Category Archives: Libraries & Archives

The Stainforth: A Brief Introduction to a Book That I Hope to Spend More Time With

STAINFORTH, FRANCIS JOHN, d. 1866. Catalogue [in a later hand] of the library of female authors of the Rev. J. Fr. Stainforth. [S.l., s.n., n.d.: before 1866]. 4to, 373 leaves. Spine title: Catalogue of Stainforth’s Library. WPRP 290.

Two weeks ago, I “met” the Stainforth, and my life hasn’t been the same since. Debbie Hollis, my wonderful boss and Assoc. Professor/Faculty Director of Special Collections at Norlin Library, had this book all set up in a cradle for me when I arrived in the reading room to start my weekly work on the Women Poets of the Romantic Period (WPRP) collection. Apparently, I’m late to the table in knowing about “the Stainforth” (that’s how Hollis refers to it) — but now that we’ve met, I understand the importance of this work. And I will add that this book is currently, as in *right now*, being scanned so that digital images of the handwritten pages will be available, open-access, for anyone to use, study, write about, or peruse for pleasure. As soon as it’s available, I will post a link to the electronic work.

I should add that for this 2011-2012 academic year, I’m a researcher for the WPRP collection at CU and will be reading, curating an in-house exhibit for the BWWC 2012 conference (June 7-10), and also curating a digital exhibit with the collection. I look forward to my WPRP research hours every week and have already learned a great deal from Special Collections staff and from the collection itself.

The Stainforth is a hand-written catalog that Rev. Stainforth created and that represents his library as it grew until his death. Special Collections’ information sheet that is included with the volume provides some helpful background for this book:

“Stainforth, for his time, was a most unusual book collector: his interest lay in the works of British and American female poets and dramatists. By the time of his death in 1866, he had amassed more than 6,000 works. The books are listed alphabetically on the rectos, and with additions on the facing pages. Stainforth’s collection provides what must be the single most comprehensive bibliographical record of English-speaking female poets and dramatists up to 1866. He owned remarkably large representations of many writers, and many celebrated rarities. . . . Not content with simply acquiring as many different titles as he could obtain, Stainforth meticulously went about procuring every edition of every title; of Mrs. Hemans’ National lyrics, to take just one example, he owned 9 editions published in London, Dublin, Philadelphia and Paris. It seems likely that he lived part of his life in America, as it would have been impossible to have amassed so many American books without actually spending time there. The books were dispersed over six days in July 1867 by Sotheby, Wilkinson and Hodge, who described the collection as an ‘extraordinary library, unique of its kind… This celebrated and unrivalled series of the poetical compositions of British and American female writers, exhibiting in a complete form the growth and progress of the genius of woman in the department of poetry, has been selected, with great zeal, industry, and toil, with a view to rescue our fair poetesses from oblivion… The completest collection that could possibly be formed… an assemblage without precedent… unique, as no other of similar pretensions is known.’ The British Museum, acting through the bookseller Boone, was a major buyer; the British Library copy of the sale catalogue is fully marked with their purchases and the prices they paid.”

Why am I so excited about the Stainforth? Mostly because I have a lot of questions about it.

It’s a database of Romantic women writers and their works, but how complete of a database is this? It even looks like a database the way that it is so neatly formatted in columns on the page. And I’m a fool for textual data! If his catalog really does represent “the single most comprehensive bibliographical record of English-speaking female poets and dramatists up to 1866,” it would be amazing to process that data and learn more about authorship, publishing, distribution of works in various genres, and the circulation of works by women writers in particular. And even if the catalog turns out to be less comprehensive than advertised, it will be interesting to discover what categories of works Stainforth privileges by including them in his collection, and of course, what works didn’t make the cut. I also wonder who had access to his collection, and if his collection had any bearing upon readership of certain works or authors?

The organization of the book is fascinating. Stainforth organized his catalog alphabetically by genre, NOT by shelf-mark (these are included in the left-most column on each page). So, I can just see him (or his assistant) running around his library floors to gather titles and put his books in a new order just for this book. (Which leads me to wonder: how were his books organized on the shelf?) And as I flipped all the way through the book admiring his elegant penmanship and browsing his listings, I had an Indiana Jones moment:

About 3/4 of the way through the volume, his holdings entries stop, followed by some blank pages. After the blank pages, the writing appears upside-down. If you flip the book over to its back cover, you find that Stainforth starts a second kind of notebook here: it’s his acquisitions wish list, and it’s also organized by genre. His wish list consist of approx 870 entries for books he was looking for, and he crossed out about half of them as he acquired them for his collection.

How long did his cataloging project take? And wasn’t it a bit risky to keep the wish list for such a vast archive in the same book as the holdings list — what if he needed more pages for the holdings than the book contained? Did he regularly lend out any of these books, as in a circulating library? Is his collection partial to certain years, publishers, authors, or genres? If he did have a collection of male authors (and I would imagine that he did), why create a separate catalog of women authors–why not list them all in a master bibliography?

