Booknotes+ : Mark Dimunation, Library of Congress Rare Book & Special Collections Division Chief

By | November 22, 2022

To people who know him well, Mark Dimunation (dim-“you”-“NATION”) is, first and foremost, an accomplished storyteller. Second and not least, he has been for twenty-five years the chief of the Library of Congress’ Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The library has over 850,000 items in the collection, including Charles Dickens’ walking stick, the Bay Psalm Book, published in 1640, and the contents in Abraham Lincoln’s pockets on the night he was assassinated. Mark Dimunation, our guest this week, has a lot more to add to a conversation about his work.

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Foreign To people who know him well Mark Diminution is first and foremost an Accomplished storyteller Second and not least He has been for 25 years the chief of The library of congress's rare books and Special collections division The library has over 850 000 items in The collection including Charles Dickens Walking stick the basan book published In 1640 the first book printed in what Was to become the United States and the Contents in Abraham Lincoln's pockets on The night he was assassinated Obviously marked immunation has a lot More to add to a conversation about his Work Demonation I saw you making a speech a Couple of weeks ago uh online And you referred to the fact that uh You're now spending time with your staff Which you say they call story hour with Mark What is that about Hi it's nice it's nice to be sitting Across the table from you um Well I have a penchant for telling Stories this comes I've earned this Quite legitimately and honestly because Rare book Librarians have as their Mission really to make a book come alive It's not just that we're preserving Something that's old or valuable but we

Need to protect the content and to make It available to people and you do that By telling the story of the book and to Make it emotional and empathetic and to Position it in people's experience so You learn as you go along in your career As a rare book librarian to learn how to Tell the story of The Declaration or Tell the story of Susan B Anthony or Tell the story of a modern book artist And to do that in a way that brings People deeper into the book and Understands The material experience of the book not Just the concept of it but the actual Piece that's in front of them so as my Career is winding down a bit I feel like I need to Pass on some of this experience and I Tend to slide in to this pattern Unintentionally oftentimes where a book Will be brought in and I said do you Know the story behind this book and the Next thing you know half an hour has Gone by and they're all sitting and then I sort of say oh I'm sorry we're doing Story hour with Mark and then they go Away so that's that's what I was Referring to but it is it is the Training for most of us in the field you Know we have academic training uh and we Have we all come in as subject Experts Of a certain type but when you pick up a Book you need to know what that book

Means on many levels and so for me it's In the context of a story can you Remember the first time you got Interested in history Uh well that would go back to my Childhood I think Um Yeah there were a couple of things I had A real Fascination for maps that came With the Old National Geographic and I Would spend hours pouring over them And a lot of the children's books that I Was really intended to be historical and I think we went to Fort Snelling or Something in Minnesota and um I just got Hooked that way Um and then as I moved along you know my Interest you know spilled into you know Debate and speech and uh and then I Ended up doing history as my my Scholarly work what town did you grow up In I grew up in Saint Anthony Village Which is Um right next door to Minneapolis it's Actually the little sliver between Minneapolis and St Paul what'd your Parents do Uh my father was an engineer a Pneumatic Engineer my mother worked for electrical Contractors among other things Both She's a very unusual woman for the 50s And 60s and that she was working early On in a position

Um They're very typical I would say to First generation Children of Ukrainian immigrants who Come in as peasant farmers and the next Generations are doctors and engineers And they were very much in that ilk yeah Has anybody ever asked you where the Name diminution came from should I tell You what my father uh what my father is Happy to say ask me where my name came From where did your name come from my Father where did you get your name My name is Ukrainian Um or at least a transliteration of a Ukrainian name do you have family there Now well you know that's an interesting Question Um Our family's arrivalists on my father's Side was sort of cloaked in mystery is Probably too strong a word we just Didn't have a lot of information and There was something about borders being Straightened and they lived in Manitoba But they ended up being naturalized as Americans because they were right at the Border of peminine North Dakota but my Father had trouble Um volunteering during World War II Because they couldn't establish his Arrival So there was something my brother Recently uh when going through my

Father's papers came across a document That had the spelling of our name that Was very different much more Ukrainian Like with Z's and H's that we didn't Have and when I searched that I realized It wasn't such an uncommon name so we're Just in the process of trying to figure That out during a period like this where Ukraine is in the news every day does That have any impact on you oh it has Tremendous impact Um Raised as we were in a particular way in Minneapolis you know much of my youth Was spent At least part of the time in the Ukrainian community and there was a very It was a church that was ethnically Identified and so there is a whole Culture that you are raised with and so You you come out of that experience oh Almost a hyphenated American Um by that I mean ukrainian-american Although our family was less so than Others but there is always that empathy And of course Um the understanding of where my family Came from and the struggle that they Went through to make it where they were So yes it's very moving and challenging For me on many levels it's it's very Upsetting why did your Parents come to the United States or Were they both Ukrainian everyone's

Ukrainian it's their parents that came That's sometimes the question is whether They came or were born that's the issue We don't know one my mother's Branch Went to Manitoba and my fathers went to To Winnipeg and my father's Branch went To right near the border uh The diminutions were wheat Farmers the Dehots which was my mother Family Mother's family was a stone cutter and Developed his trade in Winnipeg you Talked about looking at the maps early In your life what did you learn about History in high school Well I was lucky enough to be raised in A period of time where they were still Teaching history in high school I mean Um it may have been you know Um a privileged Notion of history and certainly there Wasn't a lot of variety in terms of Whose experience you were learning about But certainly there was Um an emphasis on understanding the Story of of the March forward from Europe through the American Experience You know you often hear these interviews With people on the street now asking Them fundamentally basic questions about America and you're just stunned that People can't answer them so I Um I grew up with a fairly traditional Hardcore Um

