Digital personal library catalogs

I’m currently working on a project with a retired librarian and the Edna St. Vincent Millay society to catalog Millay’s books, which have been in her library at her home Steepletop in Austerlitz, NY since her death in 1950. You can see a description of the project on Digital Humanities Commons at dhcommons.org/projects/edna-st-vincent-millay-personal-library-catalog, and you can see the preliminary result of our data entry from an existing inventory on Zotero at zotero.org/groups/steepletop_library. (Note that this hasn’t yet been checked against the actual books.)

Specifically, what I’d like is some advice from librarians, archivists, and (if any are around) preservation specialists and/or rare books folks. Suggestions for systems, procedures, readings, experts? It’s unusual for a personal library of someone renowned to remain together in this way for so long, and to me the collection seems like half a library and half an archive: the books have marginalia, of course, but I’m told they also have inclusions such as letters and photographs. Therefore it’s a little hard even to know whom to consult. So far the most helpful publication I’ve found about how to deal with personal libraries is this one: Nicholson, J. R. “Making Personal Libraries More Public: A Study of the Technical Processing of Personal Libraries in ARL Institutions.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts and Cultural Heritage 11.2 (2010) : 106. Would also love to brainstorm some research questions that could be asked of such a catalog: I’ve got some already (how many books by women? etc.) but would be happy to hear more, since that could affect the final form of the catalog.

More broadly, of course, we could talk about other ways digital tools have been used with respect to personal libraries — possibilities and pitfalls. The Library of Congress did some neat stuff with visualizations of Thomas Jefferson’s library, and LibraryThing has a lovely project called Legacy Libraries where volunteers do data entry, sometimes from several different sources, to recreate personal libraries. Anyone else think this is, well, neat?

Categories: Archives, Libraries |

About Amanda French

(Please ask any THATCamp questions on the THATCamp forums at http://thatcamp.org/forums — I’m no longer THATCamp Coordinator.)

I am now a member of the THATCamp Council, and I am the former THATCamp Coordinator and Research Assistant Professor at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, in which capacity I provided support for THATCamp organizers and participants, maintained http://thatcamp.org, traveled to some (not all!) THATCamps, and directed large-scale projects such as the Proceedings of THATCamp. Before that, I worked with the NYU Archives and Public History program on an NHPRC-funded project to create a model digital curriculum for historian-archivists. I held the Council on Library and Information Resources Postdoctoral Fellowship at NCSU Libraries from 2004 to 2006, and afterward taught graduate and undergraduate courses at NCSU in Victorian literature and poetry as well as in the digital humanities and in advanced academic research methods. At the University of Virginia, while earning my doctorate in English, I encoded texts in first SGML and then XML for the Rossetti Archive and the Electronic Text Center. My 2004 dissertation was a history of the villanelle, the poetic form of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”