Wednesday, December 28, 2011

End of Year, New Beginning

As 2011 draws to a close, I am getting rid of stuff and packing in preparation for moving to a smaller house with more land, in a more rural area. The move will only add about five minutes to my drive to work, and it will be nice to be surrounded by more trees.

Of course, apart from the turmoil of the physical move, changing houses brings with it thoughts of changing other things. I have not been as successful with this blog as I had hoped. So, my pledge to myself is that I will post to this blog at least once every month, even if the posting is only a status update.

Friday, September 23, 2011

What Makes a Book Valuable?

I was also asked recently about the most valuable book in our library. Unlike the question about the oldest book, the answer to this question is far more complicated to determine.

Among the seemingly most valuable books in the library is a complete run of the Gentleman's Magazine (pictured above), from 1731 to 1868. The age, condition, completeness, and relative availability (or lack thereof) of this set all contribute to its value. In more blatant financial terms, in some cases, individual articles sell for thousands of dollars, while individual issues or volumes can sell for a few hundred dollars each.

With respect to individual works, our library also possesses a copy of Robert Wood's The Ruins of Palmyra, published in London in 1753, a copy of which recently sold in New York for $7500. As is obvious from the picture below, this volume is a precursor of what we would now call a coffee table book, with this one actually being big enough and heavy enough to serve as a coffee table.

Not only is this a big book, but it also contains some big surprises, like the engraving illustrated below. Much of the value of this work is associated with its existence as an expression of material culture.

With both of these examples, an insurance adjuster will want to know the replacement cost, and a rare book dealer will want to know how much a collector is willing to pay for such a work. What does a librarian want to know?

For that answer, we turn to the writings of Indian mathematician and librarian Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan (d. 1972), recognized as one of the founding fathers of modern library science. Among his five laws of library science, the first three are: books are for use, every reader, his or her book, and every book its reader. If our copies of the Gentleman's Magazine and The Ruins of Palmyra sit on the shelf and are never used by anyone, are they of any value at all?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Old Books, New World

Recently I was asked what the oldest book in our library was. I didn't have an immediate answer, nor was I sure how to go about finding out. I employed a variety of search techniques, including browsing through the rare book stacks, all the while focusing on religious books, which I figured would be the most likely candidates. Finally I came across a small book printed in 1641. I can't say for certain that this is the oldest book in the collection, but it is definitely one of the oldest.
While we might refer to it as the "Passionate Remonstrance" for short, its extended title is, with some liberties in spelling and capitalization, "The passionate remonstrance made by his holiness in the conclave at Rome: Upon the late proceedings, and great covenant of Scotland, etc., with a reply of cardinal De Barbarini in the name of the Roman clergy." The work is bound, as indicated on the title page, "together with a letter of intelligence from the apostolic nuncio (now residing in London) to Pope Urban VIII."

This 80-page satire, which vilifies the Scots for turning away from the Church of Rome, is usually attributed to the English pamphleteer Richard Overton (d. 1664). I had never heard of the book or the author before, but then I do not study the 17th-century Scottish Church. In my efforts to discover something more about the book, I found that a print-on-demand version, based on a digitization of a 1646 printing, was available from Lightning Source through Amazon for under fifteen dollars. In this brave new world of universal access, knowing what I know now, can I really justify keeping my copy on the shelf?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Libraries, Donations, and Collectors

I was recently flipping through the final volume of the New Colophon (1950), a sadly short-lived quarterly for book collectors, when I came across this image of a label in one of the articles.

The label had been designed by Elmer Adler, a Pynson Printer and the originator of the quarterly in 1930, for insertion into books donated to the libraries at the University of Michigan. The article by Randolph G. Adams, who, at the time, was the Director of the Clements Library at the University of Michigan, was entitled: "How Shall I Leave My Books to a Library?"
Like the majority of articles in the quarterly, this one is full of historical and literary tidbits, anecdotes, and asides, of great interest and amusement to bibliophiles and, of course, of no small interest to many librarians. One particularly entertaining quip that caught my attention, as we are in the midst of a major renovation at my library, states: "Librarians are, after all, people, and in recent years even the architects who design libraries have taken to consulting them."
The bulk of the article is devoted to an explication of six rules for potential book donors, the first of which is to select the proper library, whether public, private, academic, or what have you. Next is to select the appropriate librarian, here tellingly referred to as the curator - the one who will cherish and protect your books. Third is to consult a lawyer and "get your wishes translated into the cold language of the law."
The fourth rule, and the one that provides the context for the label pictured above, concerns the proper use and exploitation of donated works, with an emphasis on two points - adding new works, and eliminating duplicate holdings. Regarding the latter, Adams suggests that any potential curator must possess adequate "knowledge of provenance, binding, and association." However, the cautionary label suggests that this is not always the case, and the label was deliberately inserted in books not only to give librarians pause but to give potential donors a sense of comfort. Risk always abounds and as Adams observes: "There is no protection in a rare book library against disloyalty or stupidity on the part of the staff."
Coverage of the final two rules is woven into the discussion of the other four, emphasizing the timeliness of donating (don't leave the handling of such a delicate and weighty matter to the executors of your estate), and the importance of providing an adequate monetary gift to facilitate "the intelligent arrangement, handling and administration of your collection," even to the extent of "endowing your curator."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gray Literature Curiosity

Along with books and serials, libraries often have substantial collections of print materials referred to as gray literature; that is, items such as brochures, pamphlets, and reports, which are not assigned an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) or International Standard Serial Number (ISSN). Here is a curious example from the library at Cape Breton University.

Yes, this is a hockey card. Why would a hockey card be kept in an academic library collection? Well, I can think of a couple of possible reasons. The player might be a former student, he might have been born and raised in the local area, or perhaps he donated money to the university for an athletic scholarship. In this case, however, there is no discernible link between the player and the university, or with the broader community.
No one can remember, or at least no one is willing to admit that they remember, how the card made its way into the collection. The best guess is that it was in a box along with other materials to be entered into the database, and a summer student assigned to the data entry task just added it without questioning why.
Even more curious, however, at least to those interested in the way that information is classified, is the number assigned to this item. One of the simplest ways to make gray literature accessible is to assign sequential whole numbers to items, and then use these numbers as a means of locating these items in a searchable database and on the shelf. The fact that the number assigned to this item contains a decimal point and a number after the decimal point would generally indicate that the item was somehow related to the item with the base whole number. However, when we look to see what item 4662 is, we find that it is a consulting engineers report on the water supply to the Point Edward industrial park, in no way related to the player, or to hockey. The number also seems to suggest that there is another related item with the number 4662.1, otherwise why would this card not have that number?
All of this remains a mystery, and the only reason it came to light at all is that the card fell on the floor when we were doing some re-shelving of the collection.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Things Take Time

Among the many differences between academic and trade publishing, the market lifespan of a work is one of the most intriguing. A new novel, or even a piece of trendy non-fiction, that does not sell well within a few months following its release date can be quickly relegated to the remainder bin, as new releases compete for shelf space, promotional funds and the attention span of a media saturated public. In contrast, academic books slowly find their way into libraries and into the personal collections of faculty members and graduate students working in similar areas of interest. The slow pace is due in part to the fact that the key to dissemination is getting a book reviewed in relevant academic journals, which are relatively few in number and which rely on the willingness of subject experts to volunteer their time to critique new materials released in their fields.
In the most recent issue of the Journal of Religious History (2011, Vol. 35, No. 2), Edward Tyler said, "Robert Campbell’s Reading the Qur’an in English is a most useful tool and to be recommended to the interested newcomer. There are careful comparisons made with the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and in general, his book is eminently clear, