ASSOCIATES (2005, July, v. 12, no. 1) -

*The William Savage Textbook Collection at USC*


Tinker Massey
University of South Carolina

Sometimes when we are doing our ordinary jobs, extraordinary experiences happen. Last year, my copy cataloging position in a regular Catalog Department was shifted to a split position between Special Collections and Government Documents. My first reactions were of total amazement in the variety of materials I was cataloging. In the mornings, I worked through a collection that was focused on aviation, the Gilbert S. Guinn Collection, shelves and shelves of books and journals related to flight, WWI and WWII. There were many materials from Great Britain relating to war planes, coast watchers, and flight schools for the English housed in the United States, especially the South. I would move from this world of the past to an afternoon of cataloging the analytics of Early English Books on microfilm for Government Documents. Talking about really delving in the past?

This spring, we acquired the William Savage Textbook Collection that had been housed in the Education Museum on campus. This is a somewhat eclectic collection of textbooks adopted, used, or just perused for southern schools, predominately for South Carolina schools. There appear to be over 3000 titles in the collection, which belong to the Rare Books Collection, but have now been completely moved to another location in large boxes (for convenience of processing), where students are vacuuming and placing them on shelves in some empty stack areas. Since the materials were housed in an area with less than adequate ventilation, and what appears to have been some water damage, vacuuming is necessary to assure we are not adding materials with mold problems. We have separated some of the books needing further physical protection, such as phase boxes or preservation grade envelopes because of deterioration or damage, so that Special Collections can prepare them for cataloging and storage in our climate controlled Annex. The rest of the Collection will be cataloged and banded (a strip of plastic that encircles the book), with barcode ID on the banding material, to preserve the shape and value of the books. We have identified a number of books that were used during World War I and have a War Service Library bookplate. Because our Rare Books Department has an extensive Great War Collection, records for these books will have tracings for both the Savage Collection and the Joseph M. Bruccoli Great War Collection on their bibliographic records. In addition, we found an English composition text that was used by soldiers during World War II.

I have been interested in seeing what subjects have been taught in the schools over the 150 years of these holdings. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, students were taking Latin and Greek, as well as Hygiene and Agriculture. Times have changed and so have texts and their material. We have a current collection in the Thomas Cooper Library of textbooks that teachers can view and grade on their efficacies for teaching. They report their findings to their respective School offices and wait to see what is adopted. Now we are able to add the Savage Collection as a view from the late 1700’s to the 1990’s and have almost two hundred years of recorded teaching, information, and change in the world and our culture. When asked by a supervisor how I thought this collection could be used, I got very excited. Last summer I cataloged a number of education theses from the thirties and forties. There were some very detailed longitudinal studies of textbooks and school subjects. They were quite interesting, but look what we have now. Another 70-80 years of information to study and trace recorded history. It is time to do some more of those insightful longitudinal studies.

Wondering how information can be used, you can open a 1965 United States history book and read about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. What a difference forty years makes to the understanding of the situation and the continuing mysteries. Likewise, there are many other historical and geographical changes that add insight to today’s knowledge. The pictures alone in these books add to the cultural knowledge of our nation. Political borders of countries have changed, as well as their names. Driving courses have certainly changed with the technology of the automotive industry and road signage. Advances in science areas have led us to new discoveries, such as cloning, deep sea animal worlds, shipwrecks, and space exploration. New discoveries in the mathematical sciences have enhanced our abilities in seeking information beyond Einstein’s theories and Pythagoras’ theorems. Each year’s new textbooks build the knowledge we impart to a new generation of learners. It’s informative to see how government has changed in specific states and at the national level. We can sometimes determine where we are headed by where we have been or don’t want to go.

I was interested to see books about Robert E. Lee and General Thomas J. Jackson “Stonewall” published in the late 1800’s. Biographies of real men twenty years after the Civil War are very different than what we see in the bookstores today. How much is conjecture, emotion or fact? We seem to have an abundance of English and American literature readers, as well as some of the standard Dick and Jane, Streets and Roads, and Alice and Jerry books. Since I am into Authorities, it is quite interesting for me to see the vast amount of publisher’s series. OCLC made a decision years ago to not trace any of those series, but when you establish a collection such as this, it becomes very valuable to trace all series, so that studies of publishers and their choices for inclusiveness can be viewed.

Cataloging different types of collections makes us think of the many ways in which those collections can be used or searched. It is our task to give as broad and insightful access points on the bibliographic records as possible. Important as the actual book in hand is, our records shed light on the many aspects and subjects the material contains. Computers allow us to pull together our inquiries and ideas into new statements of evidence. Without carefully constructed bibliographic records and their numerous access points, the information would be buried for another century or so. This project has been very interesting and will continue to fill my days for some time to come (we are probably half way though). If I ever become disheartened by the immensity of the project, all I have to do is listen to the people who look at these books as I work.

“Wow, this is the book I used in sixth grade English. That was the worst teacher I ever had.”

“I remember this one. I loved the book. That was the year I became a real person.”

“This book was like magic for me!”

I see the smiles, the reveries into the past, and the emotions of a lifetime for each person. We are even keeping watch for a picture of a man getting maple syrup from a tree with a sleigh in the background in the Canadian snow. The staff member knows it appeared in a geography book of the 30’s with a possible Canadian imprint, maybe from Ginn Company. She would like to make a copy of that old picture because it is her grandfather. The rareness of memory!

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