Marriott Library's Rare
Blend of Pixels and Pages
by Shawn Anderson Home

"Feast," "tactile," "banquet," "beauty," and "time" cycle through curator Madelyn Garrett's conversations about the incontrovertible value of rare books and manuscripts. Her words emerge with thematic heft and depth, as if her knowledge and love of books is translated into some kind of celebratory fugue. She is talking not only of Marriott Library's treasury, but the entire history of Western thought, weaving concept, insight, sensation, and experience together in a knot of meaning. What she is describing is the transformative nature of education, the essence of which is books.
Old books and manuscripts? C'mon. The book will soon be obsolete, relegated to the musty status of cultural artifact like snoods or mood rings, replaced by computer terminals with colorful visuals, speakers to belt out audio, and plenty of speedy RAM.
Bit maps and mouse pads? Please! If the medium is the message, pentium chips can never substitute for the incomparable pleasure—tactile, intellectual, imaginative—that only holding and reading a book can provide. As useful, in these high-pressured fast times, as the computer and the Internet are, information is not knowledge. Data collection is not wisdom. Which is precisely why Marriott Library has Madelyn Garrett BA'82 MA'90, one of the most distinguished collections of rare books in the world, and a growing desire to share those treasures, with technology.
Integrating books and computers may seem quixotic, but two new outreach projects of the Rare Book Division, which Garrett curates, are achieving just that. The projects illuminate why Marriott Library is the ideal domain of specially collected first edition prints as well as CD-ROMS where images from them are reproduced. "We can't do it all from the Starship Enterprise, for heaven's sake," exclaims Robert Olpin BS'63, professor of art and art history. The road back to the book is paved with pixels.
"We're not in competition with the computer. We're in league with it," Garrett smiles, removing the glasses that cruise frequently from her nose to her desk. "One of the best ways to get at this interrelationship is here at the University," she boasts. Placing rare books and manuscripts onto the unfolding territory of the World Wide Web is the first of the library's pilot projects, one of a mere handful of initiatives across the country in only the last three or four years. Oxford and Cambridge universities in Great Britain are also beginning to put manuscripts on CD-ROM so scholars can study them on computers.
Incorporating art and text from rare books in an artistic Web format is "how society moves forward," adds Greg Thompson MA'71 PhD'81, director of Special Collections. "I think technology is the enhancing factor, the prompting factor." But the technology to make on-line books feasible, versatile, and accessible to all users is not up to speed. "It's an infrastructure problem, sort of like I-15," notes Alan Smith, assistant professor of languages and literature.
"When you're dealing with rare materials, you need quality for it to be of any use at all," Smith explains. "If you're looking for a car over the Internet, and you click on an automobile dealer's site, the basic outline of the car is enough. You don't need to be able to see the tread on the tires. Well, with rare materials you need to be able to see that tread or you can't appreciate them."
Smith spent one quarter mounting pages for his 500-level graduate course, "Renaissance Authors," which features early printed editions of Euclid's Elementa geometriae (1482), Andrea Alciato's Emblemata (1618), and Andreas Cellarius' Harmonia macrocosmica (1661).
Unlike another university site on the Internet using similar materials that separates images from text, Smith reproduced pages as they appear in the original books, including typography and flaws. These, he says, help readers understand history as part of the reading experience.
Smith, Assistant Professor of Art and Art History Elizabeth Peterson, and the rare books staff concur on the need to avoid pasteurized versions of original works. For immersing oneself in the historical context, nothing but rare books can produce the same result. "The computer's capability to create search tools so that students can pull up, say, all images of Cupid from an Emblem—to me, that's really utilizing its power. Then students can begin comparisons. It helps them organize research projects," says Smith.
A proposed faculty-staff committee will play a vital role in developing new course sites by helping colleagues learn from the trials and errors of Smith and Peterson. Both immersed themselves in technological research. "It was educational," says Smith, and though he learned a great deal he gauges his limitations. "I went from a neophyte to an amateur," he admits.
A second-generation Web site was produced over the past 18 months by Peterson. One section is devoted to students enrolled in her upper-division course, "The Gothic Cathedral." Another accompanies a Utah Museum of Fine Arts exhibit, "Paging Through Medieval Lives: The Illuminated Manuscript," which she curated last fall primarily from Marriott Library holdings. Another portion of the site, still under construction, will be used by art history general education classes.
"There are enormous compromises in using these materials on the Web," she cautions. "All the three-dimensional textures are lost. You can't compensate for that." But the site does offer a tantalizing glimpse of the original works and allows students simultaneous access to resources that would otherwise have to be examined one person at a time. Availability of course materials on a computer cannot replace the synergy of traditional classroom exchange, but it does give students the leisure to conveniently view and reflect on what they've seen and discussed as a group. Peterson is currently investigating the viability of online chat rooms as an additional tool to engage students in conversation about the curriculum.
