Emergency Preparedness

I live with a Renaissance historian professor and we own a small collection of materials dated from about 1450 to the mid 1800s. Until very recently everything we owned pre-dated wood pulp paper, which was introduced in 1843, but we now have one item published after that. We also have some modern examples of old book technologies; modern papyrus, a reproduction of a Roman-style wax tablet, a reproduction of a codex without a spine showing how the quires are stitched together. We often bring parts of the collection to science fiction conventions and give a panel on rare books and printing history— a sort of show and tell where we hand a book or manuscript page around the room to let people get a closer look and find out how the books are put together and what they smell or feel like.

People often are hesitant to handle a book which is about five hundred years old, but the books in our collection are actually pretty sturdy despite having been chosen because they were in terrible condition. (Books in terrible condition allows you to show students exciting things like book worm trails or how the spine is put together because it is falling off.) The lifetime of leather and of rag-paper is longer than the lifetime of the books that we own, so unless a page has been chewed on by a book worm, the page is fine. I worked on a brittle books preservation project for my first full-time library job and the oldest materials in our project which was for books published between 1800 and 1950, weren’t actually all that brittle; anything published before the introduction of wood pulp paper were much more likely to be in good condition then the ones published more than a hundred years later. When I worked at the special collections library at Texas A&M, the most brittle items in the collection were probably the science fiction magazines from the 1970s which were printed on highly acidic paper and were so fragile that we weren’t able to digitize them because the process would destroy the magazines completely (and possibly also be destroyed before we could take pictures since if a page shatters when you turn it, you’re not going to get a shot of the back. My take-away lesson from these projects and from working with our own collection is that you want to have clean hands when handling the materials to minimize damage from the natural oils in your hands (or residue from food, hand lotion, or whatever else you’ve been touching) and you don’t want to wear gloves, because if you are trying to turn fragile pages, the last thing you want is to reduce your dexterity.

I’ve spent about half of my library career working on preservation projects or with special collections materials. All libraries have emergency preparedness plans for what to do if there’s a fire, or water in the building from flooding due to rain or a pipe bursting, or other unforeseen disasters. But you hear about it more when you work in preservation  or with rare books because your job is making sure your materials are okay so people can continue to use them.

I have twice had to enact emergency procedures at home to save books. Once was about ten years ago when I lived in a condominium on the basement level and we got a lot of rain. I spent an afternoon bailing out the area at the bottom of the steps leading down to the door of the foyer because the drain couldn’t handle the amount of water that it was getting and would have risen high enough to go over the lintel. The day after that, water started seeping through the floor of a friends unit and we spent all day removing books and papers off of it, freezing anything that was soaked and interleaving the pages of others with paper towels to help them dry.

A few weeks ago, one of the units in our building had a fire and we evacuated the building. Our traveling collection had recently acquired new preservation quality boxes, making it easy to grab them and head outside. Which we did without needing to discuss or think about it because fire plus old books is bad and our insurance policy can more easily replace our large collection of modern books than the antique and rare ones. So that went pretty well and we sustained very little damage to our collection, including ones which were left in the apartment because, luckily, the fire didn’t spread far. We only sustained water damage in one room, where we kept comics in comic book boxes and plastic bags. We removed everything as soon as we were allowed to return and some of the boxes got wet but the comics themselves were fine.

We also accidentally dropped one of the rare books down the elevator shaft after we were let back in the building because the elevator was crowded and one of the boxes was knocked over.

DownTheShaft

Our Aldus Manutius

The book was recovered and other than being a little dusty, sustained no damage. And now we have a new story to tell people when they are worried about damaging a five hundred year old book.

We plan to have a more formalized emergency plan (which includes remembering to grab more rare items not part of the traveling collection. Also my phone, which I failed to bring with me in the evacuation because it was charging, leaving me out of contact with the rest of my housemates who were told to go elsewhere.) for the hopefully non-existent future emergencies. In the meantime, we are dealing with after-care to remove the smoke smell from the books with ozone treatment and air scrubbers, and since renovations in the unit with the fire is going to kick up more ash and smoke smell, more ozone or other treatment may be necessary in the future.

