Something Really Cool that You’ve Never Heard Of

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So, first semester finals are approaching and that’s a big deal in a college freshman’s life, but I bet that a lot of people are writing about this so to recap: finals suck, finals suck, finals suck.  Now I want to focus on something that is seriously underrated and I bet that 99% of the student body hasn’t heard about: the book arts.  The book arts is the umbrella term that I am going to use to refer to the Center for the Book, the Conservation Lab, and Special Collections.  The Center for the Book is the place where bookbinding, calligraphy, papermaking, and other book making-related classes take place.  Special Collections is where the archives of old and unique books are.  The Conservation Lab is a section of Special Collections where all of the repairing and preserving of books takes place, both physically and digitally.  I stumbled across these spaces for a group rhetoric project, and wanted to talk about their significance because it’s a shame that very few people have reached out to use these facilities in interesting ways.

One of the many fascinating "books" found in Special Collections

One of the many fascinating “books” found in Special Collections

Special Collectiions Room (third floor of the main library)

The outside of the Special Collections room (third floor of the main library)

What if, for example, you’re a chemistry major interested in the chemical composition of books?  I know that sounds odd, but after talking to a member of the Conservation Lab, I discovered that the preservation of books has just as must to do with chemistry as it does the humanities.  Or what if you’re a computer science major like myself?  I remember that in my computer science lecture we were discussing algorithms for word searches in the book War and Peace, and it got me thinking that such algorithms could be taken a step farther.  The archives in the Conservation Lab are in the process of being digitized and transcribed, so I think that it would be really cool to write a computer program that compares the styles of different eras of writing based on specific word densities.  This could be useful for those interested in computer science, linguistics, and comparative literature.

The digitization studio in the Conservation Lab

The digitization studio in the Conservation Lab

However, I may be getting ahead of myself.  After all, none of this could happen without establishing a connection between the Book Arts and other fields of study.  In order to do that, the people at the Conservation Lab and the Center for the Book who I talked said that taking a class in the Book Arts would be the best choice.  There is an honors seminar on bookmaking for freshmen and multiple courses in Special Collections and the Center for the Book that undergraduates can sign up for, although priority is given to the graduate students due to space limitations.  I know that it’s hard to fit everything you want to take into a freshman schedule, so if anything I think it’s worth the time to take a half hour tour of Special Collections.  I was going to the library one Saturday and saw a tour group for Special Collections, and I decided to join them on a whim.  It was extremely cool to see all of the unique items that the library has, including a map drawn by Lewis and Clark and an original copy of Jane Austen’s Emma.  Being able to work with these texts to make them available for public usage is awesome in the same way that it’s awesome to be a part of painting a mural on the side of a building.  Both involve contributing to something greater in a way that can be appreciated by everyone for its beauty.  So, while the Book Arts may be unrecognizable to most students at this University, developing a relationship with them has proven to be one of the coolest things I have done for a class, and I hope that you will look out for them in the future.

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