Associate Instructor Jessica Smith is designing a new Honors Program fine arts course around the collections because, "I want undergraduate students to experience research with original works. These books are a cutting-edge education," she maintains. Smith plans to use illustrated 18th- and 19th-century editions of Thomas Gray's elegy, several illustrated versions of Walt Whitman's poetry, and aquatints by Bodmer.
"The book becomes an event," she continues. "A rare book creates a historical theater. Printing, page layout, editing, illustration, text placement, white space, binding materials, and paper create a multidimensional engagement with other readers and other cultures." Resources permitting, Smith will ensure that images from the course's texts become available on the World Wide Web.
Smith underwent a transforming experience as an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, where she took a medieval philosophy course that incorporated illuminated manuscripts from the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies. The more she and her classmates read, the more their presumptions about the Middle Ages were challenged. It was both exhilarating and sobering.
Olpin says that presenting students with original artifacts, whether rare books or paintings, is the ultimate catalyst to learning. "When I am able to bring a piece of art to them, when I've got something live in there, so to speak, they'll come up after class. They don't do that when I show them slides," he observes.
Though the basic principles for managing intellectual property in the digital domain are still in rough form, scanned images are protected under traditional copyright laws. Their use must conform to U.S. Copyright Office strictures. For educational purposes, this usually means that access is limited to students enrolled in a class for whom instructors institute some form of password protection. Peterson's online UMFA exhibit catalog of books and fragments from the history of science, Middle East, and general rare books collections can be browsed at It includes antiphonal and qur'an leaves from 16th-century Spain, Portugal, Italy, Egypt, and France. Page summaries, thumbnail, and full-page views of recto and verso images, and contents (including Latin translations) are incorporated. Even on a monitor, lapis lazuli and gold leaf radiate.
The special collections department's second innovative outreach effort is its Book Arts program, which has gained prominence in its three years. Classes, workshops, exhibitions, and lectures in this flourishing academic endeavor teach the history of the form by focusing on the artist book, which has its foundation in the Romantic movement of the 18th century when the concept of the artist as individual genius first gained currency. The volumes of William Blake, the poet, artist, and visionary who sank his meager worldly resources and his sumptuous spiritual ones into works such as Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, have come to be regarded as modern models.
Anticipating bookmaking's current vogue, the Marriott began a few years ago to collect traditional handpress, finepress, and artist books. A complete, autographed collection of Lewis and Dorothy Allen's finepress books and the 1846 Columbian hand press on which most of them were printed are the cornerstone of the Marriott's own finepress imprint, Red Butte Press. The contributions were received in 1981, donated by the Allens, San Francisco's Claudius BA'24 and Catherine Budd Gates BS'25, and Friends of the Marriott Library.
"The Allens were really some of the premier printers of the 20th century," according to Garrett. "They printed from 1939 up to 1993. We have all of their reference books. We have their type. We have their tools. It is a treasure beyond anything."
"That roll of the dice, that gamble was an excellent one," says Thompson, whose prematurely-silver hair and courtly demeanor belie the intense, resolute energy he brings to his job. "What you're finding is a real interest across the country in the tradition of the book, its place in intellectual succession because of the advance of technology, and how the book has contributed to and shaped society.
"In my mind, artist books are part of the traditional definition of a rare collection. They all fit on a tree somewhere along the line. We talk about separate components, but in fact, they're not. It's a continuum."
A noted book artist herself, Garrett knows from experience that there's no such thing as being born with the innate talent to create a truly fine art book. Instinct must be directed. "We stumble," she laughs. "You don't know that these things exist until you see them, and then you say, "Oh, well, yeah! That's what I've always wanted to do my whole life.' The demand we're seeing for the form has to be partly about time. A book has a built-in time factor. It takes time to turn the pages. It takes time to absorb what's on a page. But it's not progressive. It's not linear."
Chen-Yi Lee, a first-year student in the U's Graduate School of Architecture master's degree program, was introduced to bookmaking techniques in her native Taiwan. "I took a class in bookbinding and the accordion fold, which carried me much beyond what I thought it would," she explains. For Lee, who received her art degree before emigrating to the United States more than six years ago, the form unifies whatever elements an artist chooses.
"It can be a sculpture, too," she says. "When you go to a gallery, you're looking. You cannot touch it. A book invites that. It's much more intimate. It invites you to go into yourself. I started thinking, "What does this book mean to me? How can I play with the structure using my own content to make more of a life inside this book?' "
Lee's most recent book is about race. Slender and wide, its pale, grainy paper and binding are the colors of weathered river rocks. Opened to one page, an east Indian woman in a tiny black and white photo casts her gaze out onto Lee's painted landscape of bleeding archipelagos, inlets, and continents (which could also be seen as tears). "I wanted to give this woman a lot of space to stretch out," says the designer. Though unfinished and only Lee's fourth book, it has the power of synthesis and distillation found in Chinese ink painting. The display case outside the Special Collections office door seems almost too small to contain it.
Helen Wight, an English teacher in the Indian Hills Middle School Honors Program, who contacted Garrett after reading a local newspaper article, says the book arts give her students a vehicle for publishing their original poems and short stories, but also introduce them to something they probably wouldn't be aware of until college.
