The Old Library Trinity College Dublin: 1712-2012, edited by WE Vaughan, Four Courts Press, 480 pp, €50.00, ISBN: 978-1846823770
The foundation stone of one of eighteenth century Ireland’s finest surviving buildings, Thomas Burgh’s Old Library in Trinity College Dublin, was laid on May 12th, 1712 and the tercentenary of the event was marked by the publication of a handsome, lavishly illustrated and informative volume. In a range of essays, some fifty contributors, including library staff, scholars concerned with the provenance and contents of the collections, and members of the college, investigate aspects of the building and its assets, providing intriguing insights into the development of the Old Library over time. In the opening chapter a former Librarian, Peter Fox, traces its expansion, noting that from a collection of fewer than fifteen thousand books in 1732 the holdings have grown to number more than five million printed titles. The library’s designation as a legal deposit, following the Copyright Act of 1801, which placed an obligation on publishers and distributors to supply copies, on request, of all their books to Trinity, accounts for much of its development as a world class research centre.
No less than its contents, the remarkable architectural features, particularly the glories of the Long Room, enhance the library’s reputation and add to its aura of scholarly endeavour, appreciated by researchers and tourists alike. The reports of travellers show that as early as the 1820s the library featured on the programme of many visitors to Dublin. The English agricultural writer Arthur Young made Trinity College his first port of call on arriving in Dublin in 1776 and declared the library to be “a very fine room, and well filled”. Even the notoriously critical English traveller Richard Twiss, who found little to admire about Ireland, thought the library “large and handsome”. During the Irish Industrial Exhibition of 1853, over eighteen thousand people visited the Long Room. For the remainder of the nineteenth century, annual visitor numbers ranged between two and four thousand and over the course of the twentieth century rose to the extent that in 1984 it was decided to charge for admission. In 2011, 524,000 people visited the Long Room, generating €3.6 million in entrance fees. The primary purpose of a library, however, is to promote scholarship rather than attract tourists. Fittingly, then, contributors to The Old Library, Trinity College Dublin, continually draw attention to the richness and variety of its research resources in chapters dealing with specific books and manuscripts; individuals associated with the library; collections and archives; maps; drawings; children’s books; music; the printed catalogue; and the conservation laboratory.
Given that funding of cultural institutions in post-Celtic Tiger Ireland is threatened by the present downturn, the prefatorial observation of the volume’s editor, WE Vaughan, that the story of the building and its contents “is a history of vicissitudes rather than steady progress” could serve as a cautionary contextualisation of the subsequent celebratory essays. Unfortunately, that admonitory note is all too rarely heeded, as the chapters that follow are often complacent and sometimes self-congratulatory in tone. Were it not for the final essay, readers might well come away from the collection feeling that the value of the Old Library and its contents are not only recognised internationally but also respected nearer home. The title of that final essay ‑ “‘Must do Better’: enhancing the collections of early printed books and special collections” ‑ indicates, however, that the task of consolidating the Old Library’s reputation and research potential is far from complete. In that concluding essay, Charles Benson argues that “the holdings of any library need continued strengthening to promote new directions in research”, points out that “the amount of funding provided [in recent years] has been in no way comparable to the expenditure of the leading research libraries in other countries” and concludes that “Neglect of the library imperils the college’s competence, scholarship and reputation.”
This is well said, as regular users of the library will agree. The story of the Pollard Collection of Children’s Books might be thought exemplary. In her chapter on the collection, Lydia Ferguson describes it as a “truly magnificent resource, offering enormous potential for scholarly investigation and research”. On an institutional level, the fate of the Pollard Collection since it was bequeathed to Trinity College Dublin in 2005 illustrates the very real nature of the perils identified by Charles Benson. From a broader perspective, the story of the collection illuminates the challenges involved in supporting resources of national and international importance whose potential is lauded but whose development is thwarted for reasons that are perhaps ideological as much as financial.
To appreciate the depressing fate of the neglected children of the Pollard Collection, we need to look at the contribution of the collector to both college life and international bibliography. Born to Irish parents and educated in England, Mary “Paul” Pollard came to Dublin in 1957 to take up two jobs ‑ one as part-time assistant keeper in Marsh’s Library, Ireland’s oldest public library, and the other as a part-time librarian in Trinity College. Although she lived for the rest of her life in an apartment belonging to Marsh’s, she only worked there for a few years before being appointed on a full-time basis to take charge of Trinity’s newly established Department of Older Printed Books, where she remained until she took early retirement in 1983. During her time in Trinity, despite constantly working within a tight budget, she succeeded in adding considerably to the library’s holdings and so enhancing its reputation as one of the world’s foremost centres for academic research. As WE Vaughan remarks, acquisition is only part of the story of developing a first class library, and Mary Pollard also developed and elaborated a cataloguing system for Early Printed Book in which details of collational formulae, printing, publication, illustration, binding and provenance were all recorded.
Her pioneering work on the early Dublin trade in books ensured that she succeeded in establishing an international reputation in her own right. She edited the International Association for the Study of Irish Literature’s Bibliography of Relevant Publications from 1970 to 1972, and was elected to serve on the Council of the Bibliographical Society in London from 1976 to 1980. Following retirement, she was invited in 1986 to deliver the prestigious Bodleian Lyell Lectures in bibliography in Oxford, which were subsequently published as Dublin’s Trade in Books: 1550-1800 (Clarendon Press, 1989). She followed this up with the magisterial Dictionary of the members of the Dublin book trade: 1550-1800 (Oxford University Press, 2000), in which she gave details of all grades of workers from apprentice to master, papermakers to printer, and hawker to bookseller. Her contributions to Irish librarianship and bibliographical studies were acknowledged by her election to the Royal Irish Academy in 2002. In the foreword to That Woman: Studies in Irish Bibliography, a festschrift published in her honour in 2006, Maurice Craig described her as “the most distinguished Irish bibliographer of the past half century”.
For Mary Pollard, high bibliographic standards were a prerequisite for rigorous academic research, and over a period spanning some fifty years she displayed a characteristic attention to detail when pursuing her passion and hobby of collecting early children’s books. That writing for children was long regarded as an inferior form of literature is evidenced by its tardy adoption in 1979 as a division of the Modern Language Association, founded in 1883. Mary Pollard was, in fact, well ahead of her time in recognising the literary and cultural value of children’s books, particularly early children’s books, which she began to collect before they became fashionable and expensive. Trinity acquired her collection of 850 school texts in 1985 but she continued to collect books that were written for children, or that children might have read, or that were written by authors who wrote for children, right up until her death in 2005. At that point, she had amassed a collection of some 10,500 titles, all recorded in collecting notebooks and many described on index cards. On her death, she bequeathed the entire collection ‑ books, notebooks, listings, cards, everything ‑ to the library of Trinity College Dublin.
Of the more than ten thousand books that made up her bequest, a few texts were printed as early as the mid-sixteenth century, others in the seventeenth and, especially, long eighteenth centuries, and over two-thirds published after 1820 and before 1914, which was Mary Pollard’s cut-off date. The collection also contains some later works, which were either of Irish interest or related to older items already represented. The vast majority of the books are in English, but there are approximately two hundred French titles, over seventy in Irish, approximately twenty-eight in German, about twenty-five in Scots Gaelic, around ten in Latin, Italian and Dutch, and a handful in Greek, Danish and Portuguese. Most of the books were intended primarily for a child reader, and aimed to delight as well as instruct, but the collection includes schoolbooks, religious texts and sermons, and works that were intended for adult readers but may have been read by younger ones. These include a 1971 reprint of Lady Wilde’s Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland and an 1813 French translation of Maria Edgeworth’s The Modern Griselda. Mary Pollard’s particular focus was on books for girls and on Irish imprints of children’s books, so there are areas which are not well covered, but nevertheless the Pollard Collection is, as Lydia Ferguson observes, generally representative of the range of works read by and published for children in Britain and Ireland over a period spanning nearly three hundred years, from the mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth century. From the earlier period, there are a variety of chapbook romances, Puritan works for children, versions of popular adult works such as Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe and numerous English and Irish editions of didactic works from the latter part of the long eighteenth century, by authors including Sarah Trimmer, Thomas Day, Barbara Hofland, Mrs Sherwood, Mary Elliott, and Priscilla Wakefield.
