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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Thrilling, yet disturbing, discoveries in the library.

If you have seen other entries from my blog, you will have seen this image before:

I am using it in my paper that I am writing for the Mapping Medievalism Seminar in the Visual Arts Department. Also, because it represents early American scholarship on the topic of the Norse in America, I thought it should be included in the exhibit that the seminar is putting on in September.

It is a lecture that was given in the late 1830s, almost corresponding with the World Fair in Chicago. It was written and delivered by Asahel Davies. This version is actually the 16th edition, and was published in 1846.

When looking through the libraries catalogue I came upon this title, though I didn't actually see the date. I thought it would be perfect. When I came to realize that it was actually a copy from the first half of the nineteenth century, and that I was going to be allowed to take it out of the library, I was surprised, excited, and a little disturbed.

When I brought it up to circulation the librarian gave me a sideways glance. I don't think anyone has checked this out in at least ten years, and he was clearly not quite certain it should go out. He couldn't really say no. I said to him 'I can't believe I can take this.' He said 'yeah ...' in a trail-y sort of a way, and furrowed his brow.

Don't worry, I took very good care of it. At least I tried to, I very carefully took a picture of the front of the pamphlet, which may have crossed the line librarian-wise, but I think that was okay.

Of course, amongst people who have worked with artifacts, or who are budding librarians, historians or archivists, I have got a very consistent reaction of 'they let you take that out of the library,' to which I usually respond, 'I know, right!' It is now in the hands of Prof. Brush of the Visual Arts department. The thing was, I didn't want to actually return it because I wanted it for our exhibit. I was pretty sure that once it gets back into the hands of librarians it may become locked into the vaults of the archives; accessible, but not available to take home, or handled without the proper supervision. Not at all convenient for my purposes.

In the end, this is the paradox that most librarians, museum experts, and historians find themselves in: we want the artifacts to be properly cared for, and protected ... but not until we have had a go at them.

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