Not just memorization but conflict and Interest kind of approach to history Both American and European so Um and then my own involvement I would Say at the time Um since I was one of those kind of high School nerds which was speech and debate Kind of reinforces that uh Emphasis on current affairs Understanding how things where things Came from and how they've changed and so I was very involved in that were you on The debate team I was indeed Think back what debate in high school do You remember the most and what was the Subject the subject was whether or not The American government could Participate in unilateral intervention And the subjects focused on Haiti and Cuba and it was a resolve and we debated Both negative and affirmative sides of The case That sent us to Nationals that debate Topic so my my debate team went to Nationals Um on that one we also had one on gun Control it was the topics were always Real and vital topics it's a great Training ground for the ability to speak The ability to think on your feet to Understand what's happening to you I was A big fan of it but Um yeah I can I can Regale you with all Sorts of debate stories all of which are

Horribly dirty When you talk to a young person today About debating what's the one or two Things you tell them that they need to Be prepared to do well I encourage if I Talk to somebody who's in high school And I ask them if they're involved in Any of the kinds of activities that Where you're forced to think out loud Whether that be even drama but speech Debate if they're not I encourage them You know McGovern when he was running For president said that the the greatest Bit of Education he ever had was high School debate And I understand that because it Allows you to think in full sentences That allows you to think and speak at The same time it gives you a confidence Of being able to address things out loud You lose that self-consciousness Um it's important Why do you think history is not as Important in high school as it used to Be I think it's still as important I think Without getting too deep into this I Think there is Um A revision of what truth is there's a Truthiness factor going on and people Are weighing in with opinions about Things that are in fact factual and it Becomes both social and political in

Nature rather than a discussion I do Understand the need to uh to go beyond a Certain notion of one's experience to be To embrace diversity and to extend Compassion to experiences that don't Represent our own But I think in this day and age people Have some difficulty with that and so They're unaccepting of it but the Reality of of the story of History Although it's a perception is that there Are things that happened and you can't Pretend that they didn't What year did you graduate from high School 1970 . when God was a boy What was next uh fatal of College in Minnesota A nice liberal arts college Norwegian Lutheran although I was neither of those I went in part because they had an Experimental program called para College Which was based on tutorial uh free Um study forms no classes some seminars A general exam and an advanced exam and A senior paper so it's sort of a mix of A little bit of Summer Hill Back if you remember back then and a lot Of sort of the Oxford system and then I Did spend time in Oxford as well because Of that so if we would have asked you Back in those days Uh do you think that you'll ever spend

25 years at the Library of Congress in The rare book division what do you think You would have said I left Saint Olaf College to go to Graduate school to become a professor in American history And Um I think you know one of those small Moments that become a decisive moment Although you're not aware of it at the Time is that I chose the library as a Way of a part-time job to support myself While I was a graduate student And um At first it was routine but then I moved Into the special collections library and I started working with Acquisitions and I started to see the whole process and I Realized that as much as I loved being An historian There were aspects about building Collections and working with the Materials that were much more Interesting to me than the kind of Writing and the sort of Blood on the Floor experience of writing for Academics and so I found myself In the first form of you know on the Floor training to be a rare book Librarian at one point I finally decided That that's really what I wanted to do So early books that have never left your Memory

Oh well there are quite a number of them Um Well there are several very early Printings Um I and one that's recently come here That I didn't we didn't have when I Arrived uh when I was at Stanford I was Exposed to Galileo's cedarius which is The 1610 printing of his observations of The Moon from the telescope often Referred to as Um The story of messenger Uh and then at Galileo has reproduced His drawings of what the moon looks like A surprise to all of Europe Many of whom hold the notion that it's Either some sort of orb or glassy or Filled with whatever and then never Really been observed at that level of Detail and even in his very small book He says With this kind of Naivete I guess says yes it looks just Like Earth I mean this is quite a Surprise Um I like it because it goes on to then Show a map of the Milky Way Which is really surprising to people Many of whom believe those are souls That are floating up there and then goes On to chart the moons of a particular Planet and is dedicated to the um Medicis who are his uh donors It's A

Small Piece he participated in the Printing but it's a great piece to talk About what printing means to Europe And I often teach with this book one Because it's Immediately understandable this is what We thought the Moon looked like in 1610 And I can then go on to a book from 1640 Called Selena graffia by havalius which Has massively detailed maps of the Moon In every phase I mean two-page spreads With many of the Seas of the Moon Labeled finally it's only 30 years but The jump in that awareness can only be Caused by one thing right which is Informations being transmitted quickly To people and they can replicate what he Did and so what Starry Messenger did was To say this is what I looked through and This is what I saw When you Tell that story you then back up and say If this had been the manuscript period And you have 12 people at the table you Would say you would have to not only Hand copy this but you would have to Repeat the drawings So if you play the game of telephone Over here imagine what the drawings are Going to look like 10 12 iterations Later and by the way by the time this Person in Amsterdam is looking at the Manuscript Galileo will have been dead So there is no active communication of

