Cataloguing Under Covid 5

Cataloguing Under Covid 5

This probably won’t be the last Cataloging Under Covid post, but as the library is re opening next week I will be working from home less frequently, so I thought it was worth giving an update on what I’ve been working on.

Today I wanted to talk about the journey a book can take before it ends up in the library and the pieces that can survive in a book to tell its story.

One of the books I catalogued today was An Australian Bird Book by J.A Leach. This is the 1912 edition and you can see the cover in the photo below.


As you can see it is a little battered. Sometimes, we don’t know exactly where a book comes from before it arrives at the PMI. In this case, it was part of a large donation in 2017 that, as you can see, the last few books of which are still filtering through to be catalogued.

What is intriguing though is the inscription on the frontispiece


You can see on the top of the page, E. King 1957– this is the maiden name of the donator of the book, so she had held it in her library for fifty years. As you can though, it obviously has had a life before this as well.

After a little bit of digging on Trove I discovered the ‘Bird Day’ was somewhat common at schools in Victoria at the time the book was published. I haven’t managed to discover who H.C Dixon was, or who H.M.L might have been. But, in someways, I don’t mind that. It’s always interesting to be able to imagine how they might have fitted in. They are part of the story of the book.

I also found a small pressed flower


It’s obviously been there for a while, but whether intentionally or otherwise it’s impossible to tell. Like the names, the flower is part of the history and story of the book, though not one I can leave in its pages, as it will simply be lost.

The book itself is a fairly simple guide book, it’s a pocket book for field use. It has some lovely coloured plates though.


They might be slightly, less anatomically correct than you would see in modern bird guides, but they are lovely none the less.

The book itself isn’t worth anything in monetary value, despite its publication in 1912, but it was given as a present to commemorate Bird Day, it’s been used to press flowers and stayed with the same person for more than 50 years before it made its way to the PMI, so it does have a story. It probably won’t be used specifically as a bird guide again, but as an example of how Australian birds were seen at the time it is invaluable.

Inscriptions in donated books are quite common, we only cover them up if they have addresses on them, otherwise we leave them as part oft the story of the book. It’s one of the delights in dealing with donated material, finding these little things that are part of the book’s journey. Especially, when the book was given as a present. I in fact had another two books today with inscriptions in them, though simpler and less, I suppose the word is elegant, than the bird book. You can see them below


We also often find newspaper articles, letters, and random pieces of paper. If I can’t leave them with the book then I put them in a file. One day I hope to put them on display. Usually it’s impossible to trace them to their owner, and there are some cases where I do leave them in the book. This was particularly true of a donation from a deceased estate a couple of years ago. It was very large donation and the lady whose library they had come from had a habit of collecting newspaper articles that were relevant to the book and leaving them inside the front cover. The articles were worthless by themselves, but were interesting when tied to the books, so we made the decision to leave them in.

While I didn’t find any paper in any of today’s books, there is one more with an interesting provenance that I wanted to write about briefly. The book is: Australian Aborigines by James Dawson. It was written in 1881, and it was a donation at the start of 2019. As you can see below, it is a little worn.


It is actually a book we already hold a copy of, electronic and hard copy, but because of its age and its rarity we decided to keep it as a second copy. The book itself is interesting as it is one of the earlier accounts of Indigenous Australians in Victoria, though of course it has to be taken very much as being of its time. Sadly, because there is often not a great deal of written information and the oral tradition of Indigenous Australians was purposely broken, these sorts of books are often the only source available. They are colonial and can be disparaging and overly simplistic. They still provide some useful information as long as their context is taken into account. It is also an excellent example of colonial thinking towards Indigenous Australians at this time.

How this copy of the book came to be at the PMI is an interesting story in and of itself. It was in the possession of the Queensland Women’s Historical Association. QWHA is an organisation founded in the 1950s “to stimulate interest in the history and heritage of Queensland and in particular, the history of pioneer families and the contribution made by women to the development of Queensland.”

They’d had the book for many years, but when they were going through their library and narrowing their collection focus to items that were more relevant to Queensland, they thought they should find a good home for Dawson’s book as it is specifically Victorian. They got in touch in early 2019 after finding us online and we were delighted to be the book’s new home.

This is often the case with donations to the PMI, we are a new home for ex library books from other libraries who have to weed on circulation, we are a new home for books when people are downsizing, we are a new home for books when someone has died, and we are also often a first home for new books when the author wants to make sure the book will be available to anyone who would like to use it. I suppose the point that I am making is that donations are an important part of the PMI’s collection. In tandem with purchasing books, so the collection can be curated and various areas expanded, they make the PMI what it is today. Ultimately the PMI’s collection is its raison d’être and I really enjoy bringing in books, new and old, and finding out what I can about their stories along the way, as they become part of the PMI’s story.


Post Script: Since putting this blog together I sent it to the family of the lady who donated An Australian Bird Book and have discovered that HC Dixon was Humphrey Campbell Dixon, the  great uncle of the lady who donated the book. So that is another piece of the puzzle, which is very nice.

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