Saturday, July 31, 2010

Senegalese Book Stories

Mr. Mamadou Diouf, a recent graduate from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, is originally from Senegal. We sat down with him recently to speak about books, libraries, reading, and more in his homeland.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Louisville Presbyterian Seminary

The Ernest Miller White Library

One of the locations we visited during the ATLA conference this June was the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Believe me, when librarians go places..., well, they end up going to other libraries! Saturdays at the annual conference usually involve visiting one of the host institutions, and we always visit the libraries! So, this time we pay tribute to the Ernest Miller White Library. E.M. White was the librarian at the seminary from 1945-1985, a rather lengthy and distinguished time. As we took the tour, we were treated to a fine library, complete with a great collection, resource and computing labs, space-saving serials, rare books, and an antiquities display, among other fine items. The images below are in the reading room near serials (and I believe reference), as well as the computer lab.

This was one of my favorite spots: the Bob Benfield Alcove (for) Practical Theology. Who knew that there were alcoves for such things!? Heck, I want my own alcove for Practical Theology!

Above, in the same room. I found these windows to be rather attractive. They turned out to be faux stained glass, which folded out and revealed a clear window--but I was somewhat entranced by their design!

This may be a first for our blog--cuneiform texts! Tablets and Biblios! Certainly, these are relevent precursors to the book, the codex, the scroll. They needed to write somehow in ancient times, and what a way to preserve! I recall once being in a seminar in Jerusalem, in a class in Akkadian studies, and the professor told us about the new technologies used to read these tablets. You see, some of these are actually "letters." And the slightly "bulkier" ones (see second image below) are clay letters wrapped in clay "envelopes." Prior to the modern technology of scanning, these outer envelopes had to be destroyed in order to see the contents of the letters. Now, scientists simply scan the object and get layers of information, protecting the antiquity from destruction.

The immediate image below is Sumerian, and older language than Akkadian.

Near the compact shelving on another floor, there was a fine display of pottery and other items from the ancient world. And at the end of the hall...a rare book room. The E.M. White Library was a fine collection. If you're in the area, take a tour. I can't promise the world to my readers, but I'm pretty sure that you'll find a few curiousities along the way, and maybe a few good ideas. Who knows, maybe one of you will put your morning coffee down, and say, "ya know, I think I need to re-arrange my living room, and finally put up that alcove of practical theology!" You never know.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Louisville Archdiocese Museum and Rare Books

Mother Mary and Benedict Flaget: A Local History

One of the interesting places in Louisville that we discovered in June was the museum of the Archdiocese of Louisville. It was a museum rich with artifacts, statuary, and yes, of course, books. One of the primary highlights of the museum was that of Benedict Joseph Flaget (1763-1850), who had been Bishop of Bardstown and later the Bishop of Louisville. Flaget spent the first part of his life in France, where he was born. He'd taught theology at the University of Nantes for a few years, before the French Revolution. It wasn't until ~1792 that he came to this country, and landed in Baltimore. He moved around a bit among American cities, including Pittsburgh, and over the next thirty years, he moved westward into the burgeoning new country. His travels, ministry, and teaching brought him to Havana, Cuba for a spell, as well as back to France, but he ended up remaining in the United States until his death in 1850.

Images of the museum above. Below is one of several portraits of Bishop Flaget.

One of the most interesting, even stunning discoveries on this visit, was the rare book collection. It was, if I understood correctly, the collection of the Bishop himself! It is an impressive number of rare books, and numbered well into the thousands.

These books, as one of the priests showed us, are housed in an iron vault. The space used to be a bank, and the doors are extremely thick. You can see this in one of the upcoming photos below.

Another portrait of Flaget above. The iron doors below.

The imprint and signiture of Flaget above in one of his books. Another of Flaget's books below (though this appears to be about Flaget).

Above is a lock of Flaget's hair, collected at his death in 1850. Below, is a "host" press--you can see that the waffly communion waffers could be pressed with the image of the crucified Christ, 4 at a time!

We end here with a display case showing off a "monstrance." A monstrance (lit. "to show" or "display") is meant to show off clearly the eucharist. In medieval times, these monstrances held relics. And for those who have traveled to Italy, especially in the south, it is not uncommon to see some monstrances holding such relics. In fact, there is one case, in Lanciano, Italy, (often called the "Miracle of Lanciano"), where the eucharistic host turned into human flesh and the wine into gobules of blood! Nonetheless, these monstrances have played important roles in liturgy and ritual display. Admittedly, this "sociology of religious blood" is a facinating thing, which continues to be part of the cultural design of the human-divine Christologies inhabiting our world and thinking. Perhaps it works, because humans can feel closer to a god/God that has some sort of physical similarity to them, and one who is capable of understanding human suffering? Whatever it is, visiting this small museum will get you thinking about lots of good stuff! We won't worry about bleeding eucharists, though.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Filson Historical Society and Library (100th Article!)

Filson Marks 100th Biblio-Article!

It is with great pleasure that I bring you the grand Filson Historical Society today: now, I did not plan this, but it just so happens that today's article marks the 100th "On Books and Biblios" blog, since our inception back in May 2009! Of course, these sorts of benchmarks are arbitrary, but "100" is such a nice number, and in the blogosphere, there's a bit of a psychological hurdle that you've jumped, once you've blogged for at least a year and have "the century" under your belt. But let this not be a moment to slack under feeling a smidge of minor accomplishment! I hope to keep pushing ahead with many, many, many more pieces about books on the streets, in libraries, in museums, in coffee shops, in cars, in the country, in the world, wherever we can find them!

