Kyle Roberts and Joshua Arens
Jesuit Libraries Project, see this RIAH blog post from last September). Researching and reconstructing the 5200+ titles in the library catalogue raised fascinating questions about the intellectual and spiritual life of the young Jesuit college. (To learn more about the students’ preliminary answers to these questions, check out the videos of their final presentations). The students’ work also revealed that an impressive number of original library books still survive in the university libraries’ collections.
Frankly, no one had any idea at the start of the Jesuit Libraries Project how many original library books might survive. The question was frequently asked, but there were too many other tasks to complete and no time to come up with an informed estimate. The question came to the fore once again in late September as the students quickly realized when harvesting MARC records that the more surviving books they found in Loyola’s online library catalogue the less guesswork they would have to do on Worldcat. As students shared the results of their first passes at researching their segment of the catalogue it became apparent that a substantial number had survived. By the end of the semester we realized that perhaps over a third (1750/5200) of the original books might still survive in the university libraries’ collections today. Why is this surprising? Primarily because the reconstruction of the catalogue revealed that the vast majority of the books that the Jesuits collected were inexpensive mid-nineteenth-century books – i.e. books mass-produced on that highly acidic, and now brittle paper familiar to all who work on the period. After 140 years of hard use, many should have been lost of disintegrated.
There wasn’t time for the students in the fall course to track down all of these original books, which the
Penn Provenance Project and the Ransom Center’s Medieval Fragments Project in sharing collections and crowd sourcing identifications and transcriptions, we figured we might build off their success using Flickr, the social media image-sharing platform, as an online visual archive. As a popular social media site, Flickr has fostered a participatory culture of information sharing. If there are people out there willing to “favorite” inscriptions in books owned by Penn and translate binding waste in Medieval books at the Ransom Center, we thought, surely there must be students and scholars, collectors and Catholics that would be intrigued by the holdings of a nineteenth-century Jesuit college.
With a platform and a team, we just needed a research process. In January, we began by tracking down approximately 200 books that the online catalogue claimed were still circulating in Cudahy Library, Loyola’s main library. As it turned out, about 30 of these books were either missing or had bookplates from other libraries (and hence would have been acquired by Loyola in the late twentieth century). The next step was to photograph the title pages and ownership marks within these books, as well as illustrations, marginalia, unusual covers, and bindings. Finally, we created a system for organizing, describing, and tagging the books in Flickr. Visitors (of which we hope you will be one) to the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project Flickr site can:
- Browse our photostream and look at individual images: each uploaded image includes a bibliographic description as well as a number of “tags” that you can use to find similar images;
- Explore “sets” with an eye towards particular research questions: images are identified and placed in sets by subject (i.e. theology, history) and types of ownership marks (i.e. inscription, label). Most ownership marks are further separated by “identified” or “unidentified” based on whether or not the mark of provenance in the photograph has been identified;
- Contribute your own expertise: We hope users will make use of the “commenting” function on Flickr to share any knowledge they might have about these books, their ownership marks, or their subject matter. Any information puts us one step closer towards uncovering the history of that particular book and the history of St. Ignatius College’s original library.
On March 8th, the Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project launched with 25 books and 97 images. With 1725 books to go, there will be new uploads every week (with the occasional holiday break). If you don’t have a Flickr account, signing up takes about a minute. You can view all of our images without an account, but “commenting” and other user activities require a Yahoo! Account. (Note: Since Flickr is powered by Yahoo!, if you already have a Yahoo! account you already have a Flickr account). We have found that Google Chrome, Safari, or Mozilla Foxfire tend to work best for Flickr viewing. To learn more or to follow our progress, we hope you will follow our Blog, Facebook, and Twitter pages.
Our long-term goal is for the Flickr site to be an expansive platform that would incorporate images from other Jesuit schools, colleges, and universities. Given the nature of nineteenth-century settlement patterns, we strongly suspect that similar bookplates, labels, inscriptions, stamps, and other ownership marks might be found across these collections. Through Flickr we have the ability to digitally re-unite dispersed collections. Join us!