Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Daemons Discover New Haven: Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Matthew! tsk, tsk: “I know the library is an architectural treasure, but I still think it looks like an ice-cube tray.” ~ The Book of Life

As showcased on their website, “The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library is one of the world's largest libraries devoted entirely to rare books and manuscripts and is Yale's principal repository for literary archives, early manuscripts, and rare books. The Beinecke Library's robust collections are used to create new scholarship by researchers from around the world."

The iconic building celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 but recently underwent a renovation.  A little nip and tuck at 50+ sounds reasonable, but alas, it was not of the cosmetic sort.  The interior and exterior panels, grids and fixtures, as well as the Noguchi Sculpture Garden, underwent a restoration.  Additionally, the functionality of the building was massively updated.  The heating and air-conditioning was upgraded.  This measure will protect the rare books and manuscripts from indoor elements and environmentally preserve them for many years to come.  Teaching spaces were also designed to include undergrad lecture rooms and a teaching lab where rare books and manuscripts can be examined and their history can be learned.  (It doesn’t sound dissimilar to Deb's History of the Book class at USC that took a hands on approach!)  They also improved the area for the library’s curators.  The new space will be bigger and can support the curators' design and presentation of library’s collection material and current exhibitions.

The contents in the famous book tower are off limits to the public, as is their Research area on the lowest level of the library.  The library overall holds a treasure-trove of rare books and manuscripts (180,000 in the book tower and more than a million in the underground stacks).  Access to the books in the tower and other repositories within are extremely limited.  Scholars and Researchers (ala Diana Bishop) must be approved for such access.  Upon seeing the sign that boldly announced "Research Readers Only", this passage came to mind:

“Bad news, I’m afraid.” Lucy Meriweather’s lips twisted in a sympathetic grimace. She was one of the Beinecke librarians, and she’d helped me for years, both with my own research and on the occasions when I brought my students to the library to use the rare books there. “If you want to look at Manuscript 408, you’ll have to go into a private room with a curator. And there’s a limit of thirty minutes. They won’t let you sit in the reading room with it.”

“Thirty minutes? With a curator?” I was stunned by the restrictions, having spent the last ten months with Matthew, who never paid any attention to rules and regulations. “I’m a Yale professor. Why does a curator have to babysit me?”


“Those are the rules for everybody—even our own faculty. The whole thing is online,” Lucy reminded me.”  ~ The Book of Life

It's actually a solemn reminder just how precious the collections are!

The famous Beinecke Library central book tower

The curatorial areas and collections range from Early Books and Manuscripts (pre 1500) to Modern Books (post 1800) to American Literature to Music.  They also put on display Recent Acquisitions.  While we were there, we were able to view Portraits of Abraham Lincoln from the Meserve Kundhart Collection, papers of poet and scholar Charles Berstein, Gregory Mosher Papers relating to David Mamet, Henri Chopin’s “The Last Novel in the World”,  and Mary Ruefle Erasure Books (really cool and palimpsest-y!) to just name a few.  Visitors are also able to view permanent exhibits such as the Gutenberg Bible. (You can view photos from these all of these exhibits in our Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library Flickr album.)

We’ve now seen the Gutenberg Bible in two different places in one year (Color us lucky, we know! Praise libraries and musuems!)  Each time, Diana’s incredulous comment while in Matthew’s Sept-Tours library is remembered:

“I absolutely refuse to treat a Gutenberg Bible as a reference book, Matthew.” My voice came out more sternly than anticipated, making me sound like a schoolmarm.” ~ A Discovery of Witches

Once again, we feel you Diana!!  Just. Look. At. It!

Gutenberg Bible
with the iconic marble walls and granite grid in the background

The Voynich Manuscript is not to be outdone, however!  Scholars can request to view the original Voynich Manuscript. In 1969, the codex was given to the Beinecke Library by H. P. Kraus, who had purchased it from the estate of Ethel Voynich, Wilfrid Voynich's widow.  The mysterious manuscript is absolutely a collection highlight.

“I’d last seen the Voynich manuscript—now Beinecke Library MS 408—in 1591, when Matthew had carried the book from Dr. Dee’s library to the court of Emperor Rudolf in Prague, hoping that we could swap it for the Book of Life.” ~ The Book of Life

We didn’t pass up our chance to purchase a copy of the facsimile, either.  It was published by Yale University Press in the autumn of 2016.  The book is by Raymond Clemens, Curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at the Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and our own Deborah Harkness authored the book’s introduction.  (Even her writing there rings true as the author we all know and love.  As we've said, it's a pleasantly familiar voice on the page!)

After we took in all that the Beinecke has to offer, we took advantage of the beautiful autumn weather and strolled around Hewitt Quadrangle, but before leaving the area, we just had to picture our beloved, tall, dark and handsome vampire.

“Matthew was waiting for me outside. He was lounging against the low wall overlooking the Beinecke’s stark sculpture garden, his legs crossed at the ankles, thumbing through the messages on his phone. Sensing my presence, he looked up and smiled.” ~ The Book of Life

Noguchi Sculpture Garden outside of the Beinecke Library; Hewitt Quadrangle in the background
We’ll leave you with that dreamy Matthew Clairmont image.  And to that end, we bid you adieu!  Until our next adventure, #FeedYourDaemons!

P.S.  To see the complete photo gallery from our Beinecke Library excursion, visit us on Flickr, here!  But wait, there's more!  Check out our the Beinecke Library video playlist on our YouTube channel!

Post by A. Hutter
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