Banned books week

I find looking at the lists of banned books over the years interesting; you’ll find whatever the new and exciting title dealing with issues that often get challenged (sexuality, violence, language) but for the most part, you’ll find titles that pop up when they’re new and exciting and then just stay on the radar for years, some disappearing off the lists and then reappearing again.

These books however, feature some quite old challenges. I think my favorite is The Odyssey (Homer) which is the oldest banning on the list, dating back to the reign of Caligula for its expression of “Greek ideals of freedom.” The Odyssey doesn’t seem to get challenged these days, or at least not often enough to make it on to the ALA Banned and Challenged Books  section, (which focuses on the frequent challenge items) but books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain) still get challenged today, and I suspect the thing keeping some of the others on this list off the most frequently challenged books list is lack of exposure rather than acceptance of content.

Don Kelly Research Collection of Gay Literature and Culture

My time at work for the last several months has been taken up with a new collection at Cushing; the Don Kelly Collection of Gay Literature and Culture. It’s not the sort of thing you’d expect to be at a public university in Texas with a conservative reputation (#1 most conservative on the last Princeton Review, if I recall correctly) so we’re all extremely pleased that we were able to acquire it and I’m very proud of being able to have played a part.

Don Kelly started collecting gay literature after he retired from public service and the scope of what he collected spread and grew from a list of “lost gay books” to pulps to poetry to nearly complete runs of gay magazines put out by the activist groups of the 1950s and 60s. And more. He tracks everything on LibraryThing, which has been invaluable for both convincing the university that the collection is important and worth having and also for preparing for the exhibit featuring the collection before we’ve had time to catalog the contents.

I was asked to organize the exhibit, which was both exciting and terrifying, as I’ve never been in charge of an exhibit before. I have good help though, and as far as I (and the people who have done this before) can tell things are proceeding on schedule, so I seem to doing pretty well. I have a catalog to edit and I have a committee who has been helping with research and selection, I’m trying to get everything that I’m responsible for done early just in case there are delays anywhere, and to remember everything that needs to be done so I can make sure someone does it. It’s a great collection and I’ve been enjoying the research. (My having done a lot of research back when we decided that we were going to have the exhibit but before I was put in charge is largely why I was asked to lead the project.) It should be an excellent exhibit.

I still use things I learned from previous jobs

Ada Palmer recently made a post on Tor.com about weird manga and asked me to track down some information for her. She remembered a statistic (and had found an AP news story quoting it) that said manga accounts for almost 40% of all books and magazines published in Japan. So she wanted me to track down the source for this statistic and also to find similar statistics for other countries.

I tackled the second part first, and what I ended up doing was head to the page of business resources for the West Campus Library, which is where I worked before I got the job at Cushing. My primary job responsibilities there were course reserves but I also covered the reference desk and was therefore trained to use the business databases so I would know what resources were available and where I should go to answer questions.

My first thought was to check out the main database for marketing research reports to see what they had on publishing and marketing for books and magazines. No luck there. Next I checked out databases for industry and success! No articles about publishing in the U.S., but I did find reports for Finland and France that mentioned comics in Market Share Reporter, so my first instinct to find market research was correct even though the first database I tried didn’t have what I wanted. (Finland and France list comics as having 5% and 6.1% respectively.)

Next I tried to track down the 40% in Japan statistic. My industry database with Market Share Reporter didn’t have anything on Japan unfortunately. I was able to find the AP article, but the problem with citing the article is that since it’s AP I could find an author (Joseph Coleman) but AP articles are reprinted in many different papers at different times which makes it hard to pin down a date. So I kept looking (and by looking I mean rephrasing my search to get different results in Google) and eventually found the same statistic quoted in Japan Pop!: Inside the World of Japanese Popular Culture edited by Timothy J. Craig. And what was even better is that it had a footnote. Or rather, an endnote, which meant that the source for the statistic wasn’t on the same page. Japan Pop! is not out of copyright which means that not all pages display. Lucky for me, the page that the endnotes seemed to be on was visible. And even luckier, we had the book the citation was from, so I could confirm that it was there (and the endnotes that I found were not a page of endnotes for a different chapter.) And the original citation was in a book by Fred Schodt, so my Google search results had verifiable and reliable information.