The work of Maria Edgeworth held particular interest for Mary Pollard. She succeeded in tracking down a copy of the rare first London edition of The Parent’s Assistant of 1796 and managed to buy copies of the first volume of the second London edition and both volumes of the 1798 Dublin edition. There are numerous editions of The Parent’s Assistant, and of stories from it and other works by Edgeworth in the collection, providing intriguing clues to the distribution and dissemination of her fiction. One striking example is an 1833 Irish-language edition of Maith agus dearmad, a translation of “Forgive and Forget”, which originally appeared in the third, 1800 edition of The Parent’s Assistant. Dedicated to the Marquis of Downshire, Maith agus dearmad was printed, using Fry’s Irish type, in Dublin for the Ulster Gaelic Society. The dedication includes a declaration that the society felt “no hesitation in determining, that one of their first steps should be to render some of Miss Edgeworth’s admirable lessons in prudence and morality accessible to a class of her countrymen hitherto debarred from them”.
Mary Pollard also acquired the first English language novel for children known to have been written by an Irishman and published in Dublin ‑ the 1794 History of Harry Spencer; compiled for the amusement of good children; and the instruction of such as wish to become good, by Philanthropos, whom Pollard identified as James Delap. Her collection also contains a few works by other early Irish writers for children, including Lady Mount Cashell and John Carey, although there are no first editions of their best known works. Surprisingly, the work of Alicia Le Fanu is not represented at all. There are other notable omissions: for example, “The Child's Toy or, A new pet’s play-thing”, by Timothy Philologus, printed in Dublin by Isaac Jackson in 1755 ‑ the earliest known original Irish publication to follow John Newbery’s pioneering practice of combining woodcuts and texts for the delight and instruction of young readers ‑ is not included. The collection does contain, however, a number of Kildare Place publications, as well as reprints of a range of improving chapbooks for children, first published in England. In relation to the Victorian and Edwardian periods, English authors including Mrs Molesworth, RM Ballantyne and Lewis Carroll are well represented but so too are Irish writers such as Philip Bennett Power, Rosa Mulholland, Captain Mayne Reade and LT Meade, as well as a host of lesser known authors whose work has not yet attracted much scholarly attention.
The Pollard Collection, then, is a research resource of exceptional value and was recognised as such when it arrived in Trinity College in 2005. It is the largest collection of children’s books in Ireland, and the fourth largest on these islands, surpassed only by the Renier Collection in Bethnal Green (circa eighty thousand books), the Opie collection in the Bodleian (circa twenty thousand books), and the Parker Collection in Birmingham (circa twelve thousand books). To mark its arrival in Trinity, an exhibition called Tales of Wonder – A Peep into the Pollard Collection was held in the Long Room, and to publicise that event, the Communications Office cited the TCD Librarian’s assessment of the collection as “one of the most important of its kind internationally” and repeated his observation that “a full assessment of its strengths in particular categories has yet to be carried out”.
The acquisition was greeted with comparable enthusiasm outside Trinity. The Summer 2006 issue of Inis: the Children’s Books Ireland Magazine included an article by the editor, Paddy O’Doherty, who provided a glowing overview of the collection, echoed the call for a full assessment of its strengths, and noted that cataloguing had not yet started. O’Doherty also pointed out that the high standards of librarianship which Mary Pollard had created would be implemented in the cataloguing of each book in the collection. That meant that in addition to the usual listing of title, author, publisher and place of publication, the catalogue entry would also provide a description of each book’s content, illustrations, binding, watermarks, cover, and history ‑ a daunting task, but one which Mary Pollard would certainly have approved and welcomed.
