Category Archives: Outreach

The end is the beginning

The sun sets over an array of reference materials regularly consulted by catalogers during our project.

The Newberry‘s project to catalog four of its collections of French pamphlets of great significance to scholarship officially came to a close at the end of July 2013.  Over the past few months, as we have gathered information to write our final reports and project documentation, we have been able to reflect on the successes and challenges of this project.

In the end, we cataloged 27,125 pamphlets across six collections–5,125 more than originally projected.  Because productivity was higher than expected, we added two additional collections to the original four: the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection and a collection of Dutch political pamphlets.  The Brown Libretto Collection includes many important and rare music texts published primarily in French and Italian, and the collection of Dutch pamphlets includes many primary sources on early modern European history, including pamphlets on the French Revolution from a Dutch perspective.

Scholarly use of the pamphlets has soared since the cataloging project began.  There has been an eightfold increase in the number of Newberry fellowship applicants interested in using the pamphlet collections for their research projects.  Cataloging project staff have met regularly with incoming fellows and visiting researchers to orient them to the collection and share strategies for searching for the items in the Newberry’s online catalog.  We have updated online research guides for the French pamphlet collections and the Brown Libretto Collection to reflect the ease with which scholars, students, teachers, and other users can now locate pamphlets of interest using the online catalog.

The Newberry remains committed to connecting scholars to the pamphlets cataloged during this project.  The Library’s Center for Renaissance Studies will host a Research Methods Workshop for Early Career Graduate Students in January 2014, French Pamphlets at the Newberry: The Formation of the Concept of “Revolution” and Revolutionary Ideology, led by Dale Van Kley of The Ohio State University.  The Newberry is also a partner institution of the NEH-funded French Pamphlet Planning Project: An International Collaboration for Improvement of Collection Access, which aims to survey and provide preliminary access to important collections of French pamphlets and to develop a strategic plan for the creation of a French Pamphlet Digital Portal.

Public program on French history this weekend at the Newberry

Join us at the Newberry this Saturday, February 23, at 1:00 pm for a public program offered in conjunction with the exhibition Politics, Piety, and Poison: French Pamphlets, 1600-1800.  The program and exhibition both highlight the four major French pamphlet collections cataloged through our project.  I will talk about the cataloging project and some highlights of the exhibition.  Joining me will be two Chicago-area scholars of French history, Ellen McClure and Yann Robert, who will discuss their recent scholarship.  We hope to see you there!

Delving into French History from the Sun King to the Revolution

Pamphlet on the execution of Louis XVI
Pamphlet on the execution of Louis XVI
An Exhibition Program
Saturday, February 23, 2013

1 pm

Ruggles Hall

Think contemporary American political debate is vicious? Our experience is mild compared with seventeenth and eighteenth-century French political infighting, a period famous for royal claims to divine right and for regicide. The Newberry holds the best pamphlet collection in North America on French politics and religion, much of which has been cataloged recently, which means that individual pamphlets appear in the library’s online catalog and are more accessible to readers. Join UIC scholars Ellen McClure and Yann Robert, and Newberry librarian Jessica Grzegorski as they discuss some of the most vigorous debates of this period, fought with the seventeenth and eighteenth-century version of twitter: cheap, ubiquitous pamphlets and broadsides.

This program is offered in conjunction with a Newberry exhibition, Politics, Piety, and Poison: French Pamphlets, 1600-1800, which highlights the completion of a major grant-funded project to catalog a majority of the library’s French pamphlet collection.

Ellen McClure is Associate Professor of History and French and Francophone Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She studies seventeenth-century literature, politics, and religion, with a focus on the Sun King, Louis XIV.

Yann Robert is Assistant Professor of French at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He examines the intersection of literature, justice, and politics in eighteenth-century France, with a particular focus on the theater of the French Revolution.

Jessica Grzegorski is Senior Cataloging Projects Librarian at the Newberry and co-curator of the Politics, Piety, and Poison exhibition.

Cost and registration information:

This program is free and no reservations are required.

Spotlight Exhibit on French pamphlets opens!

We are pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibition highlighting the French pamphlet collections cataloged as part of our project: the French Revolution Collection (FRC), Louis XVI Trial and Execution Collection, Saint-Sulpice Collection, and Collection of publishers’ prospectuses, catalogs, and other materials.  Politics, Piety, and Poison: French Pamphlets, 1600-1800 is one in a series of Spotlight Exhibits curated by Newberry Library staff that highlight a diverse range of items in the Library’s collection.  The exhibition closes April 13, 2013.  For those who are unable to visit, an online version of the exhibition is in the works.

Politics, Piety, and Poison: French Pamphlets, 1600–1800

Case FRC 16228, La guillotinne
Case FRC 16228, La guillotinne
Monday, January 28, 2013 to Saturday, April 13, 2013

Hermon Dunlap Smith Gallery

This exhibition displays French pamphlets published during the transitional period from the Ancien Régime to the French Revolution. They served as modes of dissemination and diversion, teaching tools and educational models, and the foundation for current and future scholarly projects. The exhibition focuses on the ways in which these pamphlets complement and enhance the Newberry’s other vast collections of primary sources documenting early modern European culture and the history of printing. The Newberry’s outstanding collection of French pamphlets was recently cataloged through a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources.

