculty member David Ferris died at his home in Cambridge, MA on 18 August. David was involved with Rare Book School beginning in 1986, serving as joint assistant director in 1990 and 1991 and as Associate Director from 1993 through 1996. He co-taught “Introduction to Descriptive Bibliography” with Terry Belanger during seven RBS summers. David served as Curator of Rare Books and Early Manuscripts at the Harvard Law School Library from 1991 until 2011.

Our sincere condolences to David’s family and colleagues.

We can think of no greater tribute to David than to reprise here Terry Belanger’s Dedication of the 1993 Rare Book School Yearbook:

I first met David Ferris in the fall of 1984, when he came down from Boston (where he had been working in a non-professional position in the Harvard Law Library) to talk to me about the master’s program in rare books I was then directing at the Columbia University School of Library Service. He enrolled in the program in the fall of 1985, completed his coursework the following spring, and shortly thereafter joined the staff of Rare Book School—on which he has served ever since. (He also returned to the Harvard Law Library, where he is now Curator of Rare Books.) In RBS 1990 and 1991 he and Carol Reid Briggs became joint Assistant Directors of RBS. There was no RBS 1992 (thank goodness); in 1993, with the Book Arts Press’s move from Columbia University to the University of Virginia, David Ferris became RBS’s sole Associate Director.

ferris_collating_1991At UVA we confronted new spaces—classroom, library, social, dormitory, hotel—in a new environment—transportation, suppliers, restaurants, field trips. Except for Ferris and for James Davis, the entire 1993 RBS staff was new; none of its other members had ever even attended RBS before, let alone helped run one. We managed, in part because one does manage, and in part because of extraordinary cooperation from the University of Virginia Libraries. But mostly we managed because David Ferris was Associate Director of RBS; if RBS 1993 was a logistical success (read on), it was so because of him.

During the occasional eyes of the RBS 1993 hurricane, he sometimes murmured, “I am a saint. I am a @#$%()@! saint.” Every RBS needs one (especially any RBS run by me). His day typically ran from 11 to 11 on Sundays, and from 7 a.m. until between 11 p.m. and midnight, Mondays through Fridays. Saturday is the RBS staff’s day off; on Saturdays, he generally worked only a half day (i.e. eight hours).

What does the Associate Director do? He gets to the Book Arts Press an hour before breakfast begins, and makes sure that no fuses have blown again this morning (memo: rewire the Pressroom before RBS 1994). He assembles today’s shopping list (“16 clipboards and 20 large window fans, please”). He checks with faculty members about their course needs (it’s 134 pages and you want it spiral bound? would morning break be soon enough?”) and discusses the day’s duties with the RBS operations managers (“the field trip today is to Baltimore, three-and-a-half hours north of us; you can’t miss it”). He undertakes various ambassadorial missions to Alderman Library (“can we borrow a globe? some chairs? the staff lounge? the third floor? the third floor and the first floor?”). He says hello to the commissars (“well, yes, it was going to be 16 for dinner after the lecture tonight, but it’s got larger … well, 28, I think, so far …”). He schmoozes with students. He touches base with me (“Let me make sure I’ve got this right: you want us to take the schooldesk chairs out of 301 and put them into the Studio and take the tables out of the Studio and put them into the BAP classroom and take the wooden chairs out of the BAP classroom and put them somewhere else and take the stuffed chairs out of 201 and put them into 301 and …”). In the interstices, he works on the format and collation of 24 sets of books for the RBS Week 4 Descriptive Bibliography course, which he will be co-teaching (“do you have any more octavos in 8’s and 4’s? we’re short five examples”). He takes naps, but not very many of them.

And, if I am lucky, he returns to RBS next year.

Additional photographs of David Ferris at RBS, both from the summer of 1993. Click for larger version.

ferris_reception_1993  ferris_tb_pulling_1993