Chapter 447 A Fine Home for Fine Books

It feels like years since I wrote a blog post, and I am so glad to resume posting, especially so I can tell you all about my visit to Rare Book School, where I took a class called “Book Illustration Processes to 1900”, taught by the founder and outgoing Director of Rare Book School, Terry Belanger.

Rare Book School was fantastic. I’ll tell you all about it over the next day or two. Today, I’ll begin by setting the scene. University of Virginia, which is the home of Rare Book School, is a fine home for fine books. Established by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, the university’s buildings are a lovely mix of white columns and red brick. What a gorgeous place:

Here’s the Rotunda, the center of campus:

Jefferson envisioned the Rotunda as the heart of the University. It originally housed what I contend is the heart of any good university — the library. While the library long ago outgrew this stately home, the old shelves still remain. Can you see the glass-fronted cabinets tucked in behind the columns?

I can just picture myself studying at a table in the center of the room, leather and gilt bindings piled high around me, surrounded by the towering white columns, the soaring roof, and the beautiful old books. Too bad I didn’t live in 1819. In 2009, I find myself sitting in a modern building at a table with metal legs with my Kindle at hand and the frappucino cafe nearby. Functional, but not nearly as beautiful. 😉

My class was held in the also-beautiful Alderman Library, not far from the Rotunda. My classroom was exactly the way I imagined that a room for the study of old books ought to be: deep in the basement of the building at the back of a warren of small rooms filled floor to ceiling with books and prints, old printing presses, printing equipment, and the smell of ink. If I were to build a movie set of the classrooms for people who study antiquarian books, this would be it. Here’s a shot of the exterior of Alderman Library. If you want to see the classroom for yourself, sign up for Rare Book School.

Outside the library, there are lots of charming areas to sit and discuss with colleagues or to contemplate ideas in solitude:

Back near the Rotunda are a series of student rooms and a huge green lawn. Not surprisingly, the area is reffered to as “The Lawn”. Every room on the lawn comes with a rocking chair, and it is a tradition that, in the evenings, residents of The Lawn put their rocking chairs outside and socialize with one another. And, yes, students at Rare Book School can stay on The Lawn for the duration of their course.

I did not stay on the Lawn, but some of my colleagues did, and after seeing their rooms, I certainly will try to stay on The Lawn the next time I attend Rare Book School. (Oh, yes, there will be a next time!) Here are a few more shots of other places I saw on campus during my week’s stay:

literary societysign





Such beauty. Except for the fact that I missed Thoughful Husband and Tom and Huck, it’s a wonder I returned to California at all.

See you in the stacks!


Filed under A Bookseller's Education, Libraries

5 responses to “Chapter 447 A Fine Home for Fine Books

  1. I love schools down south. They are so lush and gorgeous and have such great history. I’m used to city schools up here in Boston (BU, BC, Northeastern.) One day, I’d love to take part in the Rare Book program.

  2. Thanks, Mike. It was a great class. I applied for and received a scholarship, and according to Terry Belanger, the outgoing Director, relative beginners are welcome. You’ll never know if you don’t try. There were all sorts of people in the class — no only booksellers, but librarians, professors, and collectors. I highly recommend taking a course here at some point in your future!

  3. Jill

    Welcome back, Chris! What a beautiful place – reminds me of my alma mater, Ole Miss. A perfect location for the Rare Book School. Looking forward to hearing more about it.

  4. Bibliohistoria

    Where did you stay/sleep/eat while you were at the Rare Book school? Were you at a hotel or a campus dorm?

  5. Pingback: Chapter 449 Rare Book School, Part 3 « Book Hunter’s Holiday

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