Given the fanfare that followed the acquisition of the Pollard Collection and the general recognition of its potential, cataloguing might have been expected to start immediately, but that was not the case. Instead, a short title, alphabetical listing of all books in the collection was drawn up and made available though the library’s website. It was not until 2010, five years after the collection’s arrival, that a donation from the UK Trust for Trinity College Dublin kickstarted the work on cataloguing. To mark the occasion, the Development Office in Trinity announced that the first annual Mary Pollard Memorial lecture would be delivered in June 2010 by Jill Shefrin, the Canadian scholar of historical children’s books and printed pastimes. So far, that inaugural lecture has been the only one in the projected series, but cataloguing has progressed, largely because an assistant was hired on contract to undertake the work, in collaboration with other library staff. In March 2011, Charles Benson, Mary Pollard’s successor as Keeper of Early Printed Books, reported that the work was pushing ahead at great speed and that three thousand items had been catalogued.
That encouraging progress report, however, obscures the fact that within a year of commencement of cataloguing a decision had been taken that would seriously undermine Mary Pollard’s legacy. At first, her rigorous bibliographic standards were followed, and catalogue entries were full and informative. As time went on though, it became clear that the assistant’s contract would end before the entire collection was catalogued and it was decided to cut down on the amount of detail provided in the entries. Instead of giving information on the book’s illustration, binding and history, the later, much briefer entries provide a minimum of bibliographic information. For instance, an early catalogue entry for a little-known work, The Parent’s Offering (1813) by Mrs Caroline Bernard, provides an impressive amount of detail, including a list of the stories that make up the volume, information on the paper, watermarks and binding, a note that the illustrations are engravings by S Springsguth after Henry Corbould, and an account of the provenance, which records a manuscript inscription on the front endpapers of the gift of the book on January 9th, 1830 to Miss Sussan Johnson by Mrs Smith. By contrast, the later, condensed entry for the first volume of the second London edition of Edgeworth’s The Parent’s Assistant, a very rare 1796 book which Mary Pollard cherished, provides a minimum of detail. Only the title, author, publisher and place of publication are recorded, followed by the observation that scholarly notes may be added at a later date. This is a revealing example of how the shortening of entries will impact negatively on the research potential of the collection. So, there is no way of knowing from the catalogue how the contents of this edition of The Parent’s Assistant differed from subsequent editions, or of tracing how particularly admired stories from that collection, including “The Purple Jar” and “Little Dog Trusty”, reappeared in subsequent works by Edgeworth, such as Early Lessons. It would be equally impossible to track the number of books in the collection that contained illustrations by the two artists, Springsguth and Corbould, documented in the first example of the entry for The Parent’s Offering. The shortening of the catalogue entries also flies in the face of the bibliographic principles which Mary Pollard established and developed during her time in Trinity ‑ principles that were recognised nationally and internationally as criteria of excellence.
As it turned out, the attempt to beat the clock by reducing the detail provided in entries before the cataloguing assistant’s contract ended proved futile. The figures provided above relating to titles in languages other than English are all approximations. That is because those figures were extrapolated from the library catalogue and not all the Pollard Collection has been entered into that resource. As of March 2013, only 8,754 items, representing 83 per cent of the total collection, have been recorded and made available through the library portal. That means that 17 per cent of the original collection remains effectively unrecorded. Mary Leadbeater’s 1794 Extracts and original anecdotes for the improvement of youth is one example of an important book to be found in the collection that has not yet been catalogued. Cataloguing has stopped entirely for the moment and there is no prospect of it starting up again in the near future as funding has run out. Not surprisingly, the staff in Early Printed Books, who are proud of the Pollard Collection and unfailingly helpful to researchers using it, are far from happy with this state of affairs. When asked what they thought Mary Pollard’s reaction would be to the way in which Trinity had treated her legacy, the response was that she was probably spinning in her grave.
