A struggling diamond in the rough: Rare books at the U need money

Since the erection of Marriott Library, the U’s best-kept secret, the rare-books collection on the fifth floor of the library has been growing and expanding to bring more meaning to the history of the written word.

According to Luise Poulton, associate curator of rare books, the books that are kept in this collection belong to the public, and not just to the library or even the U.

The collection includes books about European history, law, literature and philosophy. It also includes books that trace the development of modern fine press printing and artists’ books.

Poulton explains that “books tell the story of humanity. It’s not something obsolete and meaningless. Making books is a craft and an art. It’s beautiful and functional.”

In 1995, due to the public’s lack of awareness about the collection, the book-arts program was initiated by Madelyn Garrett, giving the community an opportunity to appreciate these rare items.

The program offers classes, workshops, intensives, exhibitions and lectures to anyone interested in learning about the art and history of the book.

Poulton is satisfied with the way things are going.

“The workshops are full of students and community members,” Poulton said.

The instructors are brought in from all over the country as well as from different parts of the world.

Poulton explained that the benefits of creating the program are numerous.

“We’ve let the community know that the state has this collection of books,” Poulton said.

Poulton also pointed out that the book-arts studio is a “great outlet for creation that is not available anywhere else.”

With the creation of the Special Collections Gallery in 2000, the book-arts program has also launched an exhibition series that, six times a year, showcases significant holdings from the rare-book collections.

The subjects for the exhibitions, approximately 25 of them, are chosen by the rare books staff out of the roughly 50 entries. Most of the books on display are student or alumni entries.

Poulton says that the “rare books staff’s biggest dream is to make book art a full-fledged academic program.”

Poulton says that this could someday become possible. After all, students have asked about it and classes are being offered.

A problem that the rare books department always seems to face is the lack of steady funds.

Currently, the R. Harold Burton Foundation is the major contributor to the program, donating $25,000 a year since 2000, but Poulton says that it is often not enough.

The money that is needed for promotion, preservation, lectures and workshops is just not there.

Some possible sources of income, Poulton said, are the National Endowment for the Arts and the Utah Humanities Council, which donates money sporadically, but not regularly.

What may be surprising, however, is the minimal financial role that the U plays in keeping this program running. The staff members of the rare-books collection are employees of the U, but the program itself is not funded by the school.

Poulton is not blaming the U for the program’s financial struggles, but emphasizes that “there is only so far we can go [without outside financial help].”

“We understand that money is always tight. It’s the enthusiasm of the staff that got this program started, and it is what will keep it going,” Poulton said.

The money that comes in from the workshops and from tuition also helps a bit, Poulton explains.

Kathy Seamons, a senior studying photography, is currently enrolled in the Beginning Letterpress class, and says that “it’s a lot easier to put a page together now that I understand where it came from. I can make pages more formal and symmetrical.”

Seamons found out about the class by sheer coincidence. She needed an extra art elective for her major and found the description of Beginning Letterpress in the class catalog interesting.

Beth Benedict-Corey, a senior majoring in art, found Beginning Letterpress to be helpful for her studies in the illustration program. But that’s not the only thing that drew her to this class. “I love books and history,” Benedict-Corey said.

Seamons and Benedict-Corey agree that the class is worth their tuition money.

“It makes for a good hobby. It’s something I enjoy doing,” Benedict-Corey said.

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