Yesterday, as part of the InfoSoc committee my classmate Kate and I organised a field trip to Marsh’s Library. The library was established in 1701 by (the somewhat unfortunately named) Archbishop Narcissus Marsh and it was the first public library in Ireland. It stands today like something trapped in time; the building itself has changed somewhat over the years but in the first gallery the books still sit almost exactly the way they did back in the 1700’s. It is an amazing feeling when you walk in and see the beautiful wooden bookcases and see the old bindings for the first time, you can sense the history! Funnily, if these books could talk they’d have amazing stories to tell, regardless of their content. The books have seen visits from the likes of Bram Stoker and James Joyce. They have been shot at during 1916 and have the bullet holes to prove it. It was a truly fascinating trip.
However, I did leave feeling somewhat saddened; the MLIS course in UCD no longer offers a module in Rare Books and I think that this is a pity. We were lucky enough yesterday that Maria kindly brought us some books to look at in more detail, she gave us a short history lesson on bindings and ink but really this is a subject I would love to study in detail. I know that technology is growing increasingly important in our field but librarians still deal with books too and I sometimes think that the books are being neglected in this course. Now I realise there probably aren’t many people who have an interest in this area but, for those of us that do, it is a real missed opportunity.
At the end of the day I think there are still reasons for study in this area. Although you might not get the opportunity to work with rare books, it is good to have some knowledge of the history of books and in essence the history of the profession. Books and manuscripts are where in all began for us. You can learn a lot from rare books, not least from what they actually contain, but also history of ink, bindings, printing, rights and ownership, annotations in the margins…..the list goes on. And, to be honest, there seems to be a consensus that rare books are important and need to be preserved for future generations. There are efforts being made to catalogue these books to indicate provenance and all the other important information and to digitize these books to make them more accessible. For one such project see Irish Script on Screen, and there is another project getting underway this summer. I know funding is an issue, but funding is an issue everywhere and I think there will be jobs in this area in the future. Let’s face it these books have made it 400 years and they’re still here. Eventually funding comes from somewhere!
Basically, I believe there will be opportunities for people in digitzing these types of materials. I would like to see librarians have a part to play in this and I would like to see those librarians trained correctly in order to understand the books and how to treat them. These books are parts of history; they have been and will be around far longer than you or I and therefore we must do our best to appreciate them and protect them.
It’s too late for me (its something I would love the opportunity to do in the future and I will study on a personal level) but bring it back for the future library students! Even an optional day course at some point in the year would be beneficial.
My final note is just to say, if you get the opportunity to go visit Marsh’s, please do. It’s €2.50 for adults and worth every penny! But bring a coat. it’s pretty cold! We have to preserve the vellum binding, don’t you know!