From the Letters to the Editor column of the April 2005 Perspectives

Save That Book? Save the Marginalia!

Denis Paz, April 2005

To the Editor:

In his interesting piece on library preservation ("Save That Book!" Perspectives, November 2004), Jonathan Spence remarks that Yale's reformatting and media preservation center prepares books for preservation by, among other things, erasing "marginal graffiti and underlinings." Marginalia, although representing vandalism for some scholars, are a historical source for others. Heather Jackson (Marginalia, Yale Univ. Press, 2002) shows what can be done with marginalia written by important people. My own more modest researches have uncovered responses to a popular book by anonymous 19th-century undergraduates at St. Andrew's, Edinburgh, the Oxford Union, and Princeton. Sometimes one can identify specific readers from the evidence of gift inscriptions, signatures, and marginalia in books that have ended up in academic libraries (including Yale's).

This letter, then, is my plea to preservation librarians to remember that today's defacement is tomorrow's window into the minds of past, dead readers. Save Those Marginalia!

— Denis Paz
University of North Texas