I don’t have many answers, just questions at this point. Right now, I’m using the Stainforth as a point of departure for a collaborative project that interrogates the intersection of materiality and metadata in 18th- and 19th-century digital texts. My only conclusion is that I am grateful for the suggestion of the Special Collections staff to look at this work, and for their initiative in scanning it. And for a Christmas present, can we please have it keyed? 🙂

The Itinerant Scholar and a Bit of Sage Advice

Prologue: Advisor to Student


“You should apply to do research at the Huntington next summer, or at the NY Public Library.

Don’t you have family in LA, and New Rochelle? Or was it Manhattan? Both?

The Huntington is an amazing place to get work done—not just research but also writing. Everyone goes to the BL [British Library] but the Huntington also has outstanding holdings for scholars working on Romanticism.”


“Yes, I do have family near LA, but they live in Orange County. And you’re right about my relations on the east coast, too. My great aunt has a place on the island and her son, Michael, lives in New Rock City with his wife.”


“Ok, great. Draft your fellowship application materials and send them to me this weekend. Let’s start with the Huntington. If you get money, perfect, you’ll go there; if not, let’s shoot for NY since residing in OC would mean a commute. That’d be a waste of your time.”

Actual Log: Goodwill Huntington

The advisor was right. The rare books I consulted during my time as a fellow and reader at the Huntington Library’s Munger Research Center have proved invaluable to my dissertation project. However, from my first day on the Huntington’s sweeping and gorgeously curated grounds, the congenial spirit cultivated by the reader services staff impressed me most. After hearing a handful of stories about graduate students enduring long waits or general disregard at renowned research institutions, the Huntington handedly dispelled this academic urban legend.

Given my enduring interest in both Romanticism and science and the history of science and technology, I punctuated my visits to the Ahmanson Rare Books Reading Room with trips to the Burndy collection. The Burndy Library and Dibner History of Science Program house fascinating historical documents and artifacts that allowed me to supplement my archival research with necessary secondary readings.

When I needed to take a break from the reading room, I walked through my favorite of the Huntington’s botanical gardens. Otherwise, I strolled through the many beautifully curated exhibits on display. True to form, I was captivated by the permanent exhibit “Beautiful Science: Ideas that Changed the World” now showcased in the newly renovated Dibner Hall of the History of Science. Additionally, during the month and a half that I was in residence at the Huntington, I was also lucky enough to explore various rotating exhibitions, many of which catered to my broader interests in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. First, I visited “Born to Endless Night: Paintings, Drawings, and Prints by William Blake Selected by John Frame” and “Revisiting the Regency: England, 1811–1820.” Just before my time there ended, I took special pleasure in frequenting the exhibit “Pre-Raphaelites and Their Followers: British and American Drawings from The Huntington’s Collections,” which was curated by my friend and colleague Matthew H Fisk.

All such glorious distractions aside, I’ll leave my reader with one very sage piece of advice. Returning again to borrowed words, I would like to share with you the most valuable and counterintuitive information my advisor imparted to me before I made my first foray into the Munger Research Center.

Epilogue: “Try not to spend everyday at The Huntington performing research”


“It will be tempting to spend your allotted time (in the Ahmanson Rare Books Reading Room, from 8:30 to noon, and more, from 1-5) on nothing but transcription, research, reading. I battle the same impulse myself. But I would never write a page if I left this impulse unchecked.

Break up each day. You have a dissertation to finish. Research is of course an integral component and necessary to the completion of your project, but keep in mind that mining the archive is only part of what you do, and thus should only be part of your daily routine during your 6 weeks on fellowship. This time will give you the opportunity to forge habits that will help you to remain productive and to lead a balanced life after graduate school.

If you still work well in the morning, settle into a schedule where you write in the productive atmosphere of the Huntington during the am, and then, in the afternoons, gather your documents as ye may.”


Using the Yale Center for British Art

This week marked my first time working with an actual William Blake manuscript, having looked at the sole complete copy of Jerusalem at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven. As a result—following (the always-insightful) Kelli Towers Jasper’s post on visiting the British Library—I thought I’d do well to write my own post on an equally wonderful, although similarly daunting (for some of us, anyway), institution.

Conduct Research Beforehand: Gaining access to the Center for British Art’s collection is both surprisingly easy and astonishingly free. Their prints, drawings, rare books, and manuscripts collection encompasses some 30,000+ objects. So, you can be assured there’s something in New Haven for just about any anglophile. No appointment is necessary to access the collections, nor is it required to let the Center’s staff know which works you’ll be accessing beforehand. That said, in order to make the best use of the collection possible, you’ll do well to take advantage of the Center’s fabulous search engine, which includes a wonderful “subject” component that may allow you to find works associated with whatever primary object(s) you’re visiting the Center to take a look at, in the first place.

