Jillian Sparks and her poster

Jillian Sparks’ Report from the SHARP Conference

What follows is one final blog post from our former Olson Graduate Assistant, Jillian Sparks, who attended the SHARP conference July 7-10, 2015 to present a poster related to her cataloging work here in Special Collections.


The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP) is an international organization dedicated to book history and print culture. SHARP describes their research focus as, “the composition, mediation, reception, survival, and transformation of written communication in material forms from marks on stone to new media. Perspectives range from the individual reader to the transnational communication network” (sharpweb.org). There are over a 1,000 members from more than 40 countries who provide a truly global perspective of book history. Due to its large international community, the conference location rotates between the Western and Eastern hemispheres each year—typically North America and Europe.

I first learned about SHARP while attending the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in 2012. Adrian van der Weel, the keynote speaker and my course instructor, highly encouraged joining SHARP if we were interested in book history. I joined the same afternoon and after three summers, I was finally able to attend the annual conference this summer in Longueil/Montreal as a master’s student poster presenter. I presented my final poster from the University of Iowa’s School of Library and Information Science program titled “Regenerating the Local Catalog: An Approach for Augmenting Bibliographic Information for Early Printed Texts.” The theme this year was “The Generation and Regeneration of Books” and was hosted by the Groupe de recherches et d’études sur le livre au Québec, the University of Sherbrooke, McGill University and the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. The conference was truly a bilingual event with presentations in both French and English. Over 350 people traveled to Québec to participate.

Scholars from all disciplines and librarians alike attend SHARP, and the conference program reflects this diversity. I attended sessions on special collections instruction, cataloging, and pivotal collectors. “Old Books and New Tricks: Regenerating the Library Visit” has been the most helpful session on special collections instruction out of all the conferences I have attended. Gale Burrow from Claremont College presented on how to turn a one-time visit into a two part lab series that focuses on primary research in the first lab and the secondary sources in the second lab. Karla Nielsen demonstrated how Book Traces, a crowd-sourced web project aimed at identifying unique copies of 19th- and early 20th-century books on circulating library shelves, was successfully carried out at Columbia University. CLIR postdoctoral fellow at Southwestern University, Charlotte Nunes, discussed the emotional connection her students experienced while transcribing Latino oral histories and the importance of capturing the students’ oral histories on their project work. The last presenter, Amanda Watson from Yale, showed how she has collaborated with special collections to integrate technology into the class visit. All four presenters illustrated creative methods of teaching that I look forward to incorporating into my professional career.

Jillian Sparks and her poster
Jillian Sparks and her poster

Because of my interest in copy specific cataloging and in relation to my own work on cataloging 16th-century books at the University of Iowa, the panels on “Pivotal Collectors” and “Early modern Women and the Book (II): case Studies in Ownership, Circulation, and Collecting” served as interesting comparisons. In the first panel, presenters discussed the familiar issues of how to catalog and organize famous personages’ personal collections. In the second panel, speakers addressed the problem of how to find someone’s books after the collection has been separated and sold. In her presentation “Finding Frances Wolfreston in Online Public Access Catalogues: How Electronic Records Can Lead Us to Early Modern Women Readers,” Sarah Lindenbaum demonstrated how Frances Wolfreston’s unique signature as noted in various catalog records enabled her to trace the dispersion of her books. The discussion surrounded the general value of provenance notes and included mention of Provenance Online Project also known as POP.

Other presentations on embroidered bindings (Amanda Pullan) and the history of dog-earing books (Ian Gadd) were equally exciting and all of the SHARP panels appealed to my love of book history. The most fulfilling aspect of the conference was SHARP’s dedication to encouraging emerging scholars. There was a specific dinner for master’s and PhD candidate presenters. The poster session and PhD candidate papers did not conflict with other sessions, thus allowing all conference attendees to engage with their research. I personally benefited from the feedback and encouragement I received during the poster session. Most importantly, I left SHARP feeling welcome and excited to be a member of the organization and enthused about book history as a discipline.

