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What's Your Motivation?

Legacy Libraries

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May 20, 2008, 10:32am Top

I've been asked to write a short article on the Legacy projects for a German antiquarian books journal (the article will be in English) ... the main focus will be on LT's use as a collaborative bibliographic tool and as a medium to encourage the study of books and readership in an engaging and relevant way. I'd like to include some quotes from those who've been involved with any of these projects, and specifically would appreciate any answers to the following questions:

- What motivated you to participate in the Legacy project? (i.e. personal interest in the subject, because it was there, &c.)

- What did you learn from the project?

- What purpose do you think the Legacy project(s) serve (whether to the LT community, the world at large, or any other group)?

Any other comments are welcome as well, of course. Feel free to post here, or leave me a profile comment. In order to make use of these for the article I'll need the comments by 1 June, but of course feel free to contribute after that as well.

Edited: May 23, 2008, 8:08am Top

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May 21, 2008, 2:14pm Top

I originally took on Samuel Johnson’s library because it looked “easy” – there was a fine little monograph written by Professor Donald Greene (USC) in 1975 that suggested identifications for the cryptic book references in the Sale Catalogue produced by Christie’s for Johnson’s estate sale. Thirty years after Professor Greene pored through old bibliographic references for his information, I can sit at my computer and check against the holdings of libraries and museums all over the world to identify the exact edition that Dr. Johnson must have owned. Each book (of about 750) provides its own little puzzle to solve. It’s very satisfying to run each one down.

It was harder work than I expected, and I dropped a note looking for help from the owner of the LT library with the most books by and about Samuel Johnson. This turned out to be moibibliomaniac, an interesting guy who is very active in the Florida Bibliophile Society. He jumped right in. It was a pleasure to work with him, and there’s another reason to take on these projects. You meet the nicest people in libraries.

Finally, I got to reading Boswell again, looking for material to put in the “reviews” for the books. I probably hadn’t cracked that since college days (50 years ago) and I get a little more out of it now. It is amazing to see how much was shared among educated people in the 18C – whether from London or Utrecht or Philadelphia you had a common grounding in the classics. The split between literary knowledge and technology hadn’t occurred yet. I really enjoyed getting immersed in that time again.

I remain, Sir, your obdt. Svt.,

Edited: May 31, 2009, 12:10pm Top

I took on Samuel Johnson's library because it was Samuel Johnson's library, and because larxol promised to buy me lunch if I assisted him. I was working from a copy of the auction catalogue; however I was literally spinning my wheels, trying to find information on books which were inadequately described in the catalogue. Things got easier when I located an inexpensive copy of Greene's annotated guide online. When larxol declared "mission accomplished," I felt a sense of accomplishment because, through LT, we have provided a service to Samuel Johnson lovers everywhere.

Recently, I started working on Charles Lamb's library. Larxol will be helping me, and I didn't even have to promise him lunch either! We are traversing in unchartered waters with Lamb's library though, because Lamb's books were dispersed to kingdom come before a complete inventory or catalogue of his library was ever compiled. When we get done though, I think we will do justice to Charles Lamb, as well as perform a service for Elia lovers everywhere.

May 22, 2008, 1:24pm Top

What motivated you to participate in the Legacy project? (i.e. personal interest in the subject, because it was there, &c.)

My motivations are somewhat "because it was there"-ish. I'm a cataloger by profession and I like the work. I got antsy when I finished entering my own books in, so I offered to enter in the libraries of my friends who lived nearby. This just seems like an extension of that same idea, plus I'm hoping to be able to count the hours I do towards the public service hours required for promotion at my library. I don't have any particular attachment to Benjamin Franklin (the project I'm currently working on), it was just the project that looked like it needed the most help and I had access to the catalog in printed form. In the future, I hope to be able to work on libraries where I have more of a personal interest in the writer or historical figure.

What did you learn from the project?

I've learned a lot of tricks to searching for books through the "add books" Z39.50 connection, which is nice because I always like learning more about the technical side of library catalogs. I've also learned a fair amount about what subjects Ben Franklin was interested in, obviously.

What purpose do you think the Legacy project(s) serve (whether to the LT community, the world at large, or any other group)?

I think they're interesting in terms of the statistics, especially in terms of what books were read or owned 300+ years ago that are still read today. I also think that it could be useful to have this information collected and in an online format, since some of the catalogs which form the sources for these libraries are quite rare or obscure.

May 22, 2008, 4:13pm Top

>4 CharlesLamb:: I was thinking of Provincetown for lunch... when's convenient for you?

May 22, 2008, 4:33pm Top

I found doing some of Jefferson's Greek and Latin a joy because I'm interested in the whole topic of how different cultures have "used and abuse" the classics—I did my undergrad history thesis on the Old South and Ancient Greece. The foundation of that is knowing what they read. 18c. classical reading tastes differed in various ways from our own.

May 27, 2008, 8:55am Top

I was attracted to John Muir's library by his collection of mountaineering books - that and I just like entering books. It makes for an interesting view of a person to peer at them through their books. As most of his books were turn-of-the-century or older I was able to skim through many of them on Google Books.

I agree with Katya0133 on the statistical value and I hope the Legacy project becomes a valuable research reference.

May 30, 2008, 7:57am Top

Not much original to add... what Katya wrote goes for me, too (other than "I'm a cataloger by profession").

Every book to be added is a treasure hunt of sorts, looking for the right edition in any number of libraries. Tagging some books is a research challenge.

(And it's all a cognitive distraction from 'real life', although somewhat weirder that most other people's crossword puzzles, escapist reading, Windows solitaire :)

I do feel like I'm contributing to something lasting.... sometime, somewhere, someone will want to know - out of scholarly, or personal, interest - what poets John Muir read, which Spanish Civil War books Hemingway owned, what Adams read in French. Used to be you'd have to trek to a library in Boston or Washington or London, or try to run down a copy of, say, Millicent Sowerby's book; we're making this information available to anyone, anywhere - and, more importantly, in an easily searchable and browsable form, filled with links, statistics, covers, author info (thanks to LT).

Congratulations in advance on the article, Jeremy.

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