Scientific method Galileo princes Starry Messenger and five years later it's Logged into Beijing So it's just this explosion of Information That's just overwhelming but it creates The entire rise of Science and Scientific method because now have Alias Can read what he's done replicates it Prints his formula of these how I ground The lenses and this is what I looked at Those of you in the north could you Please look at it this way and you Suddenly have a dialogue where Information just compiles quickly so That book to me is Meaningful because it Connects me to that moment when uh Knowledge exploded because of an ability To communicate but also it's a it's a Beautifully Naive book in its own presentation it's Very simple And our copy here which we acquired Luckily a few years back has never went To a binder so it's much more the piece Of printing that came off the press it's Just in a wrapper their Inky Fingerprints all over it there's a bump In the printing of the image it's very Much a kind of work a day piece but it Changed the world so I have you know I Have moments of these along the way Um another frankly has been always Having access to a copy of the Dunlap

Printing of the Declaration which isn't That old really but Um It's a material Physical representation of a moment that You know clearly influences us to this Moment and has great electricity for me There are other books there There's a printing of a a printing by Aldu's um they're called aldeans Printer that crosses over from the 15th To the 16th century one of the great Scholarly printers who would gather much Like they did in Alexandria but gather Various manuscripts and or printed Copies of the classical text compile Editorialize and then print it usually In Latin but also introduce Greek Texts and so there are these early Moments where Homer finally makes it Into print in a much more Survivable fashion as a reminder that When we're printing Homer in the 15th Century that the centuries before were Losing Homer left and right and that What comes to us in the 15th century is Already a kind of compilation of various Fragments and pieces in memory that goes Back and so the fact that any kind of Classical text survives again is tied to That moment of printing Would you describe to our listeners Where We Are Right now I mean physically in doing

This interview we're sitting in the Lesson J Rosenwald room which is part of The rare book and special collections Division at the Library of Congress We're located in What's called the Jefferson building which is the original Separate building of the Library of Congress that was built in 1897. uh Probably I suppose you could argue this But I work here so there's no argument Probably the most spectacular public Building in all of Washington DC Uh filled with murals and mosaics and Stained glass windows it's a temple to Learning and to reading and it was built At a moment in which America felt it Needed to establish its presence in Relationship to European libraries and It's just this Grand Monument to not Only knowledge but to democratic access To knowledge and the Library of Congress Opened with the notion that Jefferson Had first presented in his book Collection saying that These are materials for the governed and The Govern and the governors and the Governed alike Of all the books you have here 800 000 Plus And items I I do you pay for all these You pay somebody no no no no Um The Library of Congress rare book Division in particular but other

Divisions manuscripts prints and Photographs the special collections as We would refer to them have at a very Strong Foundation gifts although the Foundation of the Library of Congress The modern day Library Congress was a Purchase from Thomas Jefferson of six Thousand four hundred and eighty seven Volumes but for very little money that Was a gesture on Jefferson's part to Re-establish the library after the Original was burned during the War of 1812 and 1814. Um so the foundation was that purchase But the rare book division was built on Several major gifts that came in At the end of the 19th early 20th Century and then some purchases that Also established that but there's always Been a strong tradition of rather Substantial Gatherings of books coming In as gift now I will say the world has Changed a lot and philanthropy is very Different Wow in the old days when I was you know When I was Green And was a young librarian in the 80s it Was much more likely that a very Established book collector would donate Their books to a library Um large History of Science collections You know large literature collections uh Collections of 15th century books and You could really fundamentally alter the

Course of that library with a particular Gift as has happened here many many Times Um But as time went by as markets Changed as the Art Market got too Expensive and books became a sort of Initial alternative uh there was more of A interest in putting the books back out Into the market and selling them The argument used to be because they'd Be more accessible but whenever a Collector would say that to me I'd say If you give them to the Library of Congress we're open to the American People how many people come to your House you know it's sort of like Um but there was many impulses there Were many impulses behind that but you Saw fewer and fewer of those gifts Um and now uh it just depends on what We're talking about and who we're Talking to as to whether or not they Come or not so there's been that slight Change but there's also been a change in Our collecting which has Also affected that you know in the old The old days in the earlier uh part of The century certainly here and I think Other rare book collections that were of Any size were still in the process of Building sort of Steeples of Excellence Or being completist you know I just need To get three more of those imprints and We're done with and it was very much an

Old style bibliophilic kind of Collecting And as research changed and as Digitization arrived and as access to Materials uh change and AS Scholarship Changed where you're looking at images And attitudes and long-term changes and The impact of a large body of literature Not a specific author you're collecting Changed you know so in the last 10 years I've acquired a 6 000 volume of cowboy Collection of cowboy literature or Western literature Which may seem like that's a lot of Books about Cowboys but they're really Books about the image of the West the Treatment of women the treatment of Native Americans attitudes towards uh Migration and immigration it's all there In that literature and Scholars will be Looking at the scope of that literature Not as not just saying Gray Can any of these rare books leave this Library no Even if the president United States Calls you and says I want six of those Books We will lend materials for particular Moments as Um as you were aware the fact that uh Two presidents recently have used Um Abraham Lincoln's uh inaugural Bible For their own swearing in we will On occasion bring material over and

