An Interview with Jeannine Green, Head Librarian, in the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library and Patricia Demers - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Jeannine Green, Head Librarian, Bruce Peel Special Collections Library

PD: Thank you Jeannine, for meeting with us and agreeing to talk about Special Collections. When did the collection start at the U of A?

JG: The Special Collections Library began in the first library at the University of Alberta which was located in the Old Arts Building. It was to the left of the central foyer. Typically, at the University of Alberta, as in most universities in North America, the Chief Librarian would have a Treasure Room close to his office - and I say "his" because most chief librarians were male at this point, in the early part of the twentieth century. The Treasure Rooms contained materials that the Chief Librarian thought were just too valuable or rare, or would suffer depredation if they were left in the circulating stacks.

PD: I love the term! (Laughter) Shades of Robert Louis Stevenson, really.

JG: Absolutely. In any event, these Treasure Rooms, as time went by, as donors donated, and as professors retired and donated their collections, became too small to contain the holdings. In the 50s and 60s Special Collection Libraries started developing their own identity, if you will, within library systems. A major landmark in the evolution of Special Collections here was the death of Dr. Rutherford, the first Premier of Alberta, in the early 1940s. He was a focused collector. Fascinated and obsessed with the development of the west, both politically and culturally. His major interests were narratives of explorers - various inland and coastal explorers, the searches for the Northwest passage that were so popular - the books were very, very popular when they were published in the nineteenth century and at the time that Dr. Rutherford was collecting them in the 20s and 30s they weren't terribly valuable. Canadiana hadn't caught on yet.

PD: Wasn't in.

JG: Right. So he had his passions. Franklin's loss and the ultimate searches for Franklin. He was also interested in the cultural development of the province so he also collected really well published books of poetry. These were either gifts for his daughter, Hazel (ultimately, McQuaig), and Mrs. McQuaig collected books and donated throughout her lifetime - much longer and later into the twentieth century than her father had lived. So it was really almost a half a century of books and connections with Dr. Rutherford. It was agreed at the time of the Rutherford donation, when the librarians realized its importance, that the Rutherford collecting philosophy would carry on, that the university library would continue to buy books that enhanced the initial core of his collection. In the 60s the University of Alberta was the benefactor of the province's very, very deep pockets. I mean, we were talking about Premier Lougheed this morning and I think it was during the heyday of his administration that he really did concern himself with secondary education and the development of the university. People think that I've lost my mind when I tell them this but in the 70s and 80s there was a double matching grant. For instance, if a donation was appraised at $50,000.00 the library would receive double that amount from the government. That grant program lasted until about 1989, when the amount became a one-to-one match and then gradually died off completely. Those were the days!I wish I'd been around because it would have been really quite exciting to see. The major collections at the University were purchased in the 60s, and during Mr. Bruce Peel's administration. Such as the Robert Woods Collection from California which contained many highlights in western Americana. This collection jibed extremely well with the Rutherford collection's focus on western Canadian history; it broadened our scope by taking us down the Columbia River to Astoria and the Pacific coast.

PD: Right, further south. Astoria was at one time a British outpost wasn't it?

JG: Oh, yes, absolutely. There was huge debate about whether both Oregon and Washington would not be part of Canada. The border would have gone down and just sort of lopped off California and I'm sure there are a lot of people today who live in those two states wishing that had happened. (Laughter) In any event, the University had a great deal of money, but there were also, I would say, scholar librarians around at the time. Librarians that had very strong subject strengths and really selected wisely. There were also important people at this University, like Dr. Rothrock in the Department of History and Classics, who was an internationally respected French historian. He worked with a bibliographer in the library and acquired an incredibly strong French history collection; it is really quite amazing. We've had visiting scholars who have come here to teach sessions in the History department. They're absolutely amazed at our holdings, and are astonished that they can get them almost immediately because whenever they've had to find them in libraries in France, it takes more than you'd like to think for these books to be retrieved. So it's been gradual; sometimes in rather short bursts there were really major, wonderful collections acquired. And then over periods of dried-up funding we suffer a little bit. But, generally speaking, this library has really developed, I would say, to the point that it is now, in the last twenty years, among the highest ranking research libraries in Canada. John Charles, the recently retired Special Collections librarian, was very keen about our artist's book work collection and it's really due to him that we have one of the significant artist's book work collections in Canada. In the area of English literature, again, due to John and his predecessors and Dr. Forrest of the English Department, we were able to acquire the Ralph Ewart Ford Bunyan Collection, and we've been developing our D.H. Lawrence collection. We have many foreign translations of Lawrence. To sort of flesh out Lawrence's impact on writing and literature, we also have movie stills and other Lawrence ephemeral pieces. So those acquisitions really give the collection a different dimension entirely.

