The Newberry Library presents an informal colloquium every Wednesday afternoon to give staff, fellows, visiting scholars, and friends of the library an opportunity to present their work on virtually any topic. Last week, some of the project staff presented a colloquium on discoveries they’ve made while cataloging the Library’s French Revolution Collection (FRC) of pamphlets. Dana, Kate T., Kate S., and David each briefly discussed a particular theme that is well represented in FRC, drawing from selected examples in the collection. Dana discussed the impetus for creating the French Republican Calendar; Kate T. led us on the slow road to public education reform in Revolutionary-era France; Kate S. demonstrated how to identify counterfeit assignats; and David provided examples of various means of increasing the domestic production of goods during times of scarcity in late 18th-century France, with a particular focus on new methods of beekeeping.
Without a doubt I knew that many audience members would be drawn to the varied and historically significant subject matter of the presentation. But to my cataloger’s delight, many staff members and scholars in the audience were just as interested in the behind-the-scenes cataloging and processing of the collection as in the subject matter of the pamphlets. One scholar asked how to locate the FRC pamphlets in the Library’s online catalog. (Hint: Search FRC as a keyword.) A staff member inquired whether it was possible to find pamphlets that included maps. This presentation underscored my feeling that researchers are as much interested in the “process” of a collection as the “product.”