I entered Alderman Library at the University of Virginia on the fourth floor.
That’s right. The fourth floor.
But looks can be deceiving. Hidden far beneath the entrance to the Alderman Library is a treasure. It’s deep down in the building, somewhat hidden away from those who are not already aware of its existence. The treasure is Rare Book School.
At the back of the fourth floor of the library is an elevator. I got in and pushed the button for the first floor, three floors below the fourth floor. I exited the elevator in what looked like standard basement-level book stacks. Following the narrow, labyrinthine hallway around the perimeter of the stacks, I began to wonder where the Rare Book School could possibly meet. Lucky for me, there were signs pointing the way.
I entered a room that would be used for all of the various classes to meet for refreshments at break time. There was more to the room than that. A printing press stood at the back of the room, and a sink and a couple of work tables. Various art and printing tools hung on the walls, and running on clotheslines across the high part of the walls were freshly printed sheets of paper, the scent of wet ink wafting through the air.
I fortified myself with tea and a muffin, said hello to my classmates, and then wandered to a doorway at the rear of the room.
This would be the place where my class, Book Illustration Processes to 1900, would meet. Stepping across the threshold into the windowless room deep in the bowels of the building, I have to admit that I felt a little bit like Luke Skywalker arriving in the remote swamps of Dagobah to receive his secret Jedi training from Yoda. There was a kit at my seat with a loupe, a small 25x microscope, a linoleum block, some tools, and — this is where the Jedi training comes in — some light sticks (Zelco Micro Fluorescent Lanterns) that, to my pop culture eye, looked like miniature light sabers.
I took my seat, wondering what would await me in this magical place. Though I’m no Jedi warrior, I knew for certain that my training as an antiquarian bookseller would be greatly improved by the end of the week.
To be continued tomorrow . . .