Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2005 Issue

An Interview with Terry Belanger of the Rare Book School,<br>Recipient of $500,000 MacArthur Award

Noimage

none


We then asked Mr. Belanger outright whether he considered digitization a threat to rare book libraries. This is not a new topic, as he has been addressing the issue for the past couple of decades. He sees this as a balance between the need to preserve original materials, the need to make their contents available to as many people as possible, and the reality that the local funding needed to support collections in rare book libraries is, in many cases, drying up. Digitization means, in the eyes of some institutions and contributors, less need to fund rare book collections. Mr. Belanger explains, "Perhaps the single greatest challenge rare book libraries have always faced is that their holdings, however important a part of the world's cultural patrimony, must almost always be supported locally. Throughout much of the twentieth century, American university research libraries were typically housed within institutions with ambitions to grow and improve themselves. The argument, 'our library is bigger than your library,' could be - and indeed was - used in much the same way as the argument 'our football stadium is bigger than your football stadium' was used; and research and rare book operations had a lot of support at the local level.

"The digitization of original research materials is changing the rules. Now, it's the number of online services a library subscribes to that's more likely to be the selling point, rather than simply the number of books the library owns. The scene began to alter significantly in the 1980s; by the 1990s, most American rare book and special collections were growing faster than their staffs, a situation that has continued and worsened in recent years. When measured against the growing size of collections, institutional support for rare book libraries is declining.

"I don't know that rare book libraries will change significantly what they do. They will continue to try to preserve original materials and make them accessible, just as they've always done. Their strong current emphasis, reasonably enough, is on making original materials more accessible through digitization. But be that as it may, collectively speaking, rare book libraries are not thereby absolved of their responsibility for the physical care of the original materials in their possession." He concludes, realistically and, undoubtedly, prophetically, "It's going to be tough."

As we said, this is not the first time Terry Belanger has spoken about the changes that electronic copies would bring to libraries. In 1991, he gave the Malkin lecture (still at Columbia then) on the topic of "the future of rare book libraries," and his words were as predictive as they were blunt. At the time he said, "I am convinced that rare book libraries both in the United States and worldwide are in fact at the beginning of a succession of cataclysmic transformations. The most important of these changes will be caused by the increasing disinclination of most general research libraries over the next several decades to continue to maintain large, permanent collections of paper-based books of any sort, rare or non-rare."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

Article Search

Archived Articles

Ask Questions