But now, back to "the Filson," as it is often called. As you can see from the front and back of the historic marker-sign, John Filson (1753-88) was the first historian in Kentucky. Perhaps this meant "the first to write about Kentucky history." Nonetheless, the historical society of Louisville and its building, the Ferguson Residence, are named in honor of Mr. Filson.

My conspirator and co-pilot for the day, the good Rev. Dr. Haverly, enjoyed a moment of pause inside the Filson, with some busty men--some bronzey types, some marbly.

Some images of the many bookshelves in the Filson. The first floor (above) had an old reading library of sorts, along with some sitting and sun rooms. Below is an image of one of the upper floors, where the historical society and research library are located.

Two peculiar yet attractive ornaments in the Filson were these lights fashioned as brass insects: perhaps a grasshopper and dragonfly in Art Nouveau?

Above: a map in one of the research rooms. Below: the film reading room and card catalog.

The research library--seen above and below--was a remarkable place. The reference librarian was very friendly and helpful. Most of the material was arranged by state: yes, that's correct--by state, such as "Virginia," "Ohio," "Illinois," and (of course) "Kentucky." It seemed to deal mostly with states located in the mid-section of the country, which had some associated history to Kentucky. I didn't see any "Alaska" or "California" section, for example.

The top floor was, perhaps, the most important of floors, because it is where the archives are held. The archivist was processing materials, but spoke with me briefly. He was a very pleasant and helpful person, as well. The overall sense that I got was that people around here valued what they had, and they valued what they had, perhaps because they realized the importance of their long and rich history. It's good to know that some places in our archival world are being tended to and preserved, especially amid the complexities of financial crises. The Filson plugs on with a certain clarity and pride that other institutions (especially "local" institutions!) should follow. So let this Club of local history seekers, preservers, and lovers be our beacon for a better future of historical preservation and conservation; a beacon for expanding interest in tending to the past; and perhaps, even a beacon for yet another hundred biblio-blog postings.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thomas Merton Center and Libraries at Bellarmine University


There is a neologism in the English language, which I recently learned called a "snowclone." Yes, the "l" is supposed to be there. A "snowclone" is a word or phrase that is "instantly recognizable" and often quoted or misquoted, and sometimes altered for one's specific needs. So when I offer up "WWTMD?" most of you should recognize the "WWJD?" ("What Would Jesus Do?") provenance, based on a 114 year old book called "In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?" by Charles Sheldon, and later popularized in the 1990s by Dan Seaborn and his bracelet wearing youth group in Holland, Michigan. But the "WWTMD?" snowclone refers to our present topic: Thomas Merton. "What Would Thomas Merton Do?" That's a good question! We know that he did a lot, and that he spent a good deal of time in Kentucky, which is why Kentucky, and specifically Louisville is a prime spot for Mertonians and other visitors interested in the late great monk.

But before I dig too deeply into Merton and the Mertoniana of the day, let me back up and show a bit of the Louisville context. On the corner of a street in downtown Louisville, I think it is 4th Street, there is an historical marker which indicates where Merton had one of his major epiphanies, which was a moment he recognized that he "loved the world." His time in Kentucky was also marked by his time spent at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani. The Thomas Merton Center, which is located at Bellarmine University in Louisville has come to be the official repository of Merton's artistic estate. So a visit to see Mertoniana is a visit to Bellarmine. In these photos you will see various parts of the university, specifically outside of the library.

This very interesting statue is of the Cardinal Bellarmine himself, riding on his trusty steed, named Veritas. Bellarmine was a bit of a doctrinal warrier, so it is no surprise that they've made this statue of him on a horse called "Veritas!" (Truth!)

Inside the fairly new library, we have a wall dedicated to the president's books (i.e. of the university!) It contains mostly faculty publications.

Now back to Merton: A slight confession is probably in order. I was at one time a "Mertoniac"-- a Merton "maniac." Well, that might be a little bit of an exaggeration. But in my youthful days of spiritual wandering, I found interest and comfort in his most elegent and beautiful prose, specifically the wending and often wrenching autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain.

I read this when I was probably about 18 for the first time, and felt a great sense of transformation when reading it. But perhaps it was the power of his writing that made the monastic life seem so glorious, even though it is a book that speaks more of his youth and his relationship with his brother, and growing up. The next time I read it was almost a decade later, and the power of his words was different. It was still a magnificent book, but I received it more flatly, without the sparkle of intrigue and mysticism that I'd found as an 18-year-old.

So when I discoverd there was a Thomas Merton Center in Louisville, I made sure to visit it. And it was no disappointment! As you can see from some of these photos, there are many of his personal items, including his shirt and boots. But so too are there some of his books on Eastern religions and other topics.

Some of Merton's books above. Below, there is a library and reading room devoted to Merton conferences and meetings. In this library there are dozens of dissertations written on the topics of Merton and Merton's thought.

There were a few fine sculptures of Merton in the center. Above is a bust of his head, while below there is a more Buddhistic pose of the monk. Perhaps like all the great figures of history, whom we seek guidance and intercession from, we image and imagine these figures to our liking, making any form of real history or biography difficult to accomplish. There is, admittedly, a certain hagiographic quality that comes with characters like Merton. And the longer they pass into memory, the more exalted they become. So, to ask "WWTMD?"--that's a rather tough question to answer. Probably, he'd do many things. I'm not convinced he'd be a blogger. But he'd continue to be a communicator--to the people, to the world, to God. Then again, I think he's still doing that...42 years after he's left this earth.