Mary Pollard’s work as Keeper of Early Printed Books helped enhance the library’s international profile. As its scholarly reputation rose, the library attracted more public notice too. In 1984, it was decided to charge visitors for admission to the Long Room, and to devote the takings to the acquisition of manuscripts and older books. As previously noted, admission fees in 2011 generated the impressive sum of €3.6 million. In The Old Library, Charles Benson, Pollard’s recently retired successor, remarks: “the large sums earned from admission charges to the Long Room have proved too tempting for the college management to resist and, instead of being spent on the library, much of the money has been diverted to other purposes, most recently to fund the salaries of teaching staff. This is an appallingly short-sighted policy.” In fairness, sufficient funds have been provided over the last eight years to purchase some books to supplement the Pollard Collection. Most of these are nineteenth century English chapbooks and lengthier works of fiction, which are more affordable than earlier, rarer works or picture books. Frustratingly, however, none of those acquisitions has been catalogued either.
As Charles Benson points out: “Works need to be accurately and comprehensively catalogued to accommodate scholars.” The Pollard Collection has not been accurately or comprehensively catalogued, so the TCD Librarian’s 2005 observation that “a full assessment of its strengths in particular categories has yet to be carried out” is as true today as it was then. The collection undoubtedly has many strengths, but it also has weaknesses, particularly in the area of Georgian works for children by Irish authors other than Edgeworth, and these, too, need to be identified. All attempts to use the Pollard Collection to trace the origins or track the history of Irish children’s literature in any meaningful way ‑ both scholarly tasks of considerable national and international interest ‑ will be flawed and futile until the contents of the collection and the acquisitions that supplement it are properly documented.
On an institutional level, the failure to catalogue the Pollard Collection fully may be indicative of a lack of real commitment within college to the concept of children’s literature as a legitimate area of academic research, despite the introduction of a Masters degree in Children’s Literature in 2011. It is also suggestive, however, of a broader lack of support for research in the humanities, particularly in the area of library development and conservation. Recently, Brian Lucey, Professor of Finance in the School of Business, Trinity College Dublin, drew the attention of fellow bloggers to the downgrading of Irish university libraries based on data that showed alarmingly low replacement levels for staff who have left the sector since 2009. Tellingly, the post of Keeper of Early Printed Books, first filled by Mary Pollard and later by Charles Benson, has been left vacant since the latter’s retirement in September 2011. Lucey points out: “If we do not have sufficient qualified professional staff to assist in the collation, organisation, dissemination and retrieval of information we cannot do research.” In a later posting, building on information given in response to a parliamentary question by Peter Mathews, Lucey highlighted the further hollowing out of investment in the humanities within the Irish university sector. Since 2006, spending on academic journals in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics domain has risen by approximately 11 per cent, while it has fallen by 3 per cent within the field of the humanities and social sciences. Overall, the average outlay on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) versus HSS (humanities and social sciences) journals (2007-12) stands at close to two to one. Investment is not the only issue leading to a downgrading of research resources for the humanities; storage can also be problematic. In Trinity, the question of giving up the invaluable copyright entitlement has recently been raised again, and is rumoured to have support at the highest level.
Problems are not confined to one institution, however, or even to the university sector, as other Irish libraries are facing challenges in these straitened times. As a result of the Croke Park Agreement, staffing levels in the National Library of Ireland have been substantially reduced and exchequer funding for the NLI fell from €11.875 million in 2008 to €6.62 million in 2012. Commenting on his decision to resign from the board of the National Library in May 2012, Diarmaid Ferriter explained that it was not just a frustrated reaction to the funding crisis but also a refusal to tolerate the way in which the government paid “lip service” to the importance of the library and other cultural fora while “it seeks to emasculate these institutions”. Quite apart from the controversial plan to merge the National Archives and the Irish Manuscripts Commission into the National Library, Ferriter’s point is supported by the ongoing reduction in grants-in-aid to those and other cultural institutions. To augment an annual government grant, the Chester Beatty Library depends on volunteer tour guides, education and retail assistants, and customer service representatives to promote its resources and enhance the experience of visitors. As a registered charity, Marsh’s relies heavily on the generosity of corporate and individual donors to help fund particular projects. The Chester Beatty and Marsh’s Library are, of course, well placed to benefit from private donations and voluntary aid. Public libraries, however, are experiencing problems in maintaining, never mind developing, services in the face of decreasing grants and lukewarm Government support. In 2010, An Chomhairle Leabharlanna/The Library Council, established in 1947 to support the continuing development of public libraries in Ireland, reported reductions in the number of operating branches, overall opening hours, funding and staffing. In 2011, Phil Hogan, Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, announced the disbandment of The Library Council, resulting in savings in annual operating costs of the order of € 1 million and the yield of a once-off windfall through disposal of its headquarters in Dublin’s City centre. According to Fionnuala Hanrahan, president of the Library Association of Ireland, “the abolition of An Chomhairle Leabharlanna is a bad decision that will result in reduced opportunities for Irish citizens and residents”.
