Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reference Tidbits
Jessica Alexander, J.D., M.L.S. Reference Librarian

Finding Federal Legislative History Reports.

Many reports can be found in full-text in our Congressional Universe database. Access the database from Stanley, or from a public portal in the library. Click the "search by number" option and enter the congressional year number and report number in the pull down box. If the item is not available in full-text see the reference librarian. The item can be obtained from our microfiche collection.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Pretty Old Law Books

by Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian

Books are great, aren’t they? Ok, that may seem like a silly thing for a librarian to say, but have you ever really looked at a book, at how it is put together? Most people don’t pay much attention to books except to note if it is a soft-cover or a hard-back. Really, unless it’s falling apart you don’t notice its binding at all. The art of bookbinding isn’t seen by most people, and it is an art – one with a long history that began out of practical necessity.

The shape of the modern book can be traced to the Roman diptych. It was made of wooden ‘pages’ with the inner sides hollowed out and filled with wax, which would then be written on. The pages were hinged together with leather cord. One of the oldest books of this kind ever found was discovered at Pompeii, and dates from 55 AD. The codex – a multi-page vellum document written in ink and sewn together, soon followed. Vellum, however, curls over time so it was placed in between wooden boards to keep the pages flat. Later, it was noticed that the leather ties holding the pages together started to come apart so they covered the spine as well, connecting it more securely to the wooden boards covering the pages. The book as we recognize it today was made. The covers of books could then be decorated. Holy books of all kinds, particularly Books of Hours, owned by the wealthy, can be seen today in museums and were richly decorated in bindings created by jewelers and metal smiths.

Until the mid 18th century books were sold in sheets to be bound by the new owner; it was customary to have all the books in one’s library bound in a similar manner. The Industrial Revolution created a new market of readers: the middle class. As literacy spread, so too did the demand for books, and publishers increasingly bound books themselves prior to sale. If the buyer had the money to spend on a custom binding, they would still buy the book unbound, and take it to a small workshop where it would be bound by hand. By the early 19th century the binding process was mechanized, and publishers would bind their books in decorative cloth or leather. Books can be bound in virtually any material – there are books bound in velvet, fur, papier-mâché, and mother-of-pearl.

Law books were not often bound in glitzy covers, but in sturdy cloth or leather. What they lack in decoration, they make up for in durability. On display now in The Fred Parks Law Library Lobby is Pretty Old Law Books, a selection of 16th and 17th century materials from the Special Collections department. These items are some of the oldest, and prettiest, books in our collection and include an early work on arbitration, a manuscript of the High Court of Chancery reports, and a branded book. This exhibit will be up through the end of March 2011.