4 thoughts on “Identifying Early Shelf-Marks from the Rotunda Library

  1. Hello:
    Very interesting research. I commend you on your undertaking.

    But I strongly disagree with one of your conclusions. In the last sentence of your second paragraph you state: “A shelf-mark in a catalogue is useless without its corresponding mark on the book!” I disagree.

    Assume you have a catalogue which list a book entitled: “The Anatomy of a Butterfly” and the catalogue states it is housed on shelf A-1. You do not need any mark on the book whatsoever to inform you where to place the Anatomy book. The book can contain no markings whatsoever and if the shelf identifier is listed in the catalogue one will know exactly where to place the book. (Maybe this is the responsibility of the librarian who may have the catalogue in hand and not the book user). (Or maybe it is the collector who wishes to have no marks in his books–thus they remain “pure”). Accordingly the catalogue is not “useless”. In fact if the book is unmarked, the catalogue is absolutely essential to inform you where to house the book.

    Likewise if the Anatomy of a Butterfly is marked with “Shelf A-1”, you will know where to house even if the catalogue fails to identify the shelf or even if the catalogue fails to list the book. In summary you do not need the marking “Shelf A-1” on both the book and the catalogue.

    However if you wish to identify the specific shelf, e.g. the physical location of the shelf within the library, the shelf will need to be marked or you will need a historical record to identify the physical location of shelf A-1.

    Of course a catalogue listing the books grouped together on Shelf A-1 or pulling together and identifying all of the books with a marking of Shelf A-1 can be important, even if the marking is not on both the catalogue and book and even if the physical location of the shelf cannot be identified. It can tell us a great deal about the concepts of teaching and learning at the time of the markings. For example were art and law books shelved together at one time suggesting a similar discipline and approach and later separated or were they separate early and then grouped together later? (The art and law example is for illustrative purposes, not to imply any scholarship on that combination or lack thereof).

    The physical attributes of a library are also a very interesting area of study. Comments about library architecture are outside the scope of my comments here, but very interesting work was recent completed on this subject. I cannot recall the title or authors, but maybe Mr. Goggle can find it. Likewise knowledge about the physical size of Thomas Jefferson’s libraries (extend of shelving and book cases and so forth) at both Poplar Forest and Monticello can aid the scholar in identify or confirming the extent of Mr. Jefferson’s libraries.

    Again, thanks for the update on your work. Very interesting stuff.


    • Dennis,

      Right you are! Thanks for pointing out our error—I think we meant something along the lines of, “without corresponding marks on the books, the catalogue must be consulted every time the book is returned and reshelved.” “Useless” is far too strong a word here. I’ve asked the editor to change this. Stay tuned. Meantime, it seems you’ve thought about this. I’d be glad to correspond in future as we work out how books were arranged beneath the Rotunda’s dome. Thanks again.

  2. Yep. I have thought about this stuff. I will try to find the architecture of libraries article I mentioned to you. Jefferson designed the Rotunda library shelves so standing in the middle you could not see the shelves. But I wonder if more was at work? I would enjoy keeping up with your work. Is there a way to keep in touch outside of this blog?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *