My name is Dalia Garcia and I am about to complete my MSc Information and Library Studies at Robert Gordon University. Looking back now I can say studying this course has been one of the best decisions I have ever taken, and my placement has contributed in great part to making me feel this way. I was lucky enough to be accepted as a placement student at the University of Aberdeen Special Collections Centre, situated on the lower ground floor of The Sir Duncan Rice Library. I was there for the month of April in a full-time learning position, under the supervision of Keith O’Sullivan, Senior Rare Books Librarian, and Jane Pirie, Rare Books Cataloguer.
I had the privilege of seeing such a dream team as the University of Aberdeen Museums and Special Collections working together on their day to day tasks of facilitating research through their books and archives, cataloguing and classifying documents and historical artefacts, restoring and preserving fragile items, organising talks, exhibitions, festivals, reaching out to the community and using the treasures they take care of to do so. They are the busiest team you can imagine working in perfect symbiosis with the help of a few caring volunteers.
My task, apart from observing and realising all these activities, was giving them a hand with two bibliographic projects: Stationers’ Hall music and David Daube’s collection. I will let you know a bit about both and some curiosities I found out along the way.
David Daube was a Jewish jurist; he was born in Germany in 1909 but fled the Nazis and established himself in England, obtaining his doctorate on Roman law in Cambridge where he was also lecturer. In 1951 he became professor of jurisprudence at the University of Aberdeen. Years later he would go away to be professor at Oxford and Berkeley, and received many honours worldwide as he was considered to be one of the most eminent lawyers and experts on Roman law, the Talmudic law and New Testament studies. He died in 1999 and his family donated his extensive book collection to the University of Aberdeen, where he held his first chair.
His collection, mostly 20th century books of scholarly nature, reflects his interests, his fields of research and the languages he spoke, so the collection is split into English, German, Hebrew, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Latin works.
In this case I had the pleasure of recording data from his German books, and while going through them, there are always bits and pieces that you can find that help you build an image of the person behind the books. He used to enclose items inside them and it ends up feeling like a quite intimate work as you find annotations, letters, postcards, pictures, pressed flowers, inscriptions, etc. By the end of the month it felt like I knew David Daube a little bit. He clearly was a beloved professor as many friends and fellow scholars around the world wrote to him and sent him books and postcards like the ones you can see in this example of items coming from China, all of them found inside that book.
His interests were varied, and not all his books are related to law, here in this picture you can see some pressed flowers found inside a botanical volume, but a few more plants have been found and not all of them in botanical books, so this reveals a love for nature. The plants were sealed and protected by Book Conservator Brannah Mackenzie and left inside the books.
His interest in language is obvious but it is lovely being able to see his learning process. In this case, I find it really sweet as a Spanish person myself to see he used Cervantes’ Don Quixote to learn the language; it is easy to follow all his notes as he wrote down the words he didn’t know from every chapter.
I have also learnt some curiosities about two women I never knew before, in this next picture Max Weber’s wife, Marianne Weber. I had heard lots about Max Weber and his work, but I had no idea he owed so much of his fame to his wife, who was an author in her own right, as well as a sociologist and women’s rights activist. It was great finding husband and wife’s books reunited thanks to Daube’s collection.
Inside another one of Daube’s books, I saw this unusual pastel portrait by La Tour titled “Mlle Ferrand Meditating on Newton” and digging up a bit it turns out that she was a renowned French philosopher and helped the Bonnie Prince hide in France. Who knew!
The other project, the Stationers’ Hall collection, part of the United Kingdom’s Historical Copyright Music Collections, counts a large number of volumes of late 1700’s and early 1800’s sheet music. The University of Aberdeen, or King’s College Library at that time, was a legal deposit library under the 1709 Copyright Act so they would receive a copy of most of the music registered at Stationers’ Hall.
Not every university library received the same music and obviously not all the music received has equally survived the passage of time so it is really important that these surviving works are catalogued and made accessible for future research. There is a project called “Claimed from Stationers’ Hall” led by investigator Karen McAulay, a postdoctoral researcher and librarian, whose aim is to study the legal deposit music and its wider picture across the UK. The research can be followed through her Twitter @ClaimedStatHall or her blog .
My job was to catalogue some of the music scores bound together in different volumes and, as I had never catalogued music before, Rare Books cataloguer Jane Pirie patiently taught me how to use catalogue records from other universities like St. Andrews, Glasgow and Oxford as guidance. As I did when recording Daube’s data, with Stationers’ Hall I realised how important attention to detail is and how careful you need to be when counting pages or parts of a score. Never judge a book by its cover!
There is an incredibly rich history behind these printed sheets, not only about the history of music and copyright in the UK but also about printmaking, calligraphy design, literature, social class, ownership, etc.
Just as an example of little details I found out, here you can see one of the songs using Lord Byron’s poetry as lyrics, which I had no idea it had been used in this way, but it was a common practice at the time, not only with Lord Byron’s but with many other writers’ work.
The great majority of named women were dedicatees though some songs were written by Mrs Joanna Baillie or Mrs Turnbull for instance; or sung by Fanny Woolham, Miss Russell, Mrs Fitzwilliam, etc. Whenever I have time I will go back and research about these women. An interesting dedicatee for instance was Lady Burghersh, whose biography I looked up because the music sheet said Scotch Air and that was the only ‘scotch’ one I came across. She was a British artist and linguist, some of her artworks can be found online but she is best known for her correspondence with the Duke of Wellington. I do love finding out about artists!
As mentioned above, I could make of this post a never-ending matter if I keep writing about all the interesting facts I learnt while working on these beautiful bibliographic projects. This is just a tiny fraction of the treasures that await researchers and I hope this gives everyone an insight into the importance of recording data and cataloguing, collections are not only about preservation but also about making them easily available through OPACs.
As part of my placement, I was able to visit other University of Aberdeen branch libraries like the Medical Library at Foresterhill and the Taylor (Law) Library, and also had a chance to engage with different TSDRL staff like the Information Consultants, the Serials team and the Library Systems support team. I am really grateful to all of them as well for their inductions and the time they kindly dedicated to show me how their day to day works.
This gratifying experience has helped me in an academic way because I now know way more about librarianship than I did a month ago, though it has mainly helped me in a personal way by reinforcing my idea of becoming a librarian and supporting my belief that libraries and librarians are now needed more than ever, in spite of/precisely because of challenging current affairs.