Spreading the word: connecting scholars with primary sources

On Saturday I had the great privilege of speaking about our French pamphlet cataloging project at the annual Center for Renaissance Studies Consortium representative meeting at the Newberry Library.  The Center for Renaissance Studies develops and facilitates programming that connects scholars with the Newberry’s vast collections of late medieval, Renaissance, and early modern materials.

I briefly described the four core collections of French pamphlets that are part of our cataloging project and showed images of many representative examples.  I heard an audible gasp when I mentioned how many items we have cataloged in fewer than three years: 22,300 (and still counting!).  The collections in aggregate span the 16th to the early 19th centuries and cross many different genres including funeral orations, political discourses, broadsides, plays, songs, and satires.  Because of the breadth and volume of these pamphlet collections, scholars have a deep and rich treasure trove of primary source documents with which they can approach research from a variety of perspectives, including social and political history, biography, and  literary criticism.

Several representatives approached me or contacted me after the meeting to share their enthusiasm for the research potential of our pamphlet collections, whether for their own research or for that of their colleagues.  To view records for all of the cataloged items within a particular collection, click the links below.  Bonnes recherches!

French Revolution Collection (FRC)

Louis XVI Trials and Execution Collection

Saint-Sulpice Collection

Collection of publishers’ prospectuses, catalogs, and other materials

Researching the late French Revolution

Last week Judith A. Miller, Associate Professor of History at Emory University and currently the Audrey Lumsden-Kouvel Fellow at the Newberry Library, presented a colloquium at the Newberry on her book project on the late French Revolution.  Judith examined events of the French Revolution after the Reign of Terror, drawing on numerous textual and visual sources, including printed speeches and paintings of the era, to highlight themes of stoicism and other philosophical currents permeating the rhetoric of this politically tumultuous time.

In addition to presenting her research, Judith also described her experiences as a researcher working with the Newberry’s collections, most notably the French Revolution Collection (FRC).  This collection contains many pamphlets that are not available or accessible elsewhere.  Judith described her excitement over discovering resources that she never knew existed and how these new discoveries necessarily affected her research.

Particularly gratifying for our project team was her gratitude for the accuracy and thorough subject analysis in our catalog records.  While digitization of printed texts dramatically improves access to these materials, supplying subject terms is still an essential step to facilitating access to research materials, whether or not digitization is possible.  As a cataloger, I often wonder whether the items I catalog are going to find their way into the hands of researchers or whether the catalog records I create will simply slip into the information ether.  I am so pleased that our team’s efforts have proved so fruitful for Judith and other researchers.  Judith and I have had several opportunities to collaborate during her fellowship: I have offered her assistance with strategies for searching the Newberry’s online catalog while she has provided suggestions for enhancing our catalog records.  Her fellowship could not have happened at a better time!

This cataloging project has underscored for us that efficiency and thoroughness in cataloging are not mutually exclusive.  Since early 2010, we have cataloged 20,373 pamphlets (17,553 in FRC alone) with full catalog records and thorough subject analysis thanks to a team of dedicated catalogers, many of whom had no prior library work experience.  Among these thousands of primary source documents are speeches, histories, satires, songs, commentaries, treatises, art, and ephemera ready to inspire and shape the work of many researchers to come.

Promoting hidden collections cataloging efforts at IACRL

Today I attended the 2012 conference of the Illinois Association of College and Research Libraries (IACRL), where I presented on our work to catalog the Newberry‘s French pamphlet collections, particularly the French Revolution Collection (FRC).  The theme of the conference, “Adopt, Adapt, Accelerate,” attracted speakers from many disciplines within academic and research libraries, who spoke about innovative technologies, assessment tools, and workflows that librarians can implement today and encouraged a long-view, dynamic way of thinking about the future relevance of libraries.

As the sole cataloging librarian on my panel, I was eager to speak about the continuing relevance of cataloging to the future of librarianship and ways in which we can create new workflow efficiencies in cataloging.  In the spirit of the conference theme, I spoke about our project model, adapted from a model employed by many large university libraries to catalog large hidden collections.  The university model relies on graduate student workers to process large cataloging backlogs, “hidden” because they are uncataloged or inadequately cataloged.  Our project is a pilot project to determine whether we can adapt the large university model to a smaller, independent research library like the Newberry that is not affiliated with a formal academic program or located on a campus.

One of the most successful aspects of our adapted model is the peer review workflow, through which the Project Cataloging Assistants proofread each other’s cataloging work before I do a final review.  The pamphlets in FRC are also relatively uniform in format and size (as you may note from the image below), which makes them conducive to template-based, expedited cataloging.  The added layer of quality control and peer learning opportunities resulting from the peer review workflow, the relative homogeneity of FRC, and the Cataloging Assistants’ extraordinary ability to navigate between the often disparate realms of production and quality have greatly contributed to the success of our project and its underlying model.  More than two-thirds of the way into our project, I feel confident declaring it a success!