Relevant links:

Sparks, Jillian A. Regenerating the Local Catalog: An Approach for Augmenting Bibliographic Information for Early Printed Texts http://ir.uiowa.edu/slis_student_pubs/1

Accompanying digital exhibit: http://sparks.omeka.net

SHARP’s website: http://www.sharpweb.org

SHARP 2015 conference site: http://sharp2015.ca/en/home/

Book Traces: http://www.booktraces.org/

Provenance Online Project (POP): https://provenanceonlineproject.wordpress.com/

Strolling through a Miniature Garden

In Of Gardens, Francis Bacon praises gardening as “the purest of human pleasures; it is the greatest refreshment to the spirits of man […].”  Having just moved here from Bozeman, MT, and left my garden behind to start the Library and Information Science master’s program, I have been sorely missing the simple pleasure of watching something grow.  The jar of green onions growing on the windowsill of my basement apartment window does not seem to refresh my spirits in quite the same way as Bacon intended. He says that only a 30 acre garden will do—clearly, Bacon never had to live in a basement apartment. So while the corn continues to grow to as high as an elephant’s eye and squash vines consume other people’s backyards, I have decided to scour Special Collections for gardening books in order to vicariously experience “the purest of human pleasures.”IMG_1596_b

During my search, I chanced upon Claire Lawson-Hall’s diary of a single year of gardening.  She has separated her story by season: A Spring Garden (1999), A Summer Garden (1999), An Autumn Garden (2000), and A Winter Garden (2001), illustrated by Muriel Mallows and printed at The Alembic Press, Marcham, UK. The design of each miniature evokes the season Lawson-Hall chronicles. IMG_1572_2 In A Spring Garden she describes the progress of her garden February through May.  The blackbirds, starlings, and robins have all returned and set up various camps. The bulb flowers are blooming and ladybirds(bugs) have made an early appearance. Like every other gardener Lawson-Hall must battle snails and weeds, although I have to disagree with her  unfavorable opinion of dandelions—dandelion wine and salads are delightful! The pages of this book are folded like a cootie catcher and they spring open much like the flowers in her garden. When the book covers are tied together there are beautiful floral designs on either underside.IMG_1575_2

May through August summer returns and swallows take center stage in her narrative. Lawson-Hall describes their nest making and the birth of the first set of chicks and their departure. Her orchard is in bloom and volunteer poppies have sprung up on the edges of the garden.  In August she worries about drought, like most of us now, and hints at the first signs of autumn.  To me the design of this book conjures the image of wandering around her garden as the text winds from vertical columns to horizontal and back again. I love the final image where we can see Lawson-Hall doing battle with the valerian.IMG_1581_2

IMG_1585_2In autumn the last of the swallows leave and September through November Lawson-Hall focuses on preserving her harvest and making jams.  Hedgehogs mosey about the property and mowing the lawn and raking leaves are given constants in this season. This book design might be my favorite. It works like a Jacob’s ladder and the pages tumble down and become disarranged when I try to figure out the best way to read her diary. I think this is her cleverest representation of a season; the descending pages perfectly represent the falling leaves. Where the other illustrations are colored by watercolors, this book features real fall leaves stamped onto the squares of cardboard.


Lawson-Hall admits that winter is her least favorite season, perhaps this distaste accounts for her own tardiness when planting her broad beans and garlic. The unassuming design of this miniature also suggests that she was less inspired by the season, but I IMG_1591_2think it mimics winter quite well. The book is bound as a codex (curiously 2 gatherings have been bound out of order in our copy) which creates a more static feeling rather than the active unfolding, turning, or picking up motions involved with reading the other three works.  This more passive reading conveys to me a sense that the reader and author have moved indoors and that we are no longer rambling through the garden. The illustrations this time bear heavy plate marks which give the impression of looking through a window pane at the flora and fauna outside.

If Bacon read these little books, I am sure he would change his view that pleasure from a garden can only be derived if experienced by wandering through 30 acres or more of land.  These 3x3in. books take the reader on a memorable and tactile journey. Now I am inspired to expand my windowsill garden from just green onions in a jar to maybe some kitchen herbs too—then I will have an excuse to create my own cute garden books.