Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Print Culture in an Early Pacific Northwestern Town

The above advertisement, from the April 9, 1864, edition of the Washington Statesman, provides an interesting glimpse of print culture in the city of Walla Walla when it was a supply center for miners. When vigilantes weren’t busy stringing up horse thieves, they (and perhaps the thieves who were not strung up) could visit their local bookstore and choose from a variety of books and periodicals. They (and others) could also pick up stationery supplies, tissue and sand paper, playing cards, violin strings, pocket knives, “and in fact everything usually found in a Book Store.”

Below is an image of the store, from a map published in 1866.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Great Library of Advertising

In a recent article titled “Good and Evil in the Garden of Digitization,” there are a number of interesting observations about Google Book Search and fair use.

Here is one statement that I thought deserved more attention:

The Google project to copy, digitize, and render documents to the world in snippets, if copyrighted, or full-text, if public domain, is the most recent manifestation of a long-held desire to centralize knowledge.

The author quotes from an article that appeared earlier this year in the New Yorker, “The Search Party,” and points out that it concluded with this quote from Google’s C.E.O. Eric Schmidt: “What kills a company is not competition but arrogance. We control our fate.” (The second sentence in that quote might be considered a bit arrogant, but never mind.) Another significant statement made by Schmidt in the New Yorker article was this: “We are in the advertising business.”

Now what would the Ptolemies have said?

There is an exchange on Google, digitization, and the public good here, in response to Darnton’s recent New York Review of Books essay “The Library in the New Age.”

Link to “Good and Evil in the Garden of Digitization”:

Link to “The Search Party”:

Friday, July 25, 2008

Out of Date Records?

Here is a chilling line I came across while researching the history of our local public library: “all old records that were out of date were approved to be burned.” (This was during the Great Depression, at which time library administrators were dealing with an over-crowded Carnegie library building.) And thus I came to understand why there is a lacuna in the early record of the institution.

Earlier in the century, the library had a policy of burning books that had been used by families during “a period of contagion.”

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Books and the Frontier

In a small bookstore in a small town, I recently found this little pamphlet: The Frontier and American Culture by Ray Allen Billington (California Library Association, 1965).

Here is the concluding paragraph, which summarizes Billington’s thesis:

The pioneers did not want change; the effort of the “better sort” and the common folk alike was to replant in the West the civilization of the East. They failed, for the social environment of the new communities, with its emphasis on the practical, provided sterile soil for the flowering of traditional cultural forms. Instead the realistic value scale of the frontiersman fostered new social attitudes and new literary forms that were better tuned to the world in which they lived. These innovations were the West’s unique contribution to the nation’s burgeoning culture.

The pamphlet has been digitized by Google, but you can’t read it.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Things One Can Learn Online

According to the Wikipedia entry on the Radcliffe Camera, J. R. R. Tolkien “remarked that the building resembled Sauron's temple to Morgoth on NĂºmenor.” That is not mentioned in the “The Readers Guide to the Bodleian Library.” At any rate, here is what the temple—or library, if you prefer—looks like from inside:

For a picture of the outside, see the third image on this post.

A History of Printing and the Rest - Timeline, Map, and More

A History of Printing and the rest

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

At the Bodleian

After delivering a paper on this fellow, and before delivering a paper on this fellow, I have been doing a bit of research at the Bodleian on the latter. I have been working mostly here:

but have also been spending time here:

After reading through numerous papers and books by my subject, I took a break to go read his tombstone:

20 Sep. 1886
15 May 1945

A brief, but revealing, record.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Ring and the Book

The Ring and the Book is the title of a poem by Robert Browning. The title does not refer to anything in the poem itself, but rather to the process behind its composition. In a busy square in Florence, Browning purchased a “book”—a bound collection of pamphlets, some in manuscript and some printed, all concerned with a criminal trial in the 17th century.

It seemed to him that this was something out of which a poem might be made; the unshaped gold of those strange documents turned into a ring of poetry and truth.

From Charles Williams’s introduction to his retelling of Browning’s The Ring and the Book [Oxford, 1934), 8.

Image: Facsimile title page of “The Book.”