BPL Trip Reflection–Katie Stiles

Visiting the archive at the Boston Public Library was like nothing I had ever seen before. I have never been exposed to books that old, frail, or valuable before. That being said, seeing the books on the table and knowing they were hundreds of years old and belonged to authors, editors, and others from the 1600s seemed to add an extra layer of caution to the process that was not at all captured in doing digital document analyses.
Having to walk all the way through the long corridors of the library and up the grand stair cases to get to the rare books room was a dramatic lead up to begin our day at BPL. By the time we all made it to the actual archive, we could see the books laid out and set up on book wedges ready for our curiosity to flip through their tired pages. That’s what I found to be most surprising from this trip—the feel of the pages was heavy and thick, but delicate and brittle at the same time. The thick leather covers looked indestructible by also like a piece of wet cardboard ready to bend or break at any minute.
Prior to the trip to the BPL, we had all only looked at documents on a computer screen and were able to successfully and completely get all of the information we needed in order to perform an accurate document analysis; similarly, we were all able to do this at the library seeing the books in person. What really makes the process different is actually touching the books. When flipping the pages you can feel the history in each piece of paper as you move it—something impossible to do when clicking the “next” button on EEBO.
I also found it interesting to see the pamphlet bound into the book. That type of manufacturing is not something that can be appreciated when using an online database. When looking at that book with the inserted pamphlet pages, you can almost imagine the man taking each leaf of the pamphlet and pasting it into the book pages.
Those types of findings are what made this experience memorable. The unique binding of books, the marginalia, the notes, the way the book felt and looked. Each of these books had a personality that was enhanced by its yellowed pages, frail texture, and overall look. That personality was not captured at all when we examined the cover pages on the online archive. However, I am not sure how much the personality of the book really did play into what information we needed to get out of them. Yes, I think that for other projects that do a more holistic analysis of the book, including the look and feel of the book, this in-person archive would be of much more value. But for us, and our purposes at the moment, I think the same information was captured in our document analyses, regardless of whether we saw the book in person or online.
The library added the extra layer, though. True, seeing the documents in person wasn’t necessarily captured in our document analyses, but I think being exposed to what these books are actually like was a valuable experience that made me appreciate what I see online more. Now I know the general texture and appearance of what I see on my computer screen. And if I am ever able to use that knowledge in the future—I think it will be an excellent addition to whatever project I am working on.
Lastly, I think that this trip has provided a lot ideas for updating our document analysis worksheet. Including a section on the look or condition of the book may help to finish the story behind the document. This may better capture the true feeling of each book, which would add a new dimension to the document analysis that we are currently working with.


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