Dear readers, take note: it’s now the end of Week Five of the move, and we’re pretty sure we’re all going to have massive and amazing biceps come Winter Break.
This is because our manuscript collections are taking up residence in our new compact shelving. This kind of shelving moves on rails, so the shelves can slide together (in a safe and controlled way) or be cranked apart to access the shelves’ contents. Here’s a video of Kat Stefko, our Head of Technical Services, demonstrating how they work.
So we’ll be cranking these shelves, filled with boxes of manuscripts, open and closed several times each day, to retrieve materials for patrons, to find materials to answer reference questions, to reshelve things, to pull materials for class visits . . . .
We hereby promise that we will not challenge any visiting researchers to arm wrestle. Unless they want to.
Onto other things! We have—and we really can’t believe this—ONE WEEK until we reopen. Over the course of the week, several things have been checked off the reopening “to do” list, and many more are on their way to being completed.
Our talented exhibits staff worked on the installation of one of our opening exhibits, “Languages of Anatomy: From Vesalius to the Digital Age,” which will be on display in the Chappell Family Gallery and features materials from our History of Medicine Collections.
Books were returned to the refurbished bookcases in the beloved Biddle Rare Book Room.
And we finished moving our flat files (an enormous amount of work) and started moving historical medical instruments from the History of Medicine Collections, as well as our early manuscripts.
In the photo above, the long box at the right holds HOM’s late 16th or 17th century amputating saw. Here’s what it looks like out of the box, in case you’re curious:
What else did we do? We practiced our teamwork by forming a bucket brigade to shelve manuscript collections.
We discovered, to our dismay, that we are not the most interesting people in the Rubenstein.
And we found new challenges to test our librarian skills. This one is called “can we get all of the foam book rests to the new reading room in one trip?” (We did.)
Look at these empty stacks in our temporary 3rd floor space! August 24th, here we come!
Week 5 feels like it’s been a big one. The stacks are filling up with manuscript boxes and books and feel less cavernous and more cozy. By the numbers it’s been a big week too. On Tuesday we hit an important milestone: 10,000 manuscript boxes landed in their new homes in the stacks. It’s been a good week for our books too. We’ve moved, Library of Congress-ified, and shelved nearly all 4,000 of our folios and all 20,000 duodecimos; octavos and quartos are next on our list. Some new formats started moving this week as well: 100 drawers worth of oversize flat files moved and about half or our papyrus collection made the journey too.
We also want to invite everyone to our open house on September 10th! You’ll have a chance to tour the new spaces and exhibits, meet and mingle with library staff, and learnhow the Rubenstein Library can support your research. Check out the details here.
My current book project, Southern Sapphisms: Sexuality and Sociality in Literary Productions 1969-1997, considers how queer and feminist theories illuminate and complicate the intersections between canonical and obscure, queer and normative, and regional and national narratives in southern literary representations produced during a crucial but understudied period in the historical politicization of sexuality. The advent of New Southern Studies has focused almost exclusively on midcentury texts from the Southern Renascence, largely neglecting post-1970 queer literatures. At the same time, most scholarship in women’s and feminist studies continue to ignore the South, or worse, demonize the South as backward, parochial, and deeply homophobic. Southern Sapphisms argues that we cannot understand expressions of lesbianism and feminism in post-Stonewall era American literature without also understanding the explicitly southern dynamics of those writings—foregrounding the centrality of sexuality to the study of southern literature as well as the region’s defining role in the historiography of lesbian literature in the United States.
Vital archival work completed at the Sallie Bingham Center this past May strengthened my arguments about the formations of lesbian identity and community in the North Carolina lesbian-feminist journal Feminary (1969-1982). Feminary has been lauded by one scholar as “the source and backbone of contemporary Southern lesbian feminist theory,” due in part to the forum it provided for southern lesbians to voice their inimitable outlooks on race, regionality, and social justice[i]. At a local level, Feminary forged and grounded a community of Durham/Triangle feminists, lesbians, and women writing and printing as a collective. At a national level, I show how the women of this journal were actually inspired by the increasingly turbulent battles over civil rights in the South. This revelation upends prevailing notions that the Stonewall riots in New York were the watershed that changed lesbian and gay politics and culture in the nation. My work on Feminary recasts dominant national narratives about queer lives, histories, and activism in the region by illustrating how lesbian feminist politics gained their inspiration and momentum not only from Stonewall, but also from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and massive resistance against civil rights and gay and lesbian rights in the South. Access to rare archival documents—only available at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library—prove that Second Wave feminism and modern lesbian politics have extensive southern roots. To ignore the distinctly regional dynamics of those roots is to misunderstand the complexity of those movements across the nation and beyond.
Today marks the end of week 4 of the move, which included us passing the move’s halfway point!
The Rubenstein staff and the team of movers we’ve contracted have been sorting print materials into LC order as they move to their new, permanent homes. From the tiniest 12vos to behemoth folios, thousands of books are now on the new shelves.
One of the highlights of the move is getting to see such a large swath of our collections at once. From books that carry history in their margins to those with covers that are just plain pretty, it’s stunning to see the range and depth of our print collection passed in front of us day in and day out.
Here are some highlights from team #movenstein this week:
Manuscripts from all of our collecting areas are making their way onto the shelves, too. The Aleph Dream Team has been busy sorting boxes and flipping call numbers as the boxes move.
The stacks aren’t the only place that saw some updates this week. The Gothic Reading Room is now outfitted with its tables and chairs. We can’t wait for August 24th when this place is full of researchers enjoying the new space.