Display it in the white house or in the Capital but we're with the material we Certainly don't give it to people Um and otherwise no nothing circulates Nothing I mean we have a reading room That's quite luxurious we do all the Work for you we bring the books out you Sit and spend your day working with them We answer questions we bring out related Materials and that way we can Safeguard The materials who can come here and ask For books in rare books anyone over the Age of 18 can just get a reader's card And come in and work with anything in General the library is at 16 age 16 you Just register to get a reader's card and That gives you access to all the Materials in the Library of Congress how Many people work for you uh we're a Small division Um we're a 10 right now nine of whom are Permanent staff we do have a cataloging Team that doesn't belong to me that's What makes my division different from All the other divisions I don't own my Catalogers so we're a small team of it's We're really The Little Engine That Could here Um you know they're nine people but we We're very busy and we do a lot we run a Reading room we build collections we do Uh presentations we build exhibits uh we Run digital programs we run virtual Programs it's a very busy staff all of

Whom have worked their way through the Field Excuse me Um work their way through the field and Have risen in terms of their Professional accomplishments so the People are here really want to be here And love what they're doing and it Really shows it's a it's a lovely staff I've always wanted to ask somebody that Worked in the library how many of these Books Are never touched by human hands once You put them on the show well the rare Books actually we use that as a metric Because you do make a scholarly uh Estimate of how you want to handle a Particular book We're not building a collection for Immediate or short-term use Many of the books that I'm acquiring now Won't have the impact and or patina That's needed for a good six seven eight Decades from now but when they're needed They'll be here So there is that aspect of collecting But for those that are have already Emerged as antiquarian books that are Old already even then there are Materials that will only be occasionally Used so when I say we use that as a Metric one of the things we have to Consider as we're going through our Holdings and making sure that we're

Treating books properly that they're Housed properly that the bindings are Cared for older books especially in some Periods rather than others their Bindings break off their inferior Materials that have been handled badly Children's books are a perfect example They never come to you in any kind of Condition that's worth saving bibles are Often worn out but you know we have some Responsibilities do we just tie the Broken Binding Together or do we Reattach it in a passive way or do we Rebind the book entirely and one of the Considerations is is this a 10-year book Of a 20-year book or a hundred yearbook If it's a hundred year book you do as Little as possible because it's only Going to be used every so often if you Have a sense that this is going to be Used regularly then you go to Greater Banks to make it a more workable hearty Kind of intervention and so we do take That into consideration I will say All of these things are subject to whim And change and a perfect example is I Would say about 10 years ago we were Trying to create some space in the rare Book Vault I was very much against the Idea although there's nothing wrong with It but I was trying not to send books Off to remote storage because of the Nature of my collections so I was Pulling books that were really very

Modern or I wouldn't have necessarily Have entered them to our collections by Myself but there they were or books that I just knew were never going to be Looked at And you know to make room for books that We were acquiring and we had to input Their records online and they were being Put into these lovely boxes that were Pad they were better treated and remote Story and almost than they were here and You know they had barcodes and they Could be easily retrieved and they had Traveled worthy cases and I sent them All off and a month later uh They started showing up as requests from Researchers so no sooner and I decided Well no one is ever going to ask that For that then someone came in and asked For that what's the farthest away a book Will be sent to to be in storage here uh Not very far Landover which is just across the bridge Or Fort Meade Does the Congress support this place and I know this is maybe not in your uh in Your responsibility but do they support It to the degree you think they should Not not your office so much just the Whole Library well that's an annual Conversation that the librarian has with Congress we are the Library of Congress Um and we are if you think of the Massive operation that is supported by

Congress it's very impressive copyright Office the law library of of Congress The National Library for the blind uh The Library of Congress itself Congressional research service all these Things are supported uh in one very very Large budget that then gets distributed It's not for me to say whether or not It's sufficient we operate on certain Levels those of us who are in the Business of buying books could we use More money we could always use more Money to build a collection but we also Provide services some of which are very Expensive digitization is not an Inexpensive thing to do and although it Seems very straightforward to the Outside world it takes some time you Know we're never really going to have All 180 million items digitized you know how Much of rare books are digitized right It depends on where and when you're Talking about the Rosenwald collection For example this room is called the Rosenwald room it was named after the Donor who gave us a significant Collection on the history of the Illustrated book going back to Medieval World so almost all of the nature of History of Science History of literature Architecture anything that ever got Illustrated in a text is in that Collection J Rosenwald was the Rosemont

Family owned Sears Roebuck Julius Roosevelt his father was famous For philanthropy in the South Rosenwald Schools some philanthropy in Chicago Very much involved in sort of Um working with Interracial Culture and Society Lessing went to book Collecting and donated his collection Significant gift one of the major gifts To the library and one of the major Collections to this day we are Digitizing the entirety of the Rosenwald Collection what what is it that people If they come here they cannot touch And I asked this to you because years Ago you let me Uh pick up the contents of the Abraham Lincoln's Pockets the night he was Assassinated and I've seen it around Town and all that where do you draw the Line well we don't do that anymore And why uh because it's just too many Hands and there's no need that was a Very special moment for you so you Should consider yourself uh very Important we would never ever do that Today we almost never did it anyway but You were who you were what was I going To say to you Um you should say no it was a particular Moment I remember it very well I don't Handle them so no one else does and the Same with Mary Todd Lincoln's pearls is