Arriving in New Haven: It’s no secret that New Haven is inconveniently located in terms of accessible nearby airports. While you can fly into New Haven Tweed Airport, served by U.S. Airways Express through Philadelphia, your best bet will likely be to fly into Hartford Bradley International. It’s served by Southwest, every grad student’s favorite airline—in Windsor Locks, CT, 50 miles north. While the Yale University website alludes to shuttle service that serves the institution out of Bradley, I’ve yet to figure that one out. Your best bet will be to either rent a car, provided your research budget allows, or cab it from Bradley to the nearby Amtrak station and take the train into New Haven (my fav). Once in New Haven, the British Art Center is a fairly straight-shot by cab and your fare should be low.

Once at the British Art Center: All you need to do is arrive at the Center during the  Prints, Drawings, Rare Books, and Manuscripts Room’s open hours (Tuesday through Friday, 10.00a to 4.30p) with picture ID (a university ID or driver’s license will do). You’ll need to check your bag at the door, but will be allowed to bring whatever research materials you need (books/laptop or tablet/notes/etc.) with you. Once in the room you’re looking for—on the second floor—the wonderfully courteous staff will greet you and ask what object(s) you’ve arrived to see. From there, you’ll need to present your identification and complete a brief registration card. While the staff prepares the materials you’re after, you’ll need to wash your hands in the sink next to the front desk.

Working with Your Object: The Center’s staff, having prepared your study area, complete with an easel, will instruct you on how your object should be handled. In the case of Jerusalem, it was important not to hold any of the separate plates vertically, since not all of them had been matted equally. The staff will monitor your work closely, and gently coach you—should you start to do something wrong (which they assured me occurs almost inevitably when you’re working materials there for the first time). You’ll be able to take notes with a pencil and be free to search through materials you’ve brought with you or request additional items along the way. My advice is to plan your visit so that after an initial period of engaging with your object, you’re able to take a break for lunch in order to process what you’ve looked at thus far. The staff will keep your study exactly as you’ve left it and—at least in my case—I returned with a renewed sense of energy and clear mind to continue to wrestle with Blake’s art.

In Conclusion: Visiting the Center proved to be a great and astoundingly stress-free experience. I highly recommend seeing what their collection might offer with respect to enriching most anyone’s research. Cheers to any other NGSC-ers completing primary-source research this summer. I’d love to hear what you all have been looking at and what your experience was like, in the comments, as well.


See you all in Park City.

Using the British Library

I’m sitting in the Rare Books Room at the British Library, waiting for my book requests to be filled…and it occurs to me that this is the perfect time to record my impressions of my first time using this amazing, if somewhat intimidating, repository of the world’s knowledge.  Six years ago I came to London to research for my MA thesis, fully intending to use the BL – but I chickened out.  When I found a smaller, specialized library that met all my research needs at the time (and where I got well-enough acquainted with the librarians that they recognized my face the moment I walked back in their door last week), I ended up simply staying there; I just never mustered the gumption to face the gauntlet I knew lay between me and the books at the BL.  This time around, though, I’m happy to report that I’ve faced my demons. I thought I’d use this idle book-awaiting time to give a brief crash-course on using the Library, perhaps to save you your own book-awaiting time, and definitely to help assuage the trepidation you, like me, might have felt about this imposing institution.


Before you ever arrive in London, there are many things you can do to prepare yourself, and streamline all the registration you’ll need to complete before gaining admittance to the books.  First, visit the library’s website, and browse their catalogue. (Note that the catalogue is on a different site than the library’s homepage; it took me awhile to find it).  Try to come up with a firm idea of what you’d like to look at (it’s helpful to make a list, so you can pace yourself when you arrive).  Since your time at the library will probably be limited and valuable, you want to do your best to make sure you’ll be looking at things you can’t get closer to home.

Second, Register for a reader’s pass online. This will get you started on the process; you actually complete it after you arrive at the library.  Keep track of your assigned reader number – you’ll be asked for it often.

Third, when packing your bags, make sure you pack the necessary forms of identification with you! You need two forms of ID validating your name and current address (like a driver’s license and passport, if they have your current address), plus something that indicates your affiliation with whatever cause (like a student card from your University that shows you’re a graduate student).  If you’re using the manuscript library or some of the rarest items, a letter from your advisor on official university letterhead is also helpful.  Online you fill out everything that the application asks for, and then, again, keep a record of the number they assign you, as well as the password you select for your account.

