Library of Lost Books

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I am taking a part in a project called The Library of Lost Books. The Library of Lost Books is a collection of old books withdrawn from Birmingham Public Library, which are being sent to 40 UK artists to be transformed into works of art, to be exhibited as part of the opening festival for the new Birmingham Library in September 2013.

I have just received my book and, as requested, here are my first reactions. I was sent a book called The Use of Books, by Mary Gillespie. It came nicely wrapped in brown paper with string, inside an envelope padded with recycled paper pulp. (I approve of recycled pulp envelopes, even if they always split, smell funny and are very dusty when they split. I have added this one to my compost heap to continue its recycling).

Probably I was sent a book about books because I work in a library. It is a small primer to teach children about how to use libraries and books. It covers such topics as how to use a card index; how to browse bookshelves; Dewey Decimal classification; how to use encyclopaedias, dictionaries, atlases and gazetteers; and how to select books of the appropriate reading level. My colleagues at the University of York Library teach some of these skills to students.

My first reaction, as a cataloguer, is to create an AACR2 catalogue record for it.

Gillespie, Mary – The use of books / Mary Gillespie. – London : Thomas Nelson and Son, [1947]. – The modern school series ; no. 11 – v, 88 p. : illus. ; 19 cm.

I looked it up on Copac and there are a number of copies of this knocking about academic libraries, including at the British Library, Oxford University Library, Cardiff University Library, Leeds University Library and the National Libraries of Wales and Scotland. Copac has the following Library of Congress Subject Headings for this book: Public services (Libraries), Reference books, Libraries and readers, Books, Schools.

My copy has the shelfmark D 028.7. ‘028.7’ is Dewey for something to do with books and I don’t know what ‘D’ means. It has an issue slip on the front paste-down, indicating that the book was added to Birmingham Public Libraries in 1948 and issued once, on 19th June 1949. It also has markings of Birmingham Reference Library, a ‘discarded’ stamp and some sort of accession slip in on the back free end-paper.

This is a book very much of its time. Much, but not all, of the advice given in it is obsolete. It has the slightly patronising tone of children’s non-fiction books of the time. Two library colleagues who I showed it to loved the following quote about browsing: “This moving along the shelves, pausing here and there, is often termed “browsing” because it is something like a sheep’s habit of nibbling a little grass, and then moving on and nibbling a little more”.

On the other hand, it is clearly written and explains things that unlock the world of knowledge of that time: “Through reading the present book any boy or girl of average ability can learn how to choose books and how to obtain information quickly and easily from them. Anyone prepared to pay the price of a little study and practice can have the key to open the door of the world’s greatest storehouse of knowledge”. This might seem irrelevant in the days of Google and instant access to knowledge, but my colleagues who are involved in information skills training at university level have to teach students brought up on Google to learn very similar skills. A key skill for the internet age, which this book hints at, is evaluating information. Understanding the arcane world of library classification and card indexes has its counterpart in learning to use online databases, such as abstracting and indexing services (not everything appears in Google).

I don’t know what I am going to make with this book. One thing which attracts me to it is that it contains a lot of lists, which I like. Here is an example:







I might pull some of the lists out of it and do something with them. Words do quite anarchic things when they are ripped out of sentences.  It would also be interesting to try to update the content of the book for the digital age.

I made a short attempt to track down the author, Mary Gillespie, as the book says nothing about who she was (/is). The Copac records give the name in the form ‘Gillespie, Mary’. I looked this up on the Library of Congress Name Authority File, which should give a unique, controlled form of each individual author’s name, disambiguating people with the same name by including other details such as their year of birth. ‘Gillespie, Mary’ points to an authority record for the wife of Gilbert Laurie of Crossrig, surgeon in Edinburgh, who, with her husband, authored some document or other in 1756 called Unto the Right Honourable the Lords of Council and Session. This Mary Gillespie actually spelt her name ‘Gilespie’ and obviously isn’t ours. There is also Mary Ann Gillespie, aka Annie Gilet, who was named on the title page verso of Les peintres et l’architecture antiqye, by V. Moreau (1984) as ‘assistante au Musée des beaux-arts de Tours’. Then there is Mary B. Gillespie, aka Cécile Gilet, who is cited on p.63 of Gravé d’après, 2004. There are ‘Gillespie, Mary Elsie (White) “Mrs. Hugh B. Gillespie”, 1891- [from old catalog]’ and ‘Gillespie, Mary of St. Angela, Mother, 1824-1887’. There are a couple more, as well, but none seem to be the author of our book. Most of the Mary Gillespies in the Library of Congress Authorities seemed to be actually called Gilet, when you follow the link through, which makes me wonder if the LoC website is playing up, which it quite often does. None of which brings me closer to Mary Gillespie who might or might not have been a librarian in Britain in the 1940s.

Posted in Art

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