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Now I know why they call it the Windy City: a visit to Chicago

May 20, 2014 4 comments

A travel report from Rob:

My first visit to the Windy City couldn’t have been more enjoyable, although it only lasted a couple days. My first library visit was with Paul Gehl at the Newberry Library. They had a lovely exhibition (titled Plainly Spoken) organized by the Midwest Guild of Bookworkers, which showed 17 different bindings of sections of Julia Miller’s incredibly detailed bookbinding handbook Books Will Speak Plain. You can check out the online description here.

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While visiting with Paul, I brought our copy of the 1824 edition of Peter Cottom’s Whole Art of Book-Binding. By total coincidence, a previous owner wrote on the front pastedown, in pencil, “Newberry Lib has 1811 English first”. This prompted us to do some searching  and eventually we got to look at the first known manual of bookbinding in person. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

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The second stop was in Chicago’s South Side where I would meet with Alice Schreyer and Daniel Meyer of the University of Chicago. What followed was one of the most detailed library tours I have ever taken. The U of C library does not use off-site storage, quite the challenge for a collection of  over 10 million volumes. So the library constructed an underground storage area in the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, which houses a very advanced automated retrieval system complete with robotic cranes. This monster project took three years from 2008 – 2011, with the final volume being added in 2013.

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The trip wouldn’t be complete without food! I went to the James Beard award-winning restaurant Blackbird (twice!), Buddy Guy’s Legends, and sampled a good ol’ fashioned Chicago deep dish pizza.

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Adventures in Kentucky

September 17, 2013 Leave a comment

It all started because my wife Millie wanted to visit her old homestead in Flat Lick, Kentucky, a tiny community founded before 1784 in the southeastern part of the state. She hadn’t been back for many years, so how could I refuse the request? However, being a true bookman, I immediately started thinking about how I could combine book adventures with family visiting.

I really can’t stand driving for long periods of time so each part of our trip had to be restricted to about 5-hour driving sessions. A really bright book spot in Kentucky is the University of Kentucky’s Special Collections and its curator extraordinaire, Jim Birchfield. That had to be our first stop. But Lexington was 11 hours away from New Castle, Delaware which meant I had to find a place halfway between to spend a night.  MapQuest told me that Morgantown, West Virginia, was my halfway mark. I searched for a downtown hotel near the waterfront and found the Hotel Morgan.

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The hotel was right next to the Morgantown History Museum so we visited that and were pleasantly greeted by a full printing shop set up, along with other interesting historical displays. I had forgotten most of my knowledge of West Virginia history (if I ever had it) so the history of this state was really interesting. After the museum, we discovered that one of the best restaurants in the city was on the top floor/roof of our hotel. The night was perfect, weather-wise, so we scheduled ourselves for dinner on the outdoor patio overlooking the town and Monongahela River.

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The next day we left for Lexington to visit Jim Birchfield. At his recommendation we stayed at the Gratz Park Inn, a boutique hotel in the center of Lexington filled with horse racing memorabilia.

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Jim picked us up the next morning and gave us a tour of UK’s Special Collections. We started in the very large, multi-roomed basement with the King Library Press, the famous printing office established by Victor and Carolyn Hammer in 1956. Dr. Paul Holbrook, who has been associated with the Press for many years, was there and gave us a personal tour and history.

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Jim took us to lunch in the facility dining room and we swapped book stories as always happens when bibliophiles get together. It is so nice to talk with librarians who are just as involved with the love of books.

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As we were leaving the dining room, Jim called us back and said he had the perfect photo opportunity for us. He brought us over to the wall outside the dining room and told Millie and I to stand there while he took a picture.

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There we were standing in front of the portrait of Dave Roselle, former President of the University of Kentucky, but more importantly, former President of the University of Delaware. We had gotten to know Dave and Louise Roselle over Dave’s many years at Delaware. He was responsible for helping convince Frank Tober to donate his magnificent collection of literary forgery to the University. Dave is now Director of Winterthur after being coaxed out of retirement. I emailed him this picture and told him how many Kentuckians remembered him with great fondness. Kentucky named one of their buildings after him in 2011. Dave emailed back recalling his days in Kentucky.

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The afternoon was spent visiting a few sights and a bookstore. We visited Mike Courtney at Black Swan Books where, of course, I bought a book! I wished that I had time to visit Glover’s Bookery but time ran out.

The next day saw us travel to Louisville which is only about an hour away from Lexington. I had done a great deal of business with a very pleasant bookseller in Louisville by the name of Charles Bartman. We had never met in person and all our business had been done via phone and email. While planning our trip and I asked him if it would be possible to visit him. He said that his books were in a garage attached to his home but that I was welcome to visit.

