A thoughtfully-placed barcode

A few months ago I had a little rant about a library label pasted over a nicely-typeset title-page.


This week I was heartened to discover an example of a librarian from Manchester being rather more thoughtful, avoiding pasting a barcode onto a carefully-designed title-page, instead putting a rather less intrusive note in pencil to direct the reader to the following page for the barcode. Good work from Manchester!




Blake & Black Sabbath

Is there a connection? I’m not sure, but a former reader of Marcia Pointon’s Milton and English Art (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1970) evidently thought so. The band did have an album called ‘Heaven and Hell’ (also the name of a group comprising some members of Black Sabbath active between 2006 and 2010) which could be a reference to The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (please comment if you know), but the precise connection (if any) to the watercolour The Judgement of Adam and Eve alongside which the reader has left their mark is lost on me. Suggestions welcome!



Traces of former use

Currently on my shelf of library books is Leopold Damrosch, Jr.’s Symbol and Truth in Blake’s Myth (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981). There’s not much by way of annotations in this copy, but I was interested by two traces of bygone library borrowing practices.


Hidden between pages 280 and 281 (left there for the next reader to find) was a torn piece of paper, presumably used as a bookmark. Nothing unusual in that of course, but it was the dated text reading “SELF RENEWALS” that signals that this particular insertion pre-dates online renewals.



Flipping back to the front fly-leaf, I was also struck by the borrowing slip – the last date is 2005. It is conceivable that this is actually the last time the book was taken out, but I have no way of knowing. Nowadays books are rarely stamped when they leave the library because nearly everything goes through self-issue machines (thus the new barcode stuck over an old one here), so the borrowing history of a book is no longer recorded in the book itself and remains the preserve of the librarians. This particular book has also lost the physical traces of some of its earlier borrowing history – evident from the sections of “Cancelled” stamps which tell of a former borrowing slip. Those stamped dates are one kind of marks in library books I do miss.


helpful and lazy scribbles

I came across the latest additions to my archive of library book annotations a couple of weeks ago in V. Tinkler-Villani’s, Visions of Dante in English Poetry: translations of the Commedia from Jonathan Richardson to William Blake (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1989).


Among various scribblings, two jumped out at me. The first is actually potentially helpful to other readers of the book, informing where a source a mentioned can be accessed: DSC_0380


The other, in a different hand, is frankly lazy – marking the conclusion of the book as a handy quotation to conclude the reader in question’s own essay: DSC_0383

A mis-placed library label

Not marginalia as such but another kind of intervention:


I understand the purpose of pasting library labels into books, but it’s not very helpful when a label covers some of the bibliographic information, and more’s the pity in this case when it is disrupting a nice piece of typesetting.

Would Blake weep?

Jacomina Korteling, Mysticism in Blake and Wordsworth (Amsterdam: H. J. Paris, 1928). University of Manchester Library.


I’m no paleographer, but it looks like more than one reader has been frustrated with this book over the years.



Contents page.


p. 23


p. 32

Prophet against Empiricism

DSCF9931Titlepage. David V. Erdman, William Blake: Prophet Against Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954). University of Manchester Library.

This is a landmark study but someone evidently thinks Erdman chose the wrong title.

A Tyger?


Endpaper. David Bindman, William Blake: His Art and Times (London: Thames and Hudson, 1982). Manchester Metropolitan University Library.

MMU is home to the Manchester School of Art, thus, I suppose, the more creative than average intervention to this book. Is it a Tyger?


During a lecture on twentieth-century theology when I was an undergraduate, the lecturer told us that in the departmental library upstairs there was a copy of a book by twentieth-century-theologian-A with annotations by twentieth-century-theologian-B in which you can track B building an argument with A, a developed version of which B later published. It says a lot about my level of interest in/ability to comprehend much twentieth-century theology that I can’t remember who A and B were.

There are good reasons why you’re not supposed to write in library books – it is a form of vandalism after all, and other people’s scribbles can be very distracting. On the other hand, marginalia by thinker X can be really helpful for understanding their ideas – several books owned by Blake contain his annotations which I frequently find useful. That doesn’t really excuse twentieth-century-theologian-B — if he was going to scribble in the book, he should have bought his own copy – but the book would now probably merit being given Special Collections status, and I’d be willing to bet that there are other library books out there like that.

From time to time, I stumble upon something interesting, amusing or curious in a library book (not to mention the occasional suspicious stain, or familiar handwriting – I’ll name no names), and I’ve decided to start collecting them and sharing them here.

Disclaimer: I am not aware that I am breaching any library or copyright rules by doing this. I will happily remove anything posted in this category upon request.