Another example Um so there are certain things that are Presented in a case where you don't need To handle them I just need to open the Box and here it all is in terms of Material objects that we deliver in the Reading room there are only a few that Are restricted and they tend to be more About the friability of the material Than the than the the value that is Certain medieval manuscripts Because the gold and the paint are on The Vellum rather than In the vellum They can chip off and so how it can chip Off if you're not handling the book Properly and so we tend to not let that Happen unless it's absolutely necessary Um gloves are worn only in very rare Moments in the division much less than People would expect because clean hands Are always better than oily gloves where You can't feel what you're doing Um there are certain moments when gloves Are important photographs pencil Drawings a few others Um so there are a few items that we Won't show because they're just too Fragile for A mere mortal to handle Or there is a sort of lack of permanence Of the of the object itself where we Would need to be mindful Um what about Charles Dickens walking

Stick well that's been out on tables for Years Um where'd you get it it came as a gift From a family member you know on Interestingly you never think this would Happen would you about five years ago a Descendant of Charles Dickens came by to See this walking stick and she had a Full running inventory of objects it was A very Interesting experience because when she Said that to me my first thought was I'm sorry what you're a family member of The Dickinson but she was doing a kind Of inventory of holding so yeah that's Um we we don't have a lot of those Materials that's a little Uh you're participating in that kind of Fetishistic sort of thing but that's an Interesting thing to document there are Certain people who achieve such an Iconic status in their own culture that This kind of of a reliquary gets Developed you know clippings of hair you Know Snippets of clothing what hair do You have uh I have uh James Madison this Is a question you would never normally Ask anyone but is it um yes we have James Madison's hair the library has uh Quite a number of hair clippings Actually a colleague in the manuscript Division and I often joke about doing a Hair exhibit Jefferson's hair Um why does that matter

That we have the hair yeah well in the Jefferson case if it had been any more Active we might have been able to Establish paternity but as it turns out It's not Um I think it it show it stands as a Representation of how people commemorate Things at a certain moment so the Example we have which is James Madison's Hair we have two lockets painted by Pierce I think Um Uh Jeff Madison and kitty Floyd who was His intended very young girl for him to Be Mary and they exchanged these lockets And his locket has sort of a Gordy and Not Of hair in the back that's under glass As a way of commemorating him this isn't A period of time where the only way we Would keep a Visage of you is through a Painting or a sketch I mean there Weren't photographs maybe a sculpture But they weren't really doing casting at That point and so you would commemorate People's existence through these bits And pieces and in this case she Ultimately rejected him and both the Portraits are here and he went on to Meet Dolly but um uh it was so that's Kind of a remembrance a very personal Remembrance so it's important that way Because it tells us a little bit about

How a period of time deals with Commemoration and death and intimacy and Love Um Other cases you know there are these Rather spectacular albums of hair that Are kept by family over Generations They're all kind of tied up in these Elaborate sort of knots and it's just a Way of of commemorating it's not quite As Odd as it may sound in normal Conversation if I was in a meeting with You and your staff At what point would they say there he Goes again Probably the hair discussion here would Be an example But what what is it that uh well let's Start with this what is it that would Irritate you about discussing the whole Responsibility of the rare book oh it Would never irritate me I mean that's Not what that's not the source of it It's just people have work to do so I Become you know I become this old guy And they bring in a book and you know They're younger and I've been here for a Long time so when I uh I'm less able to Go into the stacks as I used to be so Now Brooke's brought chimney and so I Casually ask have you ever played with This book is usually what I do know this Book and if they do thank you no well

Let me show you why I'm paging it and That can evolve into either a short or a Long story but that's if you had to go In and know these are a simple question But if you had to go into the collection And somebody says uh Mark Mark says to Himself you say to yourself I've got two Hours I want to read a book in here that I would really enjoy even though you Might have read it before what would it What would you pick Well reading is a particular kind of Experience as opposed to holding Something of historical importance Um some of these are going to seem odd The Federalists which we call the Federalist Papers you would read that I Would because it still utilizing court Cases to this day Let me interjected years ago Uh probably before you got here I Interviewed Um Oh I can't think of it you'll think of It the great books guy uh Adler Mortimer Adler and the reason I interviewed him He had a book called how to read a book And I want to ask you the same question If you were advising younger people or Even older people on how to read a book What would you say Well again I would have to start by Saying what kind of book are we looking At and who are you if you're go to the

Book say that the Federalist Papers how Would you advise okay so and as an Historian or as a rare book librarian I Look at it very differently than Somebody who comes in and wants to read The content of the Federalist paper so For me I would first pick the book up And look at its binding has this gone Through hands without being altered in Any way the closer I get to the actual Experience the better sense I have of What it may have been like for somebody To read this while the Constitution was Being debated in New York for example uh And then I open it up now our copy Immediately throws you throws a moment In this conversation would explain why You read a book in a particular way so Rather than going to skipping everything Going to page one I open to the front Cover this is what I would teach at rare Book Library what's there a couple of Book plates there's some handwriting There whose handwriting is it well There's a note here saying it's Thomas Jefferson's handwriting how did we get Thomas Jefferson's hand right and will You go to the title page and you realize I'm very much out of the musical Hamilton the Schuyler sisters delivered This book to Thomas Jefferson while he Was in Paris so now we know that we have Not only A book about the arguments for defense