PD: Yes. About different dimensions, what range of users would you say actually come into the library?

JG: We have ranges of users. Because of our strong Canadiana collections there will always be genealogists in our midst. So we have people come in from the general public and also we advertise our exhibitions. We blanket Edmonton with posters.

PD: You produce magnificent catalogues, too.

JG: So for the last - the Entomological exhibition - it was thrilling to walk into a shop and see a poster advertising it. These posters attracted people who don't ordinarily visit, because we're primarily a humanities library, though we do have some historical scientific books and of course the entomology section has been developing hand over fist lately, through the generous donation of an alumnus, a retired entomologist. We try to attract visitors from all walks of life. Of course the faculty uses the Collection, graduate students, undergraduates, the staff on campus - people who work as FSOs in various departments use Special Collections. We try to do as much outreach as possible and encourage high school teachers to bring their classes to Special Collections. We were an important, very popular part of the schedule for the Summer Youth University Program. Do you remember how well that program was received?

PD: Yes.

JG: And that was lovely because students from grade nine - just going into high school - would come in and it was really pretty exciting and pretty intense. When I would show children, very young children who had grown up in Edmonton, for the most part, our oldest book, the Nuremberg Chronicle, they couldn't believe it was printed in 1493. They can't believe that they can actually almost touch something - I mean, they can, if they want to, if they wear their gloves - that's over five hundred years old.

PD: The gloves tend to add to the aura, don't they? (Laughter)

JG: Yes, they do. We love to encourage that. We have visiting scholars. There is a person at Penn State who's working on 18th-century pirates. Not the live ones, but the books that were pirated and published in Dublin and that kind of thing. Of course, now that we have the Wirth Institute for Austrian and Central European Studies at the University, I can't fail to mention the Bishop of Salzburg's Collection, another major purchase of the 60s. It was one of the key factors in the Austrians deciding to locate the Institute at the University of Alberta.

Some "gems" of the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library

PD: Well, the collection is broad and rich and diverse, but it has some particular gems for those of us who are interested in women's writing. Would you like to tell us a little about some of those exceptional books we have for scholars and students of women's writing?

JG: I have been trying - and I still am - to collect books that reflect the history of women reading and books written for women, or books written by women for women, or books written by women for everyone. It's been one of our focuses here for the last fifteen or so years. Among the books for women, the Minerva Press was active from the late part of the eighteenth century until long after William Lane, the proprietor's, death in the beginning of the nineteenth century. For many, many years scholars, including Dorothy Blakey, who wrote the first bibliography of the Minerva Press in the 30s, thought the list of Minerva Press imprints was quite complete; but she worked without the internet. And then in the 90s, Deborah McLeod, a PhD student in the English department, discovered some Minerva titles not included in Blakey and decided to focus her dissertation on an up-dated Minerva bibliography. Many people held the view that the Minerva Press was an early rendition or version of Harlequin novels. But Deborah discovered that while the Press did publish many novels by women, and many anonymous novels by women, it was considered a very solid press of the time and actively encouraged female authors to submit manuscripts along with standard non-fiction titles. Unfortunately, none of the archives of the Minerva Press have survived. It would have been really a gold mine to read the letters that were written between William Lane and the women whom he helped. I doubt very much whether any of those women were able to support themselves on the money that they made.

PD: On the proceeds from the publications.

JG: Exactly. Our interest in the Minerva Press started in the late 60s or early 70s when we acquired King Ernest Augustus of Hanover's collection. Here is the list of the books that were included in the collection and when it was being accessioned; the Minerva Press was really a very strong component of the King's collection. So because we already had a good beginning, we thought that we would expand on that and we've been buying Minerva Presses, as I said, for the last twenty years.

PD: So did these purchases actually begin in that boom time?

JG: Yes. I mean, we've been able to maintain our buying power. There's a dealer in England who is very sympathetic towards us; he's not got terrible cash flow problems so sometimes we can buy things kind of on 'spec' -- don't ever tell anybody that. (Laughter) This is the King Ernest Augustus's bookplate. I also brought another one out; these are all Minerva Presses, by the way. Unfortunately, the Press didn't use glorious or horrifying-looking frontispieces -

PD: No, I see that.

JG: But this, I thought, was really interesting. It belonged to a circulating library, as most three-decker novels did and that's an interesting little label that I hadn't seen before. This is a lovely leather tree calf binding; the king had his books custom-bound for his library, and they are quite noticeable in our stacks. Three-decker novels were very popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century - and we have many, many of them.

PD: Yes, obviously. Three and four deckers.

JG: Because readers using circulating libraries paid per volume. And of course, if you started a novel, you had to finish. So they worked very, very well.

PD: After all, she was just abandoned at the end of volume one; you had to have her identified and reconciled! (Laughter)

JG: The cliffhanger. We probably had ninety or a hundred Minerva titles at the time and Deborah read them all. Then she went to the Corvey Collection in Paderborn, Germany, one of the largest English language fiction collections in Western Europe. She spent several weeks there and said it was absolutely glorious. She had written and asked them for access to their Minerva titles. Deborah read Minerva novels for at least three years and every summer she would come in, every day, and sit in the reading room. We really admired her stamina! (Laughter) She did really solid research. Each of the novels in her bibliography is annotated and she's captured the tone and world of the time. She discovered many aspects of the publishing life of the Minerva Press that were not in the Blakey work. After she had successfully defended her dissertation we got her a large congratulatory box of chocolates. (Laughter)

PD: I would hope a very good bottle of wine, too! (Laughter) Well, the Minerva Press is definitely a gem of the U of A collection.

JG: It is. We have probably one of the three major collections in North America. I was at a conference in Cambridge a few years ago and an important American antiquarian book dealer spoke at our conference. The conference topic was the transition of literature, the movement of books and archives, from England to America; and subsequently to the Far East - and the magnificent libraries of English literature that were being developed in Japan. He was finding markets for English literature in Japan, particularly involving women, again. Japanese people are interested in the history of women reading in the West. The dealer observed that 'if you would have told me twenty years ago that I could get more than five pounds for a Minerva Press, I would have eaten my hat! I'm so sorry I didn't pay more attention to them.' (Laughter) We have one book that was printed at the Minerva Press that deals with the French Revolution and it was taken to Paris and was annotated. It's unfortunate it was written by a man who went to Paris after the Revolution, but he makes notes in the end leaves of what he perceived - he'd been to Paris before the Revolution and these were his reflections on what had happened.

PD: I see. Are the notes in English or French?

JG: They're in English because he was an English traveller. But the book that I've bought from Ximines Rare Books in England for one of the Honorary Degree recipients for the Installation ceremony in the fall, Julie Payette, is a real curiosity.

PD: Oh! The astronaut.

JG: Yes, the astronaut. I was leafing through Ximines Rare Books. Inc. catalogue, an English dealer, which I just got yesterday, and there's a lovely - I'll get it, it's just beautiful - (Jeannine leaves room)

Margaret Atwood's Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein with illustrations by
Charles Pachter (1966)

PD: And another book Jeannine has brought out for us is Margaret Atwood's Speeches for Dr. Frankenstein. This is very early Atwood. I'm surprised they didn't put it in the exhibit right now on Canadian presses of the 60s and 70s, but this was on display about three or four years ago when Special Collections did an exhibit on the art poem. Quite rare.

JG: This is a first edition by John Harris.

PD: Oh, John Harris, the publisher for children?

JG: No. (Laughter) The title is Astronomical Dialogue between a Gentleman and a Lady: wherein the doctrine of a sphere, uses of globes, and the element of astronomy and geography are explained in a pleasant, easy and familiar way. With a description of the famous instrument called the orrery. It was printed in London in 1719.

PD: Is this part of The Cabinet of Instruction?

JG: No. The orrery was an early model of the universe.

PD: Yes.

JG: And it's printed on a folded plate. This is the first edition. It's an early attempt to present fundamentals of astronomy to female readers. John Harris was a clergyman with an abiding interest in science. In 1698 he preached the Boyle Lectures in St. Paul's Cathedral. He subsequently drifted away from a clerical life and became a lecturer on mathematics. He was engaged on more than one occasion as a compiler of the London book trade and produced the first English Encyclopedia of Arts and Sciences in 1704, and a massive collection of Voyages in 1705.

PD: So, I'm wondering if he is related, if one of his grandchildren could have been the John Harris who began the children's book trade. It would make sense, wouldn't it?

JG: Because of his connection with the book trade. But, aside from this project his personal life was erratic and tragic, and he died a pauper in 1719, the year this book was published. It's got engraved plates but I thought -

PD: It's perfect. It's wonderful.

JG: I mean, you have to have something like that for Julie Payette. Something modern wouldn't do. So that was really exciting. And then, of course, I was on tenterhooks. I emailed the order to England at about four o'clock in the afternoon on Friday. So I had to wait all weekend until Monday to see if the dealer still had it and he did....