French Revolution Collection (FRC)

Center for Renaissance Studies Blog

The Newberry’s Center for Renaissance Studies has posted the first entry on their new blog!

They plan to post every two weeks, with entries on  thoughts about
upcoming or recent Center programs; items in the Newberry collection of special interest to those involved in medieval, Renaissance, or early modern studies; or profiles of scholars coming to the Newberry to present talks or pursue research in those areas of study. More frequently, we will also post announcements of upcoming events, application deadlines, and so forth.

The Center for Renaissance Studies has been a good friend to the CLIR French pamphlet project. They helped to describe the scholarly significance of the collections for our grant; they have publicized our job openings and were key in helping us find some of our wonderful Cataloging Assistants; they have invited us to talk with their French paleography institute; and they will be key in planning a series of lectures and an exhibit highlighting materials discovered in the French pamphlet collections when we are finished cataloging.

Welcome to the world of blogging!


Mellon Summer Institute in French Paleography at the Newberry Library

The deadline for applications for the Mellon Summer Institute in French Paleography at the Newberry Library is coming up soon!

The Institute is hosted by the Newberry’s Center for Renaissance Studies and will run from Monday, July 2, 2012 to Thursday, July 26, 2012. The course,  directed by Marc Smith, École Nationale des Chartes, Paris, will examine French manuscripts and archival materials from the 13th to the 17th century. Professor Smith will provide a summary outline of the history of handwriting in France, followed by intensive training in reading from facsimiles, both in class and at home. Students will become familiar with the development of handwriting as well as further aspects of written communication in the late-medieval and early-modern period.

In July 2010, the last time the Institute was held, our CLIR staff attended a brown bag lunch to talk about our work and the collections.

Application deadline: March 1, 2012

For more details, visit the Center for Renaissance Studies.



Reflections over coffee and ginger snaps

Last week CLIR Program Officer Christa Williford stopped by the Newberry while she was in the Chicago area for a coffee break with our project staff.  Our staff shared some of their thoughts with Christa about their work on the French pamphlet cataloging project and how it has affected their career plans.  Several staff working on the project are currently finishing or have completed graduate programs in library and information science, while others are PhD candidates or hold a master’s degree and had limited or no experience working in libraries before their current positions at the Newberry.  Most of the library school students and graduates felt that they would want to continue with a career in cataloging.  Other project staff mulled over beginning a graduate program in library science or continuing toward a PhD in the fields in which they already hold a master’s degree, including musicology and French literature.

While our staff have somewhat disparate backgrounds and different career paths, the knowledge, enthusiasm, and work ethic that each individual brings to our project have been invaluable.  Our system of peer review of catalog records helps to match complementary skills, strengths, and knowledge bases so that our project team can efficiently create high quality records.

While some cataloging projects are not always appropriate for students and subject specialists without experience in library work, the homogeneity of our French pamphlet collections has made our cataloging project an ideal pilot project for testing the viability of employing students and specialists for certain types of cataloging projects.  For this project, we have been able to rely on the advanced French language skills of our Project Cataloging Assistants and the use of templates, which make our cataloging work consistent and efficient.  As we are more than halfway through our project, it is important to reflect on the successes of our project model so far and to look ahead to how this model can be adapted to future cataloging projects.

Scholars’ visit

Since we spend so much of our time working behind the scenes on projects benefiting researchers and academics whom we rarely get to meet, it is always a pleasure to discuss the collections and our cataloging work at the Newberry Library with the people who are going to use them. For one thing, it’s helpful to hear from researchers about what they are interested in finding within our collections and how they intend to find it—keeping their perspective in mind makes it easier for us to provide user-friendly records with logical access points. For another, although we have all learned a lot about the French Revolution through the sheer number of pamphlets we have read and background research we have done, most of us didn’t come to this project with advanced degrees in French History.  Because of this, we I frequently wish we had unlimited access to experts in the field who could take one look at a pamphlet and tell us exactly what it’s about and in what context it was written.

One recent visit provided us with just such an opportunity. Last month, part of our team was fortunate enough to meet two visiting scholars of the French Revolution who came to take a look at our collection. Although most of the visitors to whom we show our French Revolutionary pamphlets are genuinely interested in them, it was especially rewarding to witness the enthusiastic reactions of researchers who were excited about being able to use our newly cataloged collection.

One of the scholars in particular was able to provide an astonishing amount of information about the pamphlets we showed him from just a cursory look. In fact, after I showed him a recently cataloged satirical dialogue between Louis XVI and the ghostly spirit of Louis XIV, he skimmed a few lines from the beginning, flipped to the final page, and promptly listed several ways he could tell that the pamphlet was an anti-monarchist piece. The intricacies of revolutionary politics and satire, were instantly recognizable to him because of his experience and expertise.

Opportunities to discuss our collection with experts are valuable because they show us that, although it is obvious even to the layperson that this collection is a treasure trove of information about the French Revolution, to the trained eye it contains even more depth and nuance than we could imagine.