Of the Federal Constitution but it's Thomas Jefferson's copy and what is this Up here these numbers well there's a Series of numbers that says John Jay 245-64 Madison 345-910 and Hamilton wrote the rest and You realize he's guessing at who wrote The pseudonymous essays guessing yes he Doesn't know he doesn't know but he's Right except for two Pieces that are are debated by everybody So he's spot on what are the two that Are debating I can't remember the Numbers but we um oftentimes uh when People say how do you know it differs And they'll say because we're the Library of Congress and we happen to Have James Madison's copy of the Federalists and he's initialed every one Of them to tell us who wrote and they Agree on everything except these two and It's the two that Scholars sometimes say May have been written by more than one Person so I just can't the number Escapes me at the moment so now you're You we haven't even read a word of this But I'm already in the debate in a Moment in which I've now been invited to The mindset of these aren't just Arguments for the Constitution it's Important for me to know who made these Arguments Hamilton isn't all that Popular one of the reasons we you know

In at certain moments one of the reasons We went to uh Publius as the authors so That you wouldn't be hung up on the fact That Hamilton wrote this and to remain Anonymous in that way but so you then Start in Um then the reading begins and Um that's the moment when I would say to If somebody was a curator in American History you need to do this because the Arguments that are being made here were Immediate to the time And the reason the Bill of Rights Emerged and the reason other things came About is because of some of the Arguments that are being made here at The time and if you want to talk about What it was like to form a government to This period of time you need to have a Fluency of these issues what would be Your second book that you'd pick up and Read For our audience at this moment Mark is Thinking that's all right I would Probably go modern I would probably go To Howell I think Ginsburg something Like that who is how how old is Alan Ginsberg's book of poetry Um that uh was influential in changing The nature of American free-form poetry And was one of the great beats and Started a whole Movement of literature uh it's a book That had an impact on me as a younger

Reader and I think I would go to it now You don't necessarily find that in a Rare book Division and how would you Read it you would read it pretty Straightforwardly if we went back in Time there's certain moments in in the History of science actually that to me I Find very exciting because they're at The beginning of an understanding One that has your reading you realize You know much more than the person who's Writing at the time but what you're Reading is the first moment in which Anyone had this idea and to read that Reinforces your understanding of your Own experience but also how Fundamentally important a moment could Be so you you think of uh Copernicus or You think of um Day revolucionibus which is the book That establishes that the sun is at the Center of the universe It's a little bit of a schlog it's not In English by any stretch of the Imagination but when your language well It's usually in Latin unless it's been Changed you read Latin enough to get Through can I read Copernicus from cover To cover no but um I'd have to get Through what other languages do you know Um German and Um a bit of reading French I don't speak French for self-preservation reasons Um because my French is terrible but uh

German would be my reading language yeah So uh I don't I'm not sure you are rare books I'm not sure you want want to go here But who would you say in your lifetime Was the most interesting historian You've read That somebody today could easily go to And they may be asking the question About the more modern historians that You respect Well there are two books that come to Mind right away but I'm very much of a Generation of historian they used to Call my generation the revisionists Before that became a dirty word what we Were revising was drum and trumpet History and moving away from you know Wars and white men and moving to the History of childhood in the history of Social interactions Um Martin Duberman's Black Mountain The history of Black Mountain College Was really influential to me Because he was the first to introduce His own subjective reaction to the story He was writing and so in the midst of This history which was complicated and Had to do with Advanced Notions of Literature in history but also a sort of More fluid notion sort of identity and Sexuality all kind of playing out in

This college duberman would stop and in The middle talk about his life and how This this bit of business angers him or How he doesn't understand why this Person did or didn't do this so he's Having a conversation with the history As you're reading along and it kind it It it took the sharp edge off of Authoritative history for me and made me Understand that history was a dialogue And an experience and that when one Researches that you arrive at an Understanding through your own filter You have to be very careful that you Don't tell somebody else in a very Righteous way you will see the world the Way I see it because I see it that way And that was really instrumental to me I Am um a child of of the hofstetter Generation Umstetter yeah I don't know I haven't Read him in decades I don't know who was He he was an American historian Um uh at Columbia Um uh active in the 50s and 60s wrote uh Um fairly influential revisions of Understanding of um how power is Developed and arrived at in America the Rise of the middle class that sort of Thing Um and then there were uh more activists Or social historians that I would have Read but those two are are info Certainly Winthrop Jordan in a book

Called White over black who was actually A professor of mine at Berkeley uh that Was the book that Um Uh broke it's a book that would be Interesting for people to talk about Today I would imagine given the current Conversations about race but it's a book That actually traces the origins of Racism back to Europe and the Confrontation with the other and how Slavery evolved and this wasn't just Economics it was in fact what do you Read today uh well today it's a lot of Work a day reading which you know for That may sound funny but I read a lot of I read all the current biographies of The people whose papers I have you know So the current Jefferson piece or the Current Washington book or Um I read I try to read social history About movements and literature uh most Of my reading is work related I do have A stack of novels that I plan to read When I'm old but I'm not there yet Um so I try to keep up in part because We need to be able to predict How our collections will be used and so When I'm reading how somebody is writing About Jefferson And the sources they're looking at and How they use them it makes me think you Know we probably should build the Collection here because what they're

Doing is looking at The economy of certain kind of Industries that Jefferson brought to his Far to his Plantation but do we have Enough information about those like nail Factories elsewhere 2000 I think it was Tell me if I'm wrong that you started Building this exhibit that is permanent Here the Jefferson Library explained That in 1998 I arrived and they were Asking us to propose projects to help Celebrate the library's Bicentennial in The year 2000. Um I told a bit of that story about the Library of Congress is built on the Purchase of Thomas Jefferson's private Library after the original Congressional Library of 3000 volumes was destroyed by The English when they burned the capital Uh and it seemed like that was a worthy Project to look at in part because uh in 1851 there was a fire in the capital in The chimney flew and two-thirds of Thomas Jefferson's original books were Destroyed So here is the basis of the modern day Library of Congress the foundation Two-thirds of which are gone So I propose that we reconstruct the Original purchase from Jefferson from 1815. how many books initially we had One third of his books that were still Surviving uh that's the collection is About it's about five thousand plus