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We were a bit anxious that Millie would be bored as I looked at books. Boy, were we wrong! Charlie and Bonnie met us at door and the conversation didn’t stop for a minute. They love to travel and so do we, so we had lots of foreign places to talk about. As lunch time approached, they said that they had prepared lunch for us rather than have us all go out and asked “Do you drink Cava?” These are my kind of people! I bought lots of books (nothing to do with the Cava I’m sure) and we just had a great time. This is what bookselling is all about – making new friends.

We were then off on our 3 hour trip to Flat Lick, taking back roads through scenic hills.  Millie got to see her aunt, brother, and various cousins, and catch up with the local gossip. She was especially nostalgic about her old school building which now stands abandoned and for sale. I wanted to show a picture of her standing in front of it with the caption “Millie considering a major renovation project” and see if we could get her relatives interested but then had second thoughts.

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Finally it was time to say goodbye to all the relatives and head back to Delaware. We decided to travel the Virginia route on the way home so out came MapQuest again and there was Lexington, Virginia at the halfway mark. We drove through the Cumberland Gap following the reverse course of Daniel Boone, through Tennessee and up to Lexington, Virginia. We had time to tour Washington and Lee University and its museum devoted to Robert E. Lee (and George Washington). The bookstore there had a rare book section of books for sale concerning Lee and Washington. I think this is the first time I have ever seen a selection of rare books for sale in a museum bookstore.

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We had drinks at the restaurant next to the hotel and Millie quickly struck up a conversation with two locals. They told us about a restaurant in the historic part of Lexington. We got to the restaurant, got the last table on the outdoor porch overlooking the main street, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The cadets from Virginia Military Institute were all dressed in their uniforms and enjoying the beginning of their new school year –  some cadets enjoying it more than others by the sounds of it.

The next day took us up Virginia to Washington and Baltimore. We had lunch in the historic town of Havre de Grace sitting on the patio while watching the Susquehanna flow by. It was a perfect ending to a perfect trip.

-Bob

Rob’s Visit to Rutgers

September 16, 2013 Leave a comment

rutgersI met my wife at the University of Delaware during the fall semester of 2005. She was an out-of-state student from Staten Island, NY and during our time off from school we would travel up and down the New Jersey Turnpike to visit each other. In my case, anytime I approached exit 9, I knew that I was almost there (I took exit 10 for Staten Island). I had never stopped there other than to get an emergency fill-up of my car’s gas tank.

Fast forward eight years later and I finally get to stop in New Brunswick to see the campus of Rutgers University.

As I say goodbye to the employees of Oak Knoll , I get a familiar tune stuck in my head as I make my way down the elevator.

“On the road again,
Just can’t wait to get on the road again”

Upon my arrival, I met Ronald Becker, Head of Special Collections, and Timothy Corlis, Head of Preservation, for a lovely lunch at the faculty cafeteria.

Afterwards we headed back to the Archibald S. Alexander Library where I received a tour of Special Collections as well as the preservation room. Rutgers has an outstanding collection of New Jerseyana and an impressive collection on the history of the railroad.

In the preservation room I was introduced to their newest toy: a high resolution, floor-to-ceiling mounted preservation camera. I was also shown how boxes are custom made for a variety of materials, including Rutgers’ lovely collection of woodblocks as well as a Civil War-era officer’s hat.

After my tour I showed some New Jersey-related material that I brought with me and Ron picked out some items to add to the library’s collection. I took a few exhibition catalogues and made my way back to the shop.

My next adventure will be in mid-October. I’ll be visiting Temple University (and perhaps another institution which I will reveal then as well), so keep an eye out for another travelogue!

-Rob

Bob’s Speech: Tales of Collectors and Their Library Beneficiaries

November 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Bob recently gave a presentation at the University of Delaware titled “The Gift that Keeps Giving: Tales of Collectors and Their Library Beneficiaries in America.” The speech covered many collectors including A. Edward Newton, Thomas Winthrop Streeter, Arnold Leibowitz, Josiah Kirby Lilly, Jr., Thomas J. Wise, and more. Bob also discussed the responsibilities required by the collector in choosing a library to support his or her gift and the responsibilities of the library in encouraging collectors. Below are some photographs taken from the event, given to us by Susan Brynteson from the University of Delaware. Thanks, Susan!

It looks like a great evening was had by all! If you’re interested in learning more about Bob’s speech, click here to view his slide presentation, or click here to see the text of his speech.