Monday, 15 June 2015

Pressed flowers in books revisited

One of the things I'd like to change about my working life is that I don't currently find time to keep up with the research that's being done about, and using, rare book collections.  This is a pretty major omission, really, given that supporting research is one serious why 'my' collection exists and is made available. I'm sure I would be making much better decisions about all sorts of procedures and practices if I had a greater understanding of what academic readers would like to know and the research questions they're trying to answer. And I suspect I may not be the only one who feels like this...

So imagine my delight when a historian friend of mine stumbled across my post from last year about discovering, preserving and describing preserved plant specimens in rare books.  She writes:
I was fascinated by how librarians deal with the issue and just want to say that it would be great if catalogues did mention specimens enclosed in books. You will see why from the attached paper I wrote some time ago - the bit about loose specimens in books is towards the end of the article. The idea that librarians can decide whether a specimen is 'relevant' or not, fills a historian like me with dread! As does moving the specimens from their locations in the book without noting their original location. But I can see that loose specimens would seem a problem to librarians. 
I completely take your point about librarians and lack of time, and the difficulty of coping with something so out of the ordinary realm of cataloguing practice.  But perhaps if they knew that these scraps of plants might have significance this might make them feel it was more worthwhile to add the info to the entry.
The attached paper was:
  • Anne Secord, 'Pressed into service: specimens, space, and seeing in botanical practice', in David N. Livingstone and Charles W. J. Withers, eds, Geographies of Nineteenth-Century Science. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2011, pp. 283–310.
So there you have it folks - it *is* worth carefully recording and keeping this things when we find them. If only there were time and staffing enough to describe all these copy specific features in the detail we'd like to.

If you have other examples of where going the extra cataloguing mile has helped research or other outputs, I'd love to here them.