One of my most vivid memories of the Rubenstein Library is one of my first. Shortly after starting to work as a student assistant in the fall of 2011, I entered the dark, dusty labyrinth of the library’s old stacks and grabbed an item to reshelve. With great trepidation, I drew back both metal gates on the 1926 elevator, pushed the button for the fifth floor, and hoped that the creaky old machine would actually make it to our destination. Once I got out of the elevator and my pulse had returned to normal, I found the item’s home on the bottom of a row of shelves, set it back in its proper place, stood up, and found myself eye-to-label with the Stonewall Jackson Papers.
As a lifelong history nerd, I had known that I would enjoy working in the Rubenstein, but it was not until that moment that I realized exactly how cool the Rubenstein was, and what a great resource it is for the Duke community. That point was driven home even further when, as an undergraduate majoring in History and German, I used the Rubenstein frequently as a researcher. Knowing how important the Rubenstein is to researchers in a wide variety of fields made it all the more exciting to sign on as a Senior Move Assistant during the transition from our old space to the new.
In the two weeks since I started working full-time, I have been busy measuring volumes to help figure out where items are going to be stored in our new space, and “linking” bound-withs to help ensure that items which are physically bound together actually show up that way in the catalog. The move process is not simply moving items from point A to point B, and back to a refurbished point A. It is also an opportunity to improve and simplify many aspects of the library, and it is very exciting to be part of that process. Having worked and done research in both the old space and the temporary space, I can say that I am thrilled for the opening of the new Rubenstein Library. The move process is making a great campus resource even better, and I can’t wait to see the final result of the next few months of work!
Post contributed by Michael Kaelin (T ’15), Senior Move Assistant at the Rubenstein Library. Michael worked as a Student Assistant for four years. Originally from Wilton, CT, his interests include history and literature.
I was awarded a Mary Lily Research Grant in 2014 to travel to the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture to consult The Kathy Acker Papers. In April 2014 I carried out research in the archive for my book manuscript, Kathy Acker: Writing the Impossible, which is under contract with Edinburgh University Press.
Critics and scholars in the field of contemporary literature have largely understood Kathy Acker as a postmodern writer. My monograph challenges such readings of the writer and her works, paying close attention to the form of Acker’s experimental writings, as a means to position Acker and her work within a lineage of radical modernisms.
Consulting The Kathy Acker Papers, the extensive archive of Acker’s works housed at the Sallie Bingham Center, shaped my research in a number of ways. Most striking, and perhaps the aspect of the archive that has been most formative to my work, is what the archive revealed in terms of the materiality of Acker’s various manuscripts. The original manuscript of Acker’s early and most renowned work, Blood and Guts in High School (1978), is a lined notepad with text and image pasted onto the pages. It is a collage, an art object. The dream maps, which punctuate Blood and Guts in High School, are archived as separate framed objects. Dream Map Two is an artwork measuring 56 inches by 22 inches. Such archival discoveries enabled the development of my book. The monograph takes a specific work of Acker’s for each chapter as a means to explore six key experimental strategies in Acker’s oeuvre. A substantial knowledge of Acker’s avant-garde practices would not have been possible without the research carried out in the archive.
The Kathy Acker Papers also illuminated a related line of enquiry taken in my monograph: the importance of Acker’s early poetic practices to an understanding of her later prose experiments, which often dislimn the distinction between poetry and prose. The repository of unpublished poetic works provided rich material for the first chapter of my book, which explores Acker’s engagement with the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets in the 1970s. Acker’s unpublished poetry can be understood as both a significant autonomous body of work, and as juvenilia that was a catalyst for her later writing experiments. The box that houses these early works also contains typed conversations between Acker and her early mentor, the poet David Antin. Written under Acker’s early pseudonym, The Black Tarantula, these conversations point to the discourses that emerged between Acker and various writers and poets concerning the uses of language. In this 1974 text, ‘Interview With David Antin’, which reads in part, and perhaps intentionally, like a Socratic dialogue, Acker and Antin interrogate issues of language and certainty. Acker and Antin draw on their writing experiments, alongside a discussion of Wittgenstein’s On Certainty, as means to interrogate language and perception. Such materials are rich when read in conjunction with Acker’s poetry.
Reading the materials in the archive, letters, early drafts of published works, speeches, Acker’s teaching notes and notebooks on philosophy, as well as Acker’s handwritten annotations on various texts, and her invaluable collection of small press pamphlets, was illuminating. Numerous texts disclosed the self-conscious nature of Acker’s experiments. A number of early poetic experiments are entitled ‘Writing Asymmetrically’, and several notebooks gesture specifically to the influence of William Burroughs and Acker’s experiments with the cut-up technique. Other notebooks are streams of consciousness, and are evidently comprised of material that Acker then cut up for use in her experimental works. Most of Acker’s novels originated this way, as a set of handwritten notebooks.
Archival research at the Sallie Bingham Center cultivated a rich understanding of the diversity of Acker’s experimental work and the writer’s remarkable lifetime achievements, many of which remain unpublished. The extent of the material and its uniqueness brought home the importance and centrality of the archive in the formation of knowledge regarding an experimental writer’s oeuvre. In the context of the female avant-garde writer, Acker stated that Gertrude Stein, as the progenitor of experimental women’s writing, is ‘the mother of us all.’ The remarkable experimentalism and the linguistic innovation of a great number of the texts that comprise The Kathy Acker Papers reveal Acker to succeed Stein as one of the most important experimental writers of the twentieth century.
Post contributed by Georgina Colby, Lecturer in Contemporary Literature, University of Westminster, UK.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University