In the current economic climate, funding reductions in cultural institutions are doubtless inevitable. Yet the failure to complete the cataloguing of the Pollard Collection, which arrived in the Old Library while the Celtic Tiger was in full swing, cannot be attributed simply to a lack of financial resources. Instead, it points to a lack of commitment to the development of research in the humanities in Trinity College, an institution to whose inestimable value The Old Library draws eloquent attention. It points likewise to a broader disregard for the important contribution that libraries can make to the cultural and civic life of Ireland. The devaluation of Irish library services is not only a result of the economic downturn but a symptom of creeping philistinism at marked odds with the official value placed on book culture, epitomised by Dublin’s much-vaunted nomination as UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, or the Irish government’s official line on literary Ireland during its tenure of the EU presidency this year. From this perspective, developing the resources of the Old Library is less important to Trinity College or the nation than developing its potential as a tourist attraction. Indeed, a recent edition of The University News carried a report on college’s new commercial strategy which seeks to capitalise on the Book of Kells and the Trinity brand. Cautionary emblems of the legacy we will leave to our own children, the neglected orphans of the Pollard Collection highlight the dangers of using current financial constraints as a pretext to disregard and devalue the timeless treasures gifted to us.
A Note on Sources
For nineteenth-century travellers’ accounts of the Old Library, see Arthur Young, A tour in Ireland; with general observations on the present state of that kingdom: made in the years 1776, 1777, and 1778 (London, 1780), p 1; Richard Twiss, A Tour in Ireland in 1775 (London, 1776), p 15.
For estimations of Mary Pollard and her collection of children’s books see C Benson and S Fitzpatrick (eds), That woman!: studies in Irish bibliography: a festschrift for Mary "Paul" Pollard (Dublin, 2005); Paddy O’Doherty, “A Peep into the Pollard Collection”, Inis: the Children’s Books Ireland Magazine, 16, 2006, p 21; the webpages of Trinity College Dublin at http://www.tcd.ie/Communications/news/news.php?headerID=241&vs_date=2005-11-1; http://www.tcd.ie/development/priority/wisdom/pollard.php; http://www.tcd.ie/Library/about/newsletters/LRN%204_3.pdf.
For recent and current figures and views on library funding, see the Oireachtas debate of May 24th, 2012 at http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2012/05/24/00015.asp; the webpage of the Department for the Environment, Community and Local Government at http://www.environ.ie/en/LocalGovernment/LocalGovernmentAdministration/News/MainBody,28056,en.htm;
Brian Lucey’s blog at http://brianmlucey.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/downgrading-irish-university-libraries/ and
http://brianmlucey.wordpress.com/2013/03/07/stem-and-hss-journal-cuts-in-irish-university-libraries/; Library Association of Ireland, Annual Reprot 2012 at http://www.libraryassociation.ie/sites/default/files/Draft%20LAI%20Annual%20Report%202012.pdf.
For literary Ireland and the EU presidency, see http://eu2013.ie/ireland-and-the-presidency/about-ireland/irishlife/literature/
President of the Irish Association for the Study of Children’s Literature, Anne Markey is Teaching Fellow at An Foras Feasa, NUI Maynooth and also teaches in the School of English in TCD. Her research focuses on literary representations of childhood from the seventeenth century to the present day and on intersections between Gaelic traditions and Irish writing in English. She is author of Oscar Wilde's Fairy Tales: Origins and Contexts
(2011); editor of Children's Fiction 1765-1808
(2011) and Patrick Pearse: Short Stories
(2009); and co-editor of Vertue Rewarded; or, The Irish Princess
(2010) and Irish Tales