By Rebecca Wickstrom
Washing their hands before carefully passing ancient volumes around a table, passionate book collectors embraced their hobby Friday, Oct. 24.
Some touched a piece of history as they handled incidental sheets of paper that once littered London streets during the sixteenth century. Others examined some of the fundamental publications of the church.
Ninety participants had the rare opportunity to interact with some of BYU”s most precious Special Collection materials during seminars that were part of the Gentle Madness of Book Collecting conference on Friday.
Brad Westwood, chair of Special Collections, opened the doors to the vaults and invited faculty members, alumni and other guests to experience materials first-hand.
“The purpose for having the conference is that we have an International-class collection of materials that relate not only to Utah and Mormonism, but to the history of Western civilization and various other areas of the continent,” Westwood said. “Our materials are not to be exhibited like museum pieces-they are supposed to be used for research and to extend our body of knowledge.”
The conference, which takes its namesake from a book by Nicholas A. Basbanes about bibliophiles and bibliomania, appealed to novice and seasoned collectors alike. Basbanes wrote that one irony of the modern Internet age is that the passion to possess books is as pervasive today as ever in recorded history.
“We will talk about how to collect and what to collect so the novice collector can get a head start and so the seasoned collector can get some new perspectives,” Westwood said during the opening address.
Westwood also hoped to spark the passion of participants during the seminar.
“Books have transformed us and they have transformed the world, especially in a university setting such as this at BYU,” he said. “Each of us has a story about a book that took us to a world unknown. We feel intense emotion for an intellectual experience that transformed us.”
Westwood explained that individuals can be “molecularly transformed” by experiencing books, which he described as century-old technologies.
In addition to learning how and what to collect, participants were taught the importance of preservation and conservation. One of the seminars of the conference, “Conservation and Preservation: The Art of Preventing Dilapidation,” outlined some basic steps by which collectors can ensure the long-term survival of their collections.
“Books have the ability to survive,” the program pamphlet stated. “Nonetheless, they need care and attention.
Westwood is optimistic that this will not be the last conference of this kind.
“We intend to do this annually,” he said. “Next year we hope to engage some of our students and community members.”
For more information about Special Collections, go to sc.lib.byu.edu or call 422-3514.