Finally, request the books you would like to look at, for the days you want to look at them.  Do this through the catalogue page, after you’ve logged in as a registered reader. This will save you the trouble of waiting the minimum 70 minutes (or up to 48 hours) it will take if you request after you’ve arrived. You don’t need to do this far in advance; even a couple of hours will work… but especially for your first day or two, you might be happy to have a plan.  Once you’ve made your requests, the books can be held for you for three business days (this includes Saturdays). When you request, make sure that you really have completed the requests; you’ll know because completed requests are highlighted in yellow.  Anythong not completed will be lost after you log out.

When you request books, you’ll be asked which room you’ll be reading in, and which desk number.  You can know which room by the category of materials you’re examining (see the library’s website for a description of each room), and you can just make up a desk number (98 is mine, today); they’ll ask you your real desk number when they actually hand the books over to you.


Bring the necessary identification with you. Bringing it to London won’t do you any good if you leave it in your hotel room.

Find the Library.  Chances are, you’ll be coming in on the tube, from the King’s Cross/St. Pancras Station.  This can be a bewildering station, since it’s really two train stations and an underground station all connected together.  I’ve been here several times now, and this morning got turned around all over again.  Look for the exits to Euston Road, and don’t be shy about eyeing the map at the station exit in order to get your bearings when you surface.  If you’re like me, then you’ll (usually) exit right between King’s Cross and St. Pancras stations, facing Euston Road. Hang a right, and walk past St. Pancras station. Pause to admire its incredible architecture.  The next building down seems rather nondescript, but it’s the outer circle of the BL courtyard.  Turn right to enter it, and marvel at the oasis that suddenly exists in the middle of what seemed, at 10am, to be one of the noisiest streets on the planet.



Find the entrance to the library, stop to let the (very polite) security guard look in your bag, and proceed to the info desk to ask the way to Reader Registration.


Reader registration

This office will begin to give you an idea of just how many folks use this library, and how they oil the machine, so to speak, to regulate access to the collections.  You wait in the queue (love that word!), and then if you’ve begun your registration online, you’ll be directed to a computer kiosk to complete a few final steps.  Then, you get a number, and wait a few minutes for it to be called.  When you’re up, you sit down with a library officer, who will check your driver’s license (or other document indicating current address), your passport, your student card (if you have one), and any letters of reference you might have brought with you.  If everything checks out, you’ll have your picture taken for your Reader Pass.  They print the pass out then and there, and you keep very good track of it!  You will be asked to show it regularly.

The lockers

With your pass in hand, you’re now ready to proceed downstrairs to the locker room, where you can store all the things you’re not allowed to bring into the reading rooms: that is, pretty much everything but a pencil (no pens!), paper, a laptop, and your glasses.  You will need a £1 coin to work the lockers, but you get it back when you leave each day.  When you’ve secured your things, grab a clear plastic bag from the table, to hold all the stuff you’re bringing with you, and head to your reading room.

The rare books room (or whichever room you’re supposed to read in)

Show your reader pass to the security guards on your way in.  Find a seat.  Notice whether the desk allows personal computers.  Sit down and (if you haven’t already), browse the catalogue and order your books (free wi-fi!  Yay!)  Note that it will take 70 minutes for them to arrive, so sit and muse over your research notes, or maybe work on your blog post for the week.  Begin to feel awkward that you’re the only person at your table not actually looking at books.  Wait a while longer.  Begin to wonder if you actually aren’t supposed to wait for your books to come to you, but that you’re supposed to go get them.  Watch other people around you to see what they do.  See people walking back to their desks with their arms full of books.  Go up to the service desk, see a queue labeled “Book issue and return”, and wait your turn to sheepishly confess your ignorance to a staff member and ask if your books have arrived.  Accept gentle teasing with your armful of books, and return to your seat.  You did it! Now, feel those butterflies madly swarming in your tummy as you gently leaf through your aged, musty-smelling, delicate books.  EEE!  This is so cool!! Wish that you could squeal out loud and shake your neighbor by the shoulders.  Restrain yourself, and get to work.

Now that I’ve been using the library for a few days, I laugh at myself for being so intimidated by it.  I’m still learning some of the ropes, but the daily basics are really simple: order books from home, get to the library, stick my things in a locker, and go to the reading room to pick up my books and read.  “Easy peasy”, as my librarian friend might say.  And beyond the books themselves, it really is fun to be here, to take a look at all the people poring over dusty tomes, and wonder what interesting things they all are working on.  Plus, you just never know who you might run in to:  while I was standing in line to collect my books a few days ago, the girl in front of me looked very familiar.  I finally just said, “I think I know you.  What’s your name?”  Turns out we met last August at the Vancouver NASSR conference! Small world.  So here’s a shout-out to Tara from Toronto, who probably was never nervous about using the British Library.  Hope I run into you again someday soon.

And amid the myriad other things you are probably up to, I wish you all some happy summer researching! Feel free to share your own library recommendations and tips for research success.