Her class learns one bookbinding method in three hours over two days. Last year they sewed signatures and bound their books with ribbon. "There are a lot of things that they learn from it," Wight continues. "They learn a little bit about design. They have to learn computer skills to do the layout. And they learn all the things [that come into play] when you tackle a big project—time management, organization, preparation."
For Rob Kertesz, an experienced art teacher at Crescent Middle School, the book arts are a way to refresh his own curiosity. If he's enlivened by a new form, his students pick up on his inspiration. In fact, it's teachers, he says, who most need programs such as Marriott Library's. "The biggest obstacle for teachers in the broad sense is the lack of opportunity to learn. The University can offer that opportunity—training for teachers on campus. The collection provides a resource for teaching material," he says.
It's Garrett's passion and commitment that have expanded, by planned design, the collections despite severe budgetary constraints, and her vision that has made them cohere. Her exuberance has attracted an internal and external core of book lovers, bookbinders, and calligraphers who are collaborating to advance outreach programs. It's their enthusiasm that draws a growing audience of young and old—"students from Logan, printers, ladies with tight perms and big earrings"—Garrett observes. Library staff are quick to credit her. Adds Marriott Library Director Sarah Michalak, "Madelyn is as much a treasure as any book in our collection."
As a student at San Francisco State, Garrett made a routine trip to San Francisco's main public library to research a paper. At the general reserve desk, she asked for a copy of Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland. She expected to be handed a paperback. Instead, the desk clerk emerged from the stacks with the 1587 second edition and placed it on the counter before her. It was the same edition used by William Shakespeare to write his historical plays. As she took hold of the big book and weighed it in her hands, time seemed to pause while Garrett considered a book that bridged human history long past, brought to life by this "perfect package of form and content." Garrett later found her vocation when she applied for a part-time job in book preservation at the Marriott.
The rare books division has adopted an open access philosophy akin to the San Francisco Public Library's. "It doesn't do much good to have this fabulous collection if no one sees it," Garrett notes. "We're committed to serving students. Over the last few years, we've been working very hard to get the word out, to let people on campus and in the state know what we have. If there's one thing I'm determined to get away from, it's the idea that we acquire these books, and then they go into a vault somewhere and never come out.
"Expenditures on rare books and a staff who manages them are never a betrayal of the public trust because in a lot of cases, it's the closest we'll ever come to opening a door to the past," contends Michalak, who admits she would not have accepted the job she's held since 1995 if the U had no rare book or manuscript collections.
"Providing those avenues is part of the most important business of a research library. It is our responsibility to move forward and anticipate people's needs, to provide information in the format, the media, that people want and need in their day-to-day business, but libraries are one of the institutions that are entrusted with keeping continuity with the past. It will remain that no matter how much we work to make materials available technologically."
Throughout the past year and for the next six months, the library has purchased and will install nearly 300 new computers. "We're enjoying a kind of golden period," Michalak reflects, appreciation warming her voice. The University is investing "in upgrading our technological infrastructure—the computers we have for staff and students. It took us a long time to get Web-capable workstations in Special Collections. They were feeling left behind, but Madelyn, Greg, and the staff responsible for these resources are right on track in harnessing technology to make them available to more people," she explains. The Web-based tools Garrett is working toward provide an easier, friendlier way of examining materials before one has to physically access them. "It will change the nature of our library and the kinds of responsibilities we have. People who come here will have a much more focused idea of what they want. They'll have already done preliminary work." So far, technology has resulted in library staff providing patrons with additional help, not less. Requests for assistance are increasingly sophisticated, Michalak notes.
In many ways, the issues Marriott Library administrators are struggling with reflect the entire University's. "If a research institution like the University of Utah didn't have any scientific laboratories, the public whom it serves would be right to lack faith in it. Likewise, if the U didn't support a rare book and manuscript collection," says Michalak, "people would conclude, "This isn't the kind of institution where real scholarship can take place.' We are that kind of institution because of the time and thought and energy we put into collecting and preserving these materials. That investment says this university puts the drive to discover and to think and to organize and evaluate knowledge as an important priority."
A book is a palpable talisman, a benign bearer of unknown riches. "You can tell almost any story in the world with the books in our collection—the best, the most comprehensive being the history of the book. If you think about it, the history of the book is really the history of human thought," says Garrett. For this reason, the University strives to provide access. "I want to have a lot of exhibitions. I want kids to know what they've got. It's their patrimony," Garrett declares.
Filmy cotton gloves are all that come between rare books and the touch of visitors' fingers. But just as a debutante feels the heat of her dance partner's hand through the modest white gloves she wears, one nonetheless senses the physical presence of a rare, first-edition print through this one-size-fits-all cloak. When experiencing Marriott Library's rare book collections, whether in person or by computer, there is even less that comes between the books and a visitor's gaze.

—Book lover Shawn Anderson is an editor in University Publications.

Spring 1998 Continuum Magazine