Friday, 15 August 2014

August meeting of the Book Committee

At yesterday evening’s Book Committee we received updates on the progress on the cataloguing project, the Portico Brotherton Poetry Prize, and the future exhibitions programme. We also revisited the Committee’s remit, and have sent our agreed version through to the next meeting of the Main Committee for approval. It’s the first time in several years that the Committee’s remit has been formalised in this way, and I am pleased to see this on its way.

Over 17,000 books have now been catalogued, which, with the imminent departure of Kirsten to do a PhD on the future of independent libraries (well done Kirsten!) gives us a revised end date of March/April next year.  Our question about how many books in total (answer: about 25,000) prompted the revelation that the Portico holds a set of Government State reports – not the small, paper bound edition, but the large, leather bound version. We thought these might make an interesting subject for a future exhibition, one that we could get local politicians and parliamentarians involved in, thus getting some active support for the Portico.

As a poet, I have a particular interest in the poetry prize. We received an update on our relationship with the folks over at Leeds who are collaborating with us on the prize, and had a look at the number and geographical spread of the entries so far received. The closing date is not until the 31st August, and as someone who always puts her own competition entries in at the last moment, I was able to say with confidence that we will have a flurry of entries in the final week.

Two interesting items came up under ‘any other business’. Gaskell House would like to borrow two of Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers, Mrs Gaskell’s favourite travel guides. We invited Gaskell House to make a formal request, but in principle this sounds like a good idea, subject to our being able to recall the volumes should a reputable scholar wish to use them for research purposes.

And lastly, Emma produced some stunning fridge magnets, manufactured (if that’s the correct word for something produced in-house) on the premises and shortly to go on sale in the Portico. The images shown came from Specimens of the Sculpture and Painting now remaining in England from the earliest period to the reign of Henry VIII within our collection. They are colourful medieval paintings and I shall certainly be buying one or two – even though my fridge is hidden away behind a wooden door.

These could become a cult object, so make sure you get there first!

Sheila Wild, Chair, Book Committee

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Geography rediscovered at The Portico

Over the past two years, the cataloguing project has uncovered many forgotten treasures on the Library’s shelves, but a particularly exciting discovery was made last week: an entire section of geography books, which had never been added to the card index, and as a result had remained inaccessible to researchers for the past thirty years.

Although the Geography section was listed in the Library’s alpha-numerical classification system under the letter ‘Z’, when the card index was created around thirty years ago, this section was somehow overlooked. As a result, none of the books could be searched for, and they had been left to languish in the stacks ever since.

Despite being a comparatively small section within the Library’s collection, it includes some particularly notable texts that would be of great fascination to those with an interest in the subject, and invaluable to researchers looking into the history and development of geography as a scientific discipline.

A fine example is a 3 volume set written by the eminent Scottish antiquarian and cartographer, John Pinkerton, and published in 1807. Entitled Modern geography: a description of the empires, kingdoms, states, and colonies; with the oceans, seas, and isles; in all parts of the world: including the most recent discoveries, and political alterations, the text opens with a detailed reflection on geography as a discipline of study, and proceeds to provide a comprehensive geographical description of the world. Pinkerton is often credited as having been a particularly influential figure in the development of cartography, exchanging the elaborate cartouches and fantastical beasts used during the 18th century in preference for greater accuracy of detail, and this is clearly displayed in the array of maps found throughout these volumes.

Alexander von Humboldt’s Cosmos: sketch of a physical description of the universe, is another fascinating text discovered within this section.  Hugely popular when it was first released in 1845, Humboldt’s work attempted to apply the ancient Greek view of the orderliness of the cosmos (the universe) to the Earth, suggesting that universal laws could also be applied to the apparent chaos of the terrestrial world. Although many of the ideas contained in the work became somewhat outdated with the advancement of the natural sciences, it made a significant contribution to scientific progress in its conception of the unity of science, nature, and mankind. 

A particularly visually arresting volume is a first edition of Ferdinand von Hochstetter’s New Zealand: its physical geography, geology, and natural history, with special reference to the results of government expeditions in the provinces of Auckland and Nelson. In 1859 Hochstetter was employed by the government of New Zealand to undertake a rapid geological survey of the country, the publication of this beautifully illustrated volume in 1867 provided a more accessible account of Hochstetter’s findings that would be more palatable to the general public.