For immediate release | June 9, 2010

2010 RBMS Leab Exhibition Award winners

CHICAGO – The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) has selected five winners and one honorable mention for the 2010 Katharine Kyes Leab and Daniel J. Leab “American Book Prices Current” Exhibition Awards.
The awards, funded by an endowment established by Katharine Kyes Leab and Daniel J. Leab, editors of “American Book Prices Current,” recognize outstanding exhibition catalogues issued by American or Canadian institutions in conjunction with library exhibitions as well as electronic exhibition catalogues of outstanding merit issued within the digital/Web environment. Certificates will be presented to each winner at the RBMS Annual Membership Meeting and Information Exchange held at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 27 during the ALA Annual Meeting in Washington.
The Division One (expensive) winner is “Liberty and the American Revolution: Selections from the Collection of Sid Lapidus, Class of 1959,” submitted by the Rare Books and Special Collections Department at the Princeton University Firestone Library.
“The purpose of this catalog,” said Richard Noble, chair of the RBMS Exhibition Awards committee and rare books cataloger at Brown University, “is succinctly put in Stephen Ferguson’s preface: ‘How does one gain … a sense of the past? Not only by experiencing books as physical objects, seeing them as readers of that day saw, felt, and handled them, but—through the extensive quotations from the books themselves found in this catalogue—by making them speak as well.’ This is, in essence, a catalogue of books and a book of quotations that trace the evolution, in a multiplicity of spheres, of the concept of ‘liberty’—a concept which it is all too easy to interpret ad lib. Whatever else the many books presented in this catalog may be about, the organization of the entries and passages quoted all address the question posed in the introduction by Sean Wilentz: ‘What are the boundaries of American liberty?’ The texture of these texts is itself a pedagogical device, a taste of the books. Pick it up and read it aloud to yourself and you realize that this is also a catalog of voices.”
The Division One honorable mention winner is awarded to the Poetry Collection at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York for “Discovering James Joyce: The University at Buffalo Collection.”
“This catalog is an indispensable guide to and demonstration of the scholarly possibilities of this particular collection,” noted Noble. “It’s also a visual feast, the complexity of its design properly representing the variousness of the many items on view, but with the clarity necessary to the understanding of all that variety: each element of the page has a distinct function, and everything is brought into clear relation. The challenge to the makers of this catalog was the variety and depth of the materials: the Joyce family collection, which includes books by Joyce, as well as his personal library, manuscripts, photographs and memorabilia; together with the collection of Sylvia Beach, publisher of the first edition of ‘Ulysses.’”
The Division Two (moderately expensive) winner is the Princeton University Library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections for “Beauty & Bravado in Japanese Woodblock Prints: Highlights from the Gilbert G. Griffin Collection.”
“The text is set with a quiet sense of style: it’s meant to be read with the greatest ease possible, but still be suitable company for the excellently reproduced prints to which it points,” said Noble. “The essay itself is just enough and not too much: it cannot make the reader an instant expert, but does induce the feeling that having such expertise about such things would be a source of great pleasure—and it includes, in its historical treatment, reference to Western collectors of Japanese prints who found that out for themselves, as did Gillett G. Griffin, the collector of these prints. The appended catalog of the exhibition is a model of its type, with enough technical detail to satisfy the better-informed viewer of the collection, while alerting the beginner to the various attributes and accretions that give these prints their individual identities.”
The Division Three (inexpensive) winner is “The Lion and the Fox: Art and Literary Works by Wyndham Lewis from the C.J. Fox Collection,” submitted by the Special Collections Department at the University of Victoria Libraries.
“This is a remarkably handsome catalog that one judge assumed had to be Division 2 (moderately expensive), but somehow they brought it off more inexpensively,” Noble remarked. “It’s a first-rate example of the donor-driven catalog that says, to paraphrase quite radically, ‘Here’s my collection, here’s why it’s interesting, and here’s how it made me more interesting than I would have been otherwise.’ There’s no reason why a catalog shouldn’t be fun to read, as this one is, simply because of the personality that inhabits and shapes it.”
The Division Four (brochures) winner is the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin for its brochure entitled “The Mystique of the Archive.”
“The criteria for Division Four of the Leab Awards note that a brochure is a publication designed to ‘orient the viewer to an exhibition,’” noted Noble. “This one is particularly successful in shaping a frame of mind, preparing a viewer to feel the temptation, the desire to be more than a viewer, the implicit challenge to get beneath the surface. As one of the epigraphs (credited to subREAL, ‘the Politics of Heritage’) puts it: ‘Archives embody the mystique of boredom… Boredom is a front cover preserving archives from intruders looking for easy excitement.’ A point well taken, but boredom is not the response that this deceptively simple booklet invites.”
The Division Five (electronic exhibition) winner is the University of Maryland Libraries’ Special Collections department for “Nancy Drew and Friends: Girls’ Series Books Rediscovered,” available online at
“The exhibition,” stated Noble,” is an editorial triumph, accessible and informative at many levels, with a consistency of voice that remains always somehow breezy without ever betraying the seriousness of the collecting and curatorial discipline that went into it. Drill deep enough into these pages and you’ll get a quick guide to the interpretation of detailed collectors’ guides, as well, and a bibliography and multiplicity of links. Each of the graphics can be viewed closer up; the design is simple and unobtrusive, giving full play to the bright graphics of the many dust jackets, illustrations and endpapers on display, headed by a banner of straightforwardly imitative design.”
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David Free