catalogues and maps

Spent most of my morning trying to understand the catalogues of the NLS, after it had been explained to me on my first day.  It wasn’t until I realized that the physical catalogue was organized by temporal layers–first the advocates’ library holdings, then manuscript volumes with indices for  individual volumes, then a wall of little binders of recent accessions–that I began to understand how to find anything at all.

But that only helped me with the manuscripts.  For eighteenth-century newspapers, I had to learn everything all over again, without any self-evident way to search for those periodical holdings as a block.  The librarians there were helpful, but were unsure themselves how to find this group of materials.  And once again, there was no obvious way to find out whether there might be digitized or microform copies of the same newspapers I’d laboriously discovered in the catalogue.  [UPDATE: yes, of course there were]

At a certain point, though, I had to stop trying to learn more about the catalogue, and just concentrate on reading what I had in front of me.  That’s when I realized I had gathered far more than I could ever read and takes notes on in my remaining time in Edinburgh.

In that panicked instant (how am I ever going to read all this?), it dawned on me just how odd an experience it was to read  eighteenth-century periodicals in this rushed manner, one volume after another, instead of bit by bit a week at a time.

This led me to another thought: what kind of reader actually returns to the bound volumes of a periodical’s full run?  And why do it, precisely? Is it to relive  previous readings?  Or is it simply a provincial practice of filling bookshelves in the most convenient way, when books are expensive, and new books not so common?



2 responses to “catalogues and maps

  1. I am reading about your adventures with equal parts envy and fascination.

  2. Dave Mazella

    Hi Chris,

    Glad you’re enjoying it. I understand the envy, though. I spent years where I couldn’t go anywhere but DC’s Library of Congress, because that was close to my parents’ house in Shady Side.

    The appearance of ECCO, though, has changed things a great deal, even if institutions like mine do not own it. It means that with some commute to a place more or less distant, you have access to that block of texts, but now the trips have to focus on items not easily accessed via ECCO.

    But this also means readjusting to the pace of work with manuscripts etc., which feels verrrrry sllloooow to me. For one thing, I find that I have trouble reading other people’s handwriting. For another, I always feel that I might be repeating work already done elsewhere.

    That’s one reason why I like to alternate that kind of reading with newspapers, which open a very different view into the period than you get with other kinds of sources.

    But I found myself looking up “Robinhood society,” feeling very pleased at finding a Googlebooks history of the organization from 1764, only to discover that the term was simply being used as a cover for reporting Parliamentary debates.