Thursday, 17 July 2008

English Faculty Library

July 17, 2008 (Site Visit)

Krystal was amazing enough to set up an appointment with Sue Usher at the English Faculty Library to see their Tolkien collection, and she was kind enough to let a few of us come along for the visit.

J. R. R. Tolkien was a member of the English faculty at Oxford, and he donated over 200 books to their library. Ms. Usher presented us with a photocopied card catalog list of his books and a handwritten book of the minutes of the Library Committee from the 1920's-1940's. Tolkien was on the Library Committee and was also its chair for some years. His signatures were scattered throughout the book (members of the committee signed off on the secretary's notes).

Ms. Usher told us that the Tolkien books were organized by a homemade classification system, although she was not certain of the system's origins or exactly how they were organized (whether they were by date, or author, or something else entirely). They each have a VC number (VC1, VC2, etc.). Here is an example catalog entry with incorrect indentations, which I was sadly unable to reproduce:

VC 213
Cyrurgie of Guy de Chauliac
(E.E.T.S. 265
Ed. Ogden, M.
Vol I.
London, O.U.P. 1971
contains three pages of JRRT's loose notes.

Here is what the "card" for his copy of Beowulf looked like:

Many of the cards had handwritten notes on them stating various peculiarities about the texts, especially if they had any notes written in them by Tolkien's hand. We requested several of these books, and Ms. Usher retrieved them for us and allowed us to handle them after a short lecture on the correct method of handling the texts (we used foam reading pads and were extremely careful and reverent). Most of the texts we requested were foreign language materials, and as Tolkien was a linguist, many of his pencilled-in notes were about the pronunciation of various words

A badly recreated example of one of his notes is as follows:

hence oí
dry where
y (with a line over it) = ü (with a line over it)

We saw his copy of the Ialo Manuscripts (a selection of Ancient Welsh manuscripts) as well as his copy of Beowulf. It was an amazing experience to actually touch books that he had read and to see his signature inscribed in the front of each book. One book even had an entire page of linguistic notes stuck in the back, while another (the catalog example I mentioned) had three pages of notes.

Out of respect for the Tolkien Estate, I shall not post any images of the books themselves.

We then explored the rest of their library. We spent most of the remainder of our time on the second floor, where they house the 20th century authors. The library has a fairly unique organization system in which they have works divided by time period and then alphabetically by author. According to Ms. Usher, it has always worked well for them.

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