Giles Mandelbrote and Barry Taylor, eds. Libraries within the Library: The Origins of the British Library's Printed Collections. London: The British Library; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. 448 pp.; $85.00 ISBN 9780712350358
Libraries within the Library is a great pleasure to read and has much to offer not only to historians but also to library administrators. The volume brings together 19 essays on, mainly, individual collections and their origins, but there is also attention to the management of these collections once acquired and relationships to collections outside British Library walls. The tone is established at the outset by David Pearson, long an eloquent champion of printed book collections as physical carriers of our histories. He notes, for example, that the practice of including evidence about ownership, bindings, or annotation in catalogue records--the kinds of evidence that allow collections to be recognized and studied as entities--is relatively recent and far from universal, and calls for greater attention to this avenue of access to historical collections. The subsequent chapters provide effective support for his case both in the BL and beyond.
The first section, "The Foundation Collections," is the largest of four. James P. Carley's article on Henry VIII's library outlines the development and dispersal of the collection and describes in particular the complex history of a newly discovered Henrican book traced through its shelf mark. Anthony Grafton and Joanna Weinberg write on Isaac Casaubon's less-known interest in Hebrew and Hebraica, showing at once that the BL's preservation of Casaubon's books has made possible this new understanding of Casaubon's interests, and that the lack of systematic recording of provenance information has somewhat obscured it. Two separate articles add to what is known of the Cotton family collection. Colin G.C. Tite identifies nearly two hundred Cotton-owned printed books that did not form part of the Cotton gift and suggests that greater attention to copy-specific cataloguing would likely turn up other items. Julian Harrison looks at printed items bound within the celebrated manuscript collection, some of which have not been signalled in any catalogue. Considering this group as a whole he suggests new ideas about Cotton's book habits that could not be gleaned from studying individual items.
Hans Sloane's printed books are treated in three chapters. Alison Walker presents the great variety of Sloane ownership signs that have helped--and will continue to help--locate items dispersed within BL collections or sold in duplicate sales. Giles Mandelbrote traces books previously owned by Robert Hooke (and to a lesser extent Stuart Bickerstaff) through Sloane's own library catalogue, Sloane's copies of the Hooke sale catalogue, and evidence in books. Echoing Walker, Mandelbrote mentions difficulties of identification caused by collection management decisions, but sees also the grounding motivation for at least some of these (such as rebinding that removes ownership evidence) in a desire to provide the greatest possible access. In a second essay, Mandelbrote profiles a fascinating group of ephemeral items in the Sloane collection, some of which appear to be unique.
The second section is entitled "The Early Decades." Michael Mendle's description of George Thomason's collection highlights the intellectual-history value of recreating Thomason's original chronological arrangement of ephemera. He points out that virtually exploring and reconstructing the integrity of collections is now clearly possible given an adequate input of information. Three subsequent chapters describe the valuable gifts of three British Museum Trustees: Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode (Paul Quarrie), William Musgrave (C.J. Wright), and Joseph Banks (Rudiger Joppien and Nell Chambers), each with its different character reflecting its creator. As in earlier essays the types of sources used to understand the collections and their histories vary from provenance evidence to owner-created catalogues and other archival evidence. …