PD: So we've got it?

JG: We've got it.

PD: Fabulous!

JG: But that's the kind of thing - when I see any books of instructions for women in dealers' catalogues I try to acquire them for the collection - if they're within reason price-wise - the strong English pound and US dollar have to be factored in for most such titles.

PD: Well one of the gems that we actually have in the Library, much to the chagrin, I think, of scholars in Eastern Canada, is the first, the only, early modern edition of Lady Mary Wroth's The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania. They don't have a copy of this in the Robarts Library at the University of Toronto and we are extremely fortunate to have this first edition. I say single edition because it only appeared for six months and Lady Wroth withdrew it from circulation because of charges of libel. It's the first Romance in English by a woman. Lady Mary Wroth was the niece of Sir Philip Sidney and of the Countess of Pembroke. She was the daughter of the poet, Robert Sidney, and was herself an accomplished poet as well as a pastoral dramatist. So she wrote the first pastoral, the first sonnet sequence by a woman in English, and this first magnificent, stunning, mysterious romance by a woman in English, The Countesse of Mountgomeries Urania. I know we're going to capture a picture of this later.

JG: And if I could just interject, you can tell by this old accession number - we don't do that anymore - that this has been in the library system probably since the 50s, I would say. That's a very, very old accession number.

PD: So you don't know exactly through whom we got this?

JG: Unfortunately, no.

PD: It's magnificent.

JG: It could have been owned by a professor on faculty or possibly donated. I would suspect that it was owned by someone who had some kind of relationship with the university, but that's just a suspicion. It's not in very good shape and I've thought about sending it away to have it bound. But I wouldn't touch it. It's just too -

PD: Oh, I wouldn't. Absolutely not. I mean, it's not falling apart. I think it's actually in very good shape.

JG: No, the binding is solid and I wouldn't want anything done to that. I like its age. It's aged very, very well.

PD: I love the feel of it, quite frankly. It's almost a tactile approach to reading, isn't it?

JG: Absolutely.

PD: Another gem of the collection, changing centuries entirely, is an early collection of poems by Margaret Atwood in an artist's book called Speeches for Dr. Frankenstein. I know that this has been on display at different times but do you know anything about how we purchased this?

JG: No, again, I don't.

PD: It was in the collection, was it?

JG: Yes, it was in the collection.

PD: The illustrations are by Charles Pachter. It was printed in 1966. So this is very early Atwood. It's remarkable for me to realize how many undergraduate students are actually introduced to Atwood and Canadian literature and the tradition of the artist's book, which of course, is on display here, through such a work. As you were saying, we have a regular assortment of classes who come to Special Collections with their instructor and they are introduced to some of the gems of the collection. Invariably, in student comments at the end of the year, that's the class they remember most and most fondly.

JG: It's very gratifying. We have such wonderful things; it's very easy to be enthusiastic about them. We have one faculty member in the English department, Ted Bishop, who has been coming to Special Collections for twenty years; he can just hardly wait to come here because we always find something to show him he's never seen before. (Laughter) But that piece is very, very rare. And it's number -

PD: 11.

JG: of -

PD: "The edition is limited to 15 copies, all on paper, hand-made from linen and cotton by me," who signs Charles Pachter to copy number 11."

JG: Now he's at the Cranbrook Institute in Michigan. That's one of the reasons why Allison Sivak (who's curating "Pressing: an Exhibition of Canadian Poetry and Small Publishers, 1950-1980") didn't use it in the exhibition. There was a short discussion on the RBMS list recently (the Rare Book and Manuscript section of the American Library Association). Apparently, Charles and Margaret were at camp together, and that's how they met, when they were children.

PD: Oh, I see.

JG: And Pachter is very interested in Canadian literature.

PD: Is he Canadian?

JG: No, an American. But they met on one of those lakes that are in southern Ontario.

PD: Perhaps Lake Michigan. (Laughter)

JG: It could be. They collaborated on two or three items and what a wonderful collaboration! This was much later, of course, after they became adults and he went on to the Cranbrook Academy. So that's how they met and that's the connection between Pachter and Atwood.

PD: Well we have lots to explore in the Special Collections and I want to thank you for this exhilarating introduction to the Collection. We're hoping that our magazine will be able to display and talk about some other highlights from the collection.

JG: Thank you very much and please do encourage one and all to visit us and to join us. I think it would be really interesting if you got people down to talk about their particular fields - Sylvia Brown

PD: And John Considine and Ted Bishop. Absolutely.

JG: I think that would be a terrific little series.

PD: Yes, that's a good idea. Thanks very much.

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