Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2005 Issue

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

Terry Belanger of the Rare Book School


By Mike Stillman

Money talks. When he was awarded one of the $500,000 MacArthur Foundation awards, Terry Belanger's name suddenly was heard by all kinds of people with little connection to the world of rare books. Of course, Mr. Belanger was already quite familiar to those deeply involved in the collecting and trading of rare and antiquarian titles. As Director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, there is probably no one more knowledgeable in the field today. Still, just as there is likely no ABAA member or rare book librarian who does not know or know of Mr. Belanger, there must be 10,000 Abebooks and eBay dealers who do not. For them, half a million dollars served as an introduction.

Mr. Belanger received his award for the work he has done in education, for the history of books and printing, rare book librarianship, and antiquarian bookselling. The Rare Book School he heads up is the premier training grounds for those who will continue this mission in the years ahead. However, he is quick to look at the award as recognition of the importance of what he does, not some sort of personal honor. In a sense, this is an award in which all of us who are in some way connected to the preservation of old books share. It is recognition that antiquarian books are more than quaint relics of the past, but a part of who we are, worthy of our efforts at preservation. Of course, only Mr. Belanger gets to spend the money, but spiritually we all share in the prize.

Being named a MacArthur Fellow provided the perfect segue to an interview with Mr. Belanger. Despite being a specialist in things antiquarian, Terry Belanger is equally expert on the issues of today, many of which arise out of the huge technological advances of the past two decades. We asked about current issues and concerns, such as online bookselling, digitization of books, and the role of rare book libraries in a rapidly changing environment. Some of his answers may surprise you. All are worth hearing because, no slight intended, he almost surely knows more about this field than either you or I.

First, for those still unfamiliar, here is a brief account of the Rare Book School and its director. Terry Belanger established the Book Arts Press at Columbia University in 1971, and was serving as Assistant Dean in its School of Library Service in 1983 when he started the Rare Book School. Columbia was considering closing its School of Library Service. The Rare Book School offered an opportunity for Columbia's school to reach and educate others who could not participate in the degree program, providing added justification for keeping the library program alive. The RBS succeeded in educating many times as many students as was possible through the limited access degree program.

Rare Book Monthly

  • Sotheby’s, July 11: Galileo, Document annotated and signed by Galileo, dated Padua, 1595. £500,000 to £700,000.
  • Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Rowling (J.K.) Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, first hardback edition, 1997. £40,000 to £60,000.
    Forum, July 18: Binding.- Lucian of Samosata Opuscula Erasmo Roterodamo interprete, first Aldine edition, Venice, Heirs of Aldus Manutius and A, 1516. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bacon (Sir Francis). De Dignitate et Augmentis Scientiarum Libri IX, Pierre Gassendi's copy gifted him by Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, Paris, Typis Petri Mettayer, 1624. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: Shakespeare (William). The First Part of Henry the Fourth, with the Life and Death of Henry, Sirnamed Hot-Spurre…, Printed by Isaac Jaggard, and Ed. Blount, 1623. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Darwin (Charles). On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, third edition, presentation inscription 'From the Author' in a secretary's hand, John Murray, 1861. £15,000 to £20,000.
    Forum, July 18: Teague (Violet). Geraldine Rede. Night Fall in the Ti-Tree, first edition, Melbourne, Sign of the Rabbit, 1905; and another. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: India.- Primrose (Gen. James Maurice). Collection of 24 original drawings from his time in India with the 43rd Regiment of Foot, circa 1855 to 1864. £10,000 to £15,000.
    Forum, July 18: Manet (Édouard). Trente Eaux-fortes originales, the complete portfolio, Paris, A. Stroelin, 1905. £8,000 to £12,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bible, English. [The Holy Bible], first edition of the King James Bible, the Great 'He' Bible, [Robert Barker], [1611]. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum Auctions
    Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper
    18th July 2024
    Forum, July 18: America.- Mathews (Alfred E.) Pencil Sketches of Montana, first edition, New York, Published by the Author, 1868. £6,000 to £8,000.
    Forum, July 18: Bawden (Edward). Original dust-jacket artwork for 'The Outsider' by Albert Camus, [c.1946]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    Forum, July 18: World.- Fries (Laurent). Tabula Nova Totius Orbis, woodcut map, [c.1541]. £3,000 to £5,000.

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