Unpacking the Personal Library: Introducing Our Guests and the Origin of Their New Book

Sponsored by Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Recorded on 10/10/2022
Posted in The Authority File

Episode 282

Unpacking the Personal Library book cover. Wooden sculpture of open book with paper lines, some missing. White background and black text.

Whether it’s a dog-eared stack of The Boxcar Children, an annotated collection of Sylvia Plath poetry, or an encyclopedic array of Guinness World Records, a personal library can reflect a holder’s academic interests, personal values, or position in a community. But more often than not, after a scholar’s death or retirement, their personal libraries face a crossroads. Does it fit in an archive, academic library, or a museum? Do duplicates of books get thrown out or preserved? What about items like grocery lists, office supplies, or personal memorabilia? How are objects designated as worth cataloguing and keeping? How does an object’s value shift through time or the transition from a private collection to public?

Jason Camlot, professor of English and Research Chair in Literature and Sound Studies at Concordia University, and Jeffrey Weingarten, professor in the School of Language and Liberal Studies at Fanshawe College, asked themselves those same questions when given the chance to study the private libraries of Canadian authors F.R. Scott and Mordecai Richler. For Jason, Richler’s collection prompted inquiry into where and how private libraries should be housed; for Jeffrey, Scott’s collection demonstrated how curation and marginalia provide insight into an author’s political views. Due to similar areas of research and intersecting academic paths, Jason and Jeffrey came together as co-editors for Unpacking the Personal Library: The Public and Private Life of Books, a collection of essays that explore how private collections fit into the public sphere.

In this four-part series, our guests provide an overview of the title and discuss the difficulty of defining a library as the objects, holders, and contexts shift. They also unpack the value of physical objects and “wandering the stacks” in an era of increasing digitization and e-collections. In this first episode, Jason and Jeffrey map out the catalyst for their title, including serendipitous moments of discovery and inquisition while researching Scott’s and Richler’s collections. They also provide background on their areas of study and how their parallel interests led to Unpacking the Personal Library.

About the guests:

Jason Camlot
Professor of English and Research Chair in Literature and Sound Studies
Concordia University

Jason Camlot is Professor of English and Research Chair in Literature and Sound Studies at Concordia University. Recent books include Phonopoetics (Stanford, 2019), CanLit Across Media (MQUP, 2019) and Vlarf (MQUP 2021). He is director of the SSHRC-funded SpokenWeb research partnership that focuses on literary audio collections.

J.A. Weingarten headshot

J.A. Weingarten
Professor in the School of Language and Liberal Studies
Fanshawe College

J.A. Weingarten is a Professor in the School of Language and Liberal Studies at Fanshawe College. He is also the author of Sharing the Past (UTP, 2019), as well as more than three dozen articles, book reviews, and papers on Canadian arts and culture.

Enjoy the conversation? Listen to the rest of the series:

Check out our previous series with Wilfrid Laurier University Press:
Cultivating Indigenous Studies
– Michelle Porter and the Métis Way
– Looking at Community Music
– The Making of DisPlace
– Prison Life Writing

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