Introducing This Year’s Blog Theme: 52 Weeks of Reading the Collections

Thursday 29 January 2015

‘You work in a library? It must be lovely to get to read books all day.’

Anyone who works in any kind of library has surely encountered this reaction more than once. And sometimes it’s challenging to respond tactfully, when what you have spent all day doing is frantically trying to finish a complicated report and produce statistics.

Now that Dr Norman Reid has retired as Head of Special Collections and is on research leave, he actually has time to read books all day. Photograph by Peter Adamson.

Of course we do lots of fun stuff every day too, but opportunities to sit down and actually read the amazing things in our collections are very rare treats – maybe when preparing for teaching a class or researching an exhibition, or to answer a detailed enquiry. So when we were casting around for a blog theme to follow our very successful and enjoyable 52 Weeks of Historical How-To’s, the idea of committing to exploring the textual content of our collections was very appealing.

Book stacks_1
All these books just waiting to be read …

So in 2015 we will be Reading the Collections. The notion is that contributors will read the entirety of a work held in Special Collections. As we can’t take these books home to read on the bus or in the bath, lengthy works may need to be read in digitized form or a modern edition (note to concerned managers: we aren’t really going to be spending all our working hours reading), but everyone will spend some time with the original. Then we will post a review, or a personal response to the text. The emphasis will be on reading for pleasure, but posts will include some historical, literary, or artistic context too. I’m delighted that we have managed to convince some keen readers from other sections of the Library to join us in our endeavour, so there will be an even wider variety of insights and experiences to be shared.

ms38244 Lang photo_1
Andrew Lang, reading. Photograph by Frederick Hollyer, 1884. ms38244.

Some people are viewing this blog theme as an incentive to read something they’ve never read before – and there have been a couple of challenges between colleagues to pick up something formerly dismissed with contempt, but never read – while others want to share an old favourite, and luxuriate in reading a first edition or original manuscript of something previously only encountered in paperback or pixels.

Mrs Adamson_1
Mrs Adamson, reading. Photograph by Dr John Adamson, 1864. ALB-1-60.

While to some extent this theme encourages rummaging for escapist novels, from the works of Ann Radcliffe to yellowbacks, there are plans to feature more canonical writers too. Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson and Virginia Woolf are all on the list, as is the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and Douglas Dunn. Other themes already emerging as people sign up are travel and exploration literature, minutes of student societies, manuscript letters and diaries, and an intriguing number of non-textual projects, including ‘reading’ photographs and maps. The series will launch next week when the new Head of Special Collections reflects on reading Peter Pan for the first time.

Johnson Portrait from Fle PR3520_1
Samuel Johnson, reading. But please, never hold a book like this. From The Works of Samuel Johnson (London: J. Buckland, 1787), volume 1. Fle PR3520.D87.

For a group of insatiable readers, this promises to be a stimulating and invigorating year. It’s also, more seriously, an opportunity to learn more about what we have here in Special Collections and why it’s important. We hope to highlight particular treasures, and to engage with our collections intellectually and imaginatively. I hope our enthusiasm will encourage readers of the blog to seek out copies of some of the texts we feature and read them for yourselves.

So, are you sitting comfortably?

-Elizabeth Henderson
Rare Books Librarian

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9 thoughts on "Introducing This Year’s Blog Theme: 52 Weeks of Reading the Collections"

  • Karenmca
    Thursday 29 January 2015, 11.20am

    See, another brilliant idea from the clever people at St Andrews! I look forward to reading these posts. Now, would it be possible to PLAY some music in your new research reading room?? (When no readers were about, of course ...)

  • Carricklass
    Thursday 29 January 2015, 12.26pm

    What a great theme and a delight for the staff who work amongst some amazing material. I don't work in a Special Collections area, though in the Medical Library we have some ancient tomes, and I often promise myself to dip into them, but never seem to get the time. So, good luck to you all. Looking forward to the blogs that follow. Mary.

  • DesignsbyJeanneR
    Thursday 29 January 2015, 12.42pm

    Great post, & I enjoyed your collection of old photos. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Anabel Marsh
    Anabel Marsh
    Thursday 29 January 2015, 2.56pm

    Fascinating! I don't know whose idea these blog series are but I'm sure there's someone behind them who could write a great 23 Librarians post! Please get in touch if so (*pushes luck frantically*)

    • St Andrews Special Collections
      St Andrews Special Collections
      Thursday 29 January 2015, 4.43pm

      Hi Anabel, I'd be happy to talk to you about these, send me an email at [email protected] (Daryl Green, Rare Books Librarian)

      • Anabel Marsh
        Anabel Marsh
        Thursday 29 January 2015, 5.44pm

        Will do, thanks Daryl!

  • JennyOH
    Thursday 29 January 2015, 7.06pm

    Looking forward to this, I enjoyed the Historical How-Tos series very much.

  • Cherrie Zell
    Cherrie Zell
    Thursday 29 January 2015, 7.45pm

    I was disappointed to arrive late to last year's Historical How-Tos, so delighted to be here for the beginning of this task you've set for yourselves. It's a great idea and one that many of us could adapt to our own lives. How many of us have books scattered around our homes that could be re-visited or, in my case, read for the first time! Looking forward to Peter Pan next week.

  • Echoes from the vault: a blog from the Special Collections of the University of St Andrews and its 2015 project |
    Friday 17 April 2015, 10.47am

    […] blog explains in the introduction for the project how the contributors will select a book and be allowed some time with the original but then be […]


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