Titles about 6248. what did he sell uh for what what Was he paid when he sold about twenty Three thousand dollars which was nothing Um A lot of money not a lot of money given The books but a lot of money probably More importantly what do you expect when You built this and it's a You can describe it uh handsome looking Display well it's the foundation of of Much of what defines America I mean this Is a collection that Thomas Jefferson Built was the largest private collection In North America it's the it is in Essence The enlightenment brought to America It's mostly European materials plus a Very substantial collection of North America who's in it who are the what are Some of the books there that we would Recognize well there are 44 sections Everything from ancient world to Um contemporary dictionary so it's Everything from classical authors to all Of English law to the philosophs and the French Revolution there's a very big Science section books that were given to Him by Lavoisier and Buffon I mean it's Very much an 18th century collection and He was very involved in documenting this All the pamphlets that lead up to the Revolution his own writings that lead up To the revolution what happens

Afterwards his notion of what 18th Century literature was worth reading Which is pretty Um Dull in his um his choices Um did he ever write a book Yes well he wrote a pamphlet yes he's Written a book yeah he wrote notes on Virginia And he also wrote a Um an important pamphlet about Um The shared thoughts of the rights of English Americans when you come to the Library though and you go up to the Exhibit area that Right there you can't miss it what would You recommend people do when they go Look at it what can they get out of it Well the first thing is just to Simply Absorb The experience of being surrounded by What is in essence the 18th century This is the universe of ideas that Informed Thomas Jefferson his Understanding of American politics his Understanding of jurisprudence his Understanding of Agriculture and Science And literature it's all there this is The universe of the mind of Thomas Jefferson who happened to write the Declaration of Independence who happened To be the third president of the United States who happen to have a tremendous

Impact on our definition of democracy And participation that affects us to This day so one is just that sort of Visual representation secondly you begin To see the level of very addition that Was present in the 18th century I Mentioned the 44 chapters it starts with Ancient history it goes through all the Histories up to the Contemporary Natural History all the Sciences law in all of Its aspects and all of its break Hierarchy how long did it take you to Put that exhibit together it's still Ongoing we started with 1 thought we Started with one third of the books Already surviving we took the list of What we were lacking from we had a Bibliography of what he sold in 1814. we Found about another third of those books As duplicates in this collection here at The library because we were in part an 18th century collection we are looking For books that match exactly the book That Jefferson owned not a later Edition Not a translation the book and that left Me with a couple of thousand books that I had to track down and that's been the Ongoing part of the of the project uh is To seek out A couple of thousand books we're down to About 240 I think that we're missing Where would you put that accomplishment In all these 25 years how important is That to you well it's it's a major I'm

Very proud of that work uh I think it's An important representation uh for the American people it is an exhibit that Has stood for many many years which Doesn't usually happen in the library I Think because there is both a visual Appeal and a sort of sense of Foundations from this spring the world's Largest Library Um you know when Jefferson sold and Defended his collection to Congress one Of his arguments was there was no topic To which a member of Congress may not Have an occasion to refer And that's how he justified everything From recipes for ice cream to you know Indian languages Um in his collection embroidery patterns And chemistry I mean it's it's a it's a Vast world of knowledge it's sort of the Uh the uncle uh the Encyclopedia of Didero was sort of played out on the Uh And rare books we have Madison's Pamphlets we have Um the rare books we have anything That's published about or by him Certainly manuscripts would be where the Papers would be found Um the reason I asked this is if you Come to this town you get to see this Huge Memorial to Thomas Jefferson And he had a great PR group and then the Only place you can find anything about

Little James Madison is right over here In the Madison Building there's a nice Statue yeah and it's like he didn't it Doesn't exist in this town he just he Just created the Constitution I mean how Much credit do you want to give the man I mean but where do you put him in and Why is Jefferson so celebrated Well as we're learning of course there Are reasons why you want to dial down Some of that celebration and I don't Think that's an unfounded observation Um I think probably because of the Formative nature partly because of their Own personalities uh and the nature of Their writing but Madison of course was The arguments behind the Federalist he Set up uh certainly the notion of he Wrote the the Bill of Rights Um profound impact on our experience I Can't say why at a certain moment of Time he wasn't recognized Um other than that he's not slighted Here he just doesn't have a big stone Monument you're a Broadway show goer I Am indeed and the reason I mention that Is if you probably ask kids in this Country 15 years old uh who's their most Who's the most famous Founding Father They'd say Hamilton yes what do you Think of that well it's not just uh an Iconic representation without Understanding this is why that musical Is so important and the clue to that is

