We're starting off this week's In the Archives essays with a project by Jenny O'Grady, director of alumni and development communications and associate editor of UMBC Magazine. You can view Jenny's project, "Overdue," in the Special Collections reading room.
I have always thought of my library as the ultimate unfailing brain: a sort of romantic container for information old and new, able to process and react to change, seemingly unlimited in size and scope. I love the idea that an idea might appear there in many forms – as a book, a piece of film or microfiche, in an electronic journal, or even in the memory box of a donor who chose to leave his or her most precious items for cataloguing. The library welcomes these ideas, adapts to accept them in any form – and makes them available for one and all to enjoy.
When I heard the Albin O. Kuhn Library was giving away the cards from its print catalogs – which since 1983 have been available electronically – I felt a need to have some for my own collection. I am a book binder, a lover of all things book, so the thought of stewarding some of these cards into a new life outside their original walls appealed to me – even though I didn’t really know then what they’d become. As they sat in my living room, I shuffled them in my hands, read them, smelled them. After a few weeks, it finally became clear: I wanted to put some of these cards back into the library.
I took a vacation day, and gathered my binding materials. Then, I built a tiny catalog box of binder board, tape, paper, wire and twine. I gathered eight of my favorite cards – a 1903 agriculture text by Wendell Paddock at the top of the stack – and fashioned them into an accordion that would spring merrily from their container. I stamped the “cover” and portions of the “pages” with dates reminiscent of the old due date stampers I found – and too often ignored – in books of my youth. And then, finally, I closed the drawer of my book.
I can’t tell you how book-geekishly delighted I was to hear my project, “Overdue,” had been accepted into the Albin O. Kuhn Library’s special collections – with its very own electronic catalogue number: N7433.4.O57 O84 2010. Not only had the library fulfilled its mission – welcoming information into its realm in any form, but I felt the cards had finally come full circle. Now, they would always have a home.
Jenny O’Grady is director of alumni and development communications, and associate editor of UMBC Magazine. She is also an adjunct professor in the University of Baltimore’s Creative Writing & Publishing Arts MFA program, where she teaches book arts and electronic publishing courses. You can see more of her book work at www.kineticprose.com.