Authored by Miriam Intrator
When people hear the words “rare books,” many envision musty old volumes of literary texts and classic works, often written by prominent white males. As special collections librarian in Alden Library’s Mahn Center for Archives and Special Collections, however, one of my charges is to acquire books that diversify and broaden the scope of the Rare Book Collection. This means seeking out books by and about women, African-Americans, Native Americans, and others whose voices and experiences are often silent or absent from the historical record. Additionally, contemporary “zines” and artists’ books are sought out and purchased.
These are all vital and dynamic teaching and learning tools that can be studied and enjoyed for materiality, structure, format, artistic merit, and content. They also provide models and inspiration for OHIO students who create their own books by challenging them to think about books as physical art objects as well as tools to communicate information.
Below is a tiny sample of newly acquired rare books you can now find in the Mahn Center:
“Bleak House” by Stanley Strauss, a three-part, one-of-a-kind, artist book published in 2014 by Burning Bridges Press in Claremont, California, is an important complement to the 1852 first edition “Bleak House,” still in the original pamphlet installments held in Mahn Center’s Charles Dickens Author Collection. Strauss’s work provides a unique artist’s interpretation of “Bleak House,” as well as a visual interpretation of one reader’s experience of reading Dickens’ text.
“Sunrise is Coming After While” features poems by Langston Hughes, selected by Maya Angelou and illustrated with silkscreen collages by Phoebe Beasley. The contemporary, oversize, fine press book by Limited Editions Club (1998) has a copy number of 79/300 and is signed by Angelou and Beasley. Beautiful and impactful in size as well as in content, this publication fits multiple criteria for inclusion in the rare book collection: signed, numbered and with a limited print run.
The Libraries continues to add historic books to the collection as well. The third edition of “Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Bondswoman of Olden Time,” published in Boston by the author in 1875, constitutes an important contribution by an African American women who was both an author and activist.
Also relevant to women’s history is the 1854 edition of “Sketches of the Lives of Distinguished Females: Written for Girls, with a View to their Mental and Moral Improvement” by American author Ann Hasseltine Judson. Intended for female readers, Judson tells us something about the history of education by and for girls and young women in America. The Ohio School Library binding gives it relevance to the history of education in the state of Ohio as well.
To learn and to see more from the Rare Book Collection, please visit the Mahn Center on the 5th floor of Alden Library, or contact me, Miriam Intrator.