March 19, 2013
Kate Moriarty

RBIP Reveals Rare Books in SLU's Special Collections

The University Libraries Special Collections' Rare Book Inventory Project enhances users access to the department's pre-1820 printed book collection.

Over the past ten years, the international special collections community has made a concerted effort to provide access to rare books and manuscripts in their holdings that were previously uncataloged or lacking online description — effectively, hidden collections.

The Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections has been contributing to this effort by successfully uncovering its own hidden collections through its Rare Book Inventory Project (RBIP), which provides brief online catalog records for the department's pre-1820 printed book collection. These bibliographic records contain basic information — such as author, title and imprint — necessary to discover and identify a book.

Considerations on the Modern Opinion of the Fallibility of the Holy See in the Decision of Dogmatical Questions
Fig. 1, Considerations on the Modern Opinion of the Fallibility of the Holy See in the Decision of Dogmatical Questions.

Under the supervision of Rare Book Catalog Librarian Kate Moriarty, students with strong Latin and other language skills create the brief records, which are later given fuller description and subject access by the professional cataloger. This innovative and economical means of making SLU's rare book collections more readily accessible has achieved great results. Student assistants receive hands-on training in working with rare books and learn essential research skills in information organization and retrieval. In turn, SLU students, faculty and the broader research community gain valuable access to the University's rich collection of rare books. Placement in the position is competitive, and students come from the English, history, philosophy and theological studies departments.

The RBIP has recently completed an initiative to provide catalog records for the roughly 275 titles in the Cotton Pamphlets collection, which is part of the Moore Carpenter Recusant History Collection acquired in the 1970s through the generosity of the Saint Louis University Library Associates.

The Cotton Pamphlets consist of 35 bound volumes of polemical pamphlets assembled by the English Catholic school, Cotton College, that document the public debate and struggle between English Catholics and Protestants during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

In the example shown at right (fig. 1), the prolific Jesuit provincial and Stonyhurst College rector, Charles Plowden, asserts the infallibility of the pope in his 1790 Considerations on the Modern Opinion of the Fallibility of the Holy See in the Decision of Dogmatical Questions and refers to the many oaths English Catholics were required to take after 1534, arguing that papal infallibility in theological issues does not preclude allegiance to one's country.

Rare books stacks
Fig. 2, books in the collection printed between 1454 and 1700.

Another milestone reached by student assistants participating in the RBIP is the completion of bibliographic records for all books in the collection printed between 1454 and 1700 (fig. 2). They have created inventory records for almost 8,000 rare book titles or more than 70 percent of the pre-1820 printed book collection. And they have already begun work on the 18th-century books.

While the RBIP is an excellent way to get a snapshot of work-in-progress, records for fully cataloged books carry a wealth of enhanced description and access points — such as controlled author/title entries, collation and binding statements, and provenance, subject and genre/form access -that aid researchers in identifying precisely the texts or type of books they are seeking. Note that books that have been fully cataloged are no longer part of the RBIP and can be found through a variety of searches on author, title, publisher, call number, subject, genre/form, etc. And all searches can be limited to the location, "Pius Special Collections," if desired.

For additional information on the Rare Book Inventory Project, contact Kate Moriarty at 314-977-3024. For queries regarding research use of the pre-1820 printed book collection, contact Rare Books Librarian Jennifer Lowe at 314-977-5070.

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