Last weekend at the Iowa City Book Festival, Special Collections & University Archives hosted a Book Tasting event in the Old Capitol. As a closed stack library usually researchers and readers already have an item in mind when they come to see us. “Search” will turn up very different results from “browse” as a strategy and so to make it possible to find an unknown favorite, we created a Book Tasting event. Inspired by wine tasting parties, a “Book Tasting” features a selection of books that the “tasters” have not seen before to browse, add ratings, and perhaps find an unexpected favorite. Then when the ratings are tallied, a crowd favorite will emerge.
The collection of books we put together for the event was inspired by the exhibition across the hall in the Old Capitol Museum, “Insects: A Collection in Multiple Dimensions.” We selected 20 scientific books from the 18th and 19th centuries that have illustrations of collections of things. These collections include everything from an entire four volumes dedicated to every species of antelope to books on butterflies, mollusks, quadrupeds, or flowers. Due to the nature of scientific study at the time these are books that are illustrated in great detail and in the 100+ years represented in the sample, book illustration itself changes dramatically. The books also make it clear how these types of books were used in the 19th century as the University of Iowa got its start. Many bear traces such as singed edges and library bindings that tell the story of their survivial from the 1897 North Hall fire while many others bear the stamps of their former owners, eventual donors to the collections such as Dr. Mark Ranney and D.H. Talbot.
Though our end goal was to find a crowd favorite what emerged from the data collected was a picture of how diverse people’s interests are. 15 of the 20 books were listed as someone’s favorite. Three books tied to be the crowd favorite, #9 Popular Greenhouse Botany, #17 The Birds of Great Britain, and #20 History of Quadrupeds.
If you could not make it to the event please enjoy the gallery of images on Flickr that will give you a “taste” of what was there, including a cover, title page, and image from the book for each item that was featured. The crowd favorites will be featured this week in our “pop-up” exhibit case right inside the door. Find your favorite, and as always, feel free to stop by anytime to enjoy these books in Special Collections.
Click on the link to view the whole gallery on Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/uispeccoll/sets/72157630657536852/
*See librarian Buffy Hamilton “The Unquiet Librarian” for more information on “Book Tasting” events in other contexts.