Cataloging the Elzevir Collection

by Edward S. Buckley - February 06, 2023

Edward S. Buckley

During the summer, fall, and winter of 2022, I was afforded the opportunity to work on a cataloging project for the M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives regarding its Elzevir collection. We hoped to completely catalog this collection of more than 700 volumes of rare books to facilitate better access alongside other offerings of the department. It was a tremendous opportunity to develop skills in rare books/special collections cataloging.

The Elzevir Printing House was founded in the late 16th century by Lodewijk (Louis) Elzevir in the city of Leiden. The collection consists of the works of the various Elzevir printing houses operated by him and his descendants throughout the modern-day Netherlands in the 16th, 17th, and early 18th centuries. The collection also contains many works of their contemporaries in the Low Countries, such as Francios Foppens and Abraham Wolfgang, whose work strongly resembles the Elzevirs. The collection was first acquired in the late 1960s and came from a variety of provenances, including part of the library of Georges Alexandre François, Count de Nédonchel (1813-1901). The collection includes books on a variety of scholarly subjects, including history, theology, law, and language, alongside more popular works such as French plays. The majority of the collection is in Latin and French, but, as the Elzevirs of Leiden were also printers for the University of Leiden, there are works printed in Hebrew and Farsi.

This project allowed me to apply many skills that were covered in the graduate program regarding cataloging practices, the use of authorities, and rare books. It also offered the opportunity for hands-on time using industry software such as OCLC and Ex Libris ALMA. I learned how to identify what makes a quality MARC record and the different requirements for descriptive standards such as DRCMB and RDA. Much of the cataloging was copy cataloging of records; however, I was presented with opportunities to create original records. The specific nature of the project allowed me to identify and work with a variety of reference materials related to different aspects of the collection, including the printing house itself and the engravers employed by them. Being in a position to develop such an intense familiarity with the practices of the Elzevir printers afforded me the opportunity to quickly identify which printing house the work came from through ornamentation or bibliographic features such as colophons.

During the course of the work, I worked under and learned from Nancy Poehlmann, the special collections cataloging coordinator. I first met Nancy as a guest speaker in the Rare Book's course offered by the MIS program. Throughout my time as an intern and a graduate assistant, Nancy taught me her approach to cataloging and instilled not only skills but perspective into the work. She helped me tremendously in learning not only about cataloging as an activity but about rare books librarianship as a field. Her mentorship has helped me to set a career path and develop a plan for how to pursue a career that I am passionate about. I am enormously grateful for the time I was able to spend learning from her, as she was not only a true expert in what she did but an inspiring, kind, and generous mentor.