On February 14, the Ella Strong Denison Library will host its fourth annual “Blind Date with a Rare Book” event, a return to in-person programming after last year’s event was moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Denison staff will select a number of volumes from the Rare Books Collection and write brief statements related to each of the titles, such as “It may be the Late Middle Ages, but I’m devoted for centuries!” or “I’d rather spend my afternoon learning more about female deities than cutting out heart-shaped Valentines.” Based on these tantalizing descriptions, students will choose which volumes they’d like to get to know better.
“Our hope is that our students will be intrigued and excited by what they see and want to explore more,” says Jennifer Martinez Wormser, director and Sally Preston Swan Librarian for the Ella Strong Denison Library, adding that Denison’s various themed programs, such as October 2020’s Halloween-related virtual escape room, are designed to provide students with fun opportunities to engage with the library’s volumes outside of a classroom context. “We want students to take pride in the unique collections at Scripps and recognize that these items are here to enrich their academic experience, as well as satisfy their general curiosity.”
Denison’s collection includes some very unique volumes indeed. Livre De Prières: Tissé D’apres Les Enluminures Des Manuscrits Du Xive Au Xvie Siècle (A. Roux, 1886) contains pages made of silk, while the oldest item in the collection isn’t a book at all, but a cuneiform tablet from approximately 5,000 B.C.E. from the region that is today Northern Iraq. The collection also includes books that were previously owned by Ellen Browning Scripps, such as a complete set of the works of Edgar Allan Poe and a set of Shakespeare’s works featuring original watercolor illustrations. Artists’ books, which take various non-traditional forms and are often intended to be artworks, are one of the library’s most heavily used collections; one of Martinez Wormser’s favorites is Laura Russell’s 2013 artist’s book Anything Helps, which is bound in a wallet to further reinforce the issues of finRare ancial insecurity and unhoused communities featured in its pages.
Denison hosted its first “Blind Date with a Rare Book” in February 2019. “It was a great opportunity to get our community to engage with the collections at Denison Library in a different way,” says Martinez Wormser. “Valentine’s Day can be an emotionally challenging holiday for some, and we thought that refocusing our students’ attention toward rare books would be a good way to share some library love with the community.”
Due to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines and the rare condition of the books, special protocols have been put in place for this year’s event to protect both the Scripps community and the Denison collection. Attendees must register for the event in advance. Books will be displayed on supportive book cradles for ease of viewing, and distributed around the room to ensure adequate space for circulation. Library staff will turn the books’ pages to reduce the amount of handling involved. And, although the event is scheduled to be held in Denison’s Holbein Room, where the number of attendees will be regulated to avoid crowding, good weather may prompt an outdoor relocation to the library’s Valencia Courtyard.
Regardless of the venue, Martinez Wormser can’t wait to see which volumes will excite attendees this year. “My favorite part is watching participants’ faces light up when they learn about the amazing materials we have here at Denison Library,” she says. “When we last had this event on campus, one of the books we had on display was Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1755), which was open to the entry for ‘love.’ Who knew that so many people would be thrilled to be huddled around a dictionary?”