So why a treasures volume, then? It is part of Senate House Library’s drive to publicise the value of its collections. Karen spoke of there being a current fashion for such publications, triggered this time around by the Wellcome Institute, and continued by Aberdeen University Library, Guildhall Library, Lambeth Palace Library, and St Andrews University Library. John Rylands Library have a forthcoming volume of their treasures. I was most intrigued by Karen’s comment that the production of a treasures volume is much like the rise of the Special Collections library blog phenomenon – if a library does not produce a treasures volume, the perception is that there are no treasures in its collection. She used an interesting phrase to describe it – “the levelling theatre of the treasures volume”. There’s a research project in that.
Obviously, there cannot be a book without a publisher – Senate House Library signed a contract with Scala. Christopher Pressler had liked the treasures volume compiled by Lambeth Palace Library as an exhibition catalogue for their 400th anniversary exhibition (2010). Scala’s history of working with Special Collections libraries worldwide also counted in their favour. Senate House Library’s contract with Scala was in fact for two volumes, the second being Senate House Library, University of London: Director’s Choice, published last July. This smaller volume features some of the more unexpected and curious items in the Library’s collection. Karen recommended having funding to the tune of some £15000 to £20000 to begin the process of producing a treasures volume, saying that it was normal practice for the institute to buy copies to sell themselves, thus, ideally, making back the money invested. She characterised treasures volumes as a contemporary example of vanity publishing; again, I say there’s a research project in that.
There are several approaches which one may take towards the creation of such a book. The Senate House Library volume opens with Karen’s short history of the Library – her intention was to make said history easily accessible to its readers, saving them from spending their time researching it for themselves. The collections-based focus of the book is contextualised in the introduction, to keep item entries focused on the items themselves. These same items were chosen, not necessarily because they changed the world, more for their role in the Library’s, and University’s, own history, and in pursuit of the creation of a distinctive and unique book. For example, the Library’s copy of the First Folio has not been included given that some 230 copies survive worldwide. Instead, there are items such as a copy of the Malleus Maleficarum selected for its binding and the copy of Salomé that Oscar Wilde inscribed for Aubrey Beardsley. I had a quick glance through a copy of the book, and immediately fell in love with the scroll depicting the funeral procession of Anne of Cleves (c.1557); you can imagine my delight, then, to find that the original was actually in our seminar room, scrolled to a scene depicting musicians and heralds. I’m not going to say more about what is in the book; you’ll have to get your own copy to see all sixty treasures for yourselves.
Karen had a lot of advice for anybody planning to publish their a volume of their own library’s treasures. Here are just some examples:
Senate House Library have a lot of plans following the publication of their treasures volume. They are looking to generate more publications, to learn and teach more about their collections. Karen emphasised that this volume is no mere coffee table book. If you already have your copy, and you are hungry for more, the Senate House Library blog will do a feature on one of the 60 treasures in the book every fortnight. I have kept the best news until last – the book is supported by an exhibition, Treasures of Senate House Library, which started last week and ends on 13 July. Unfortunately, I was not able to stay to visit the exhibition after our seminar, but it’s jumped to the top of my list of my exhibition to-do list.
I would like to thank Dr Karen Attar for a fascinating and highly informative afternoon and Tanya Kirk of the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections for organising this event and for bringing some truly wonderful biscuits.