As a Boston College student who had participated in the creation of an exhibit in the John J. Burns Library and enjoyed a great many more, I was always baffled when fellow undergraduates were unaware of its presence on campus. “You mean Bapst?” I’d be asked when discussing the location of a class, lecture, or exhibit. I’d reply that it’s the rare books library, a separate entity from Bapst holding a completely different collection of materials. Sometimes I’d receive a confused, “just rare books?” in response to my quick explanation, as I was often on my way out the door while these conversations were taking place. And the answer is yes… and no. I’ve come to discover that these rare books hold more than I expected during my recent summer internship and assistantship with Burns’ Conservator, Barbara Adams Hebard. These rare and wonderful volumes have been protecting and keeping voices from the past, voices from their owners, alive in the stacks of Burns Library.
As Conservation Intern and Assistant, I’ve seen and aided in the conservation of two very different collections. From the leather treatment of pre-suppression Jesuit volumes to protectively covering the library of Graham Greene among other duties, I’ve had the opportunity to handle over one hundred individual rare books. Within the two large collections I’ve mentioned, there are exciting differences from book to book. The leather volumes often have intricate gold designs or individual patterns imprinted in or painted on the binding. The languages of these Jesuits of the past range from French, Italian, Latin, and others I can’t readily identify. The paper and ink used varies, with some still remarkably rich as a result of handmade paper and quality ink.
By comparison, in Graham Greene’s collection, the bindings from his 20th century collection are much less notable than the much older Jesuit books. However, the understanding that some of these books influenced his lauded written creations is exciting in and of itself. Also of note is that some of them came to us with the pages uncut, a sign that those particular books were not the ones impacting the author’s literary or historical pursuits. Continue reading