Shortly after their arrival, new AAS fellows give a talk to the staff about their project and the sorts of sources they’re hoping to find. In her talk, current fellow Jessica Linker, who is working on her Ph.D. at the University of Connecticut, mentioned that as part of her work on women and science she was seeking examples of botanical volumes compiled by women, and even examples of leaves or flowers pressed into books.
Within minutes after Jessica’s talk, digital expediting coordinator Megan Bocian had brought her a box of leaves, flowers, and other items that had been found in periodicals in the course of digitizing over seven million pages for EBSCO’s AAS Historical American Periodicals Collection. Jessica spent the next few hours laying everything out in the reading room. In many cases the inserted items had stained the adjacent pages. We had decided from the outset to keep everything found in the volumes, but it wasn’t until later in the project that we began to track what item had been taken from what volume, something we had previously only been doing if an insertion had a clear connection to the volume it was in. For Jessica’s purposes it would have been preferable if we had left everything in situ and even to add information about the insertions to the cataloging records, but we made the decision that the resources required to catalog the pressed flowers and leaves would be better spent cataloging books, pamphlets, and other collection items.
As I say above we decided to keep everything, and we now have a very miscellaneous collection of objects that came out of the periodicals. The bulk of the insertions were leaves and flowers, but the scanners also found pieces of cloth, postage stamps, dead insects, newspaper clippings and scraps of paper, a bone letter opener, and even the preserved tail of a small mammal. And while we still aren’t able to truly catalog most of the items we find in books, our experience with Jessica’s research has made us more sensitive to the issue and it gives us an additional reason to value collection items at AAS as artifacts.