I had a teacher once apologize because a Student went off in this long Rapture When I was showing this copy of in fact The the Federalists that I was Describing to you and on the title page It does say Um given to Thomas Jefferson by Elizabeth Um uh Skyler ham Elizabeth Hamilton Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton uh through Her sister the wife of the wife of Alexander Hamilton through her sister Angelica Church who's Angelica Schuyler And those who are familiar with the Musical know that there's an opening Number called work in which the Schuyler Sisters Angelica Eliza and Peggy 2 come Out and they sing about what's happening And when she meets Thomas Jefferson She's going to suggest that and he he Puts women in in the second edition and It's all this kind of stuff but it's Very learned and I read off as you'll Notice here this is from Elizabeth Hamilton and Angelica and he went Angelica Schuyler Houston then turned to The the class and said Hamilton wrote Most most of the Federalist Papers Madison wrote the other part of it John Jay only wrote A Few essays but Hamilton They all used it and told the entire Story of the Federalists all of which Had been learned from the musical not From me so there's content there in a

Way that isn't just a sort of Iconic pop culture figure they Understand who he is and they understand How he operated and if you if you Haven't seen the musical or if you Haven't followed the lyrics some one Reason people sometimes have difficulty With some of the musical is because what They're talking about is very thick and Heavy I mean they're talking about What's happening in the room in the next In the Next Room and it's all about Negotiations between what the trade-off Is for moving the capital here in Relationship to the treasury and it's Not the kind of thing you sing about on Broadway but it does there so yes I Would say you're quite right that would Be here's another thing 20 years or so Ago I think it was 2000 they put a Statue of George Mason down around the Title base and it's hard to find it's Tucked in the back but you can't find That I know of a statue of Hamilton Anywhere there's one in New York I'm Talking about here oh well uh he's a New York kind of guy you know not a Washington kind of guy so um yeah I'm Not I'm not the one that determines who Gets you know well I know but although There is a statue for a Torah shiv Shenko a great Ukrainian poet so you Know what can I say Where's that it's a Near uh Dupont Circle on P Street

So looking back on your career have you Ever thought about trying to write a Book for the average person about what You've done Well You know I I used to teach at rare book School at University of Virginia every Summer uh colleague and I would teach a Book a course called history of the book From 200 to 2000 where we talked about The material history of the book Starting with cuneiform and Papyrus and Telling the entire story of how books Were produced and spread I would Probably write something like that Because I think it's important to our Understanding of where we are at a Particular moment and also in terms of How ideas moved from time to time Um There's already been enough books about Jefferson in his library that even Though I probably have done a lot more With it than many people I'm not sure it Would be a real new contribution but Um I I suppose I could I have to be honest And say I haven't really thought of Doing that but I could I suppose Start there before we close down I need To ask you about the couple of other Things the Hitler mind comp and Braille Yeah where do you keep it it's in the Rare book vault in something called the

Third Reich collection these were Materials that were confiscated by the Allied Forces after the conclusion of The war there was a process then where Materials that were identified by some Kind of marking or book plate or writing As having belonged to collections in Europe largely Jewish collections but Other collections as well they were they Were returned or they tried to return Them Um when they the books came to the United States those materials that were Directly associated with the party and Hitler and the bunker and the house came To the Library of Congress others were Distributed throughout the United States Then over a period of time there have Been two run-throughs those materials Again to establish provenance to make Sure we're not holding something that Now could be identified as well Belonging to a family in Europe have you Ever had anybody come to the library and Read the Braille version of Minecon not Not as a reader of Braille but we have Certainly used it in in presentation It's a very haunting piece I might add It's very large it's many many volumes And Um It's a moment you open it as black paper With these Ray and you when you realize What this is representing it's it takes

Your breath away so it's part of the Third right collection Hermann Gehring Heinrich Himmler you have others we have Materials about them more than uh or Books that may have been given to them We do have a few both in prints and Photographs and here uh photo albums of Uh the child camps where they were Trying to to raise the perfect Aryan Child Um other things we do have some uh Strategic war maps that were found in The bunker that are here They're not personal papers as much as They are the detritus of what was left Behind but it was enough that's Significant we even have some Ava Braun Material so where do you keep the Woodrow Wilson book Woodrow everything Is kept in our vault how many books did You do you have of his that's a sizable Collection I would say well there are Some that are on display actually in the Woodrow Wilson room those tend to be Books that um relate to his teaching of History and his after his Post-presidential period Um of several thousand books a lot of Honorary certified tickets and gestures From Europe after the war That kind of thing but we're gonna have To wrap it up and I want to ask you this What question are you asked the most

Over the years in your job Mostly by Outsiders Because you meet with a lot of students A lot of people There are a couple of constant questions The Gutenberg Bible often comes up in a Number of questions that's I'm happy to Answer because it helps situate the book In an intelligent fashion we get the Kind of predictable question of the Smallest book in history the most Expensive book that kind of thing we Tend not to answer it because we don't Deal in value so much here as we do Importance Um You know that kind of covers the Waterfront actually there's some odd Moments here and there but it's too Lengthy of a story to go into here now But Um it's off if we do it will be a Question about value Or they'll ask for something that Doesn't really exist The Book of Secrets Is a perfect example is there a book of Secrets no Story so that's it but oftentimes it's Um A book is put in front of somebody and They're not quite sure to do with it and The first question that comes out of Their mouth is a very straightforward Simple one but it's an entree to the

Book so it's an important question Our Guest has been Storyteller and chief Of our books division of the library Congress Mark demunation and we thank You very much well thank you over the Years it's been a pleasure doing this With you and this is just one more Example of why it's such a pleasure We'll be back to talk after you get your Book out okay it's a deal thanks thank You Thanks for listening to the book notes Plus podcast please rate and review book Notes plus and don't forget to follow so You never miss an episode Questions or comments we would love to Hear from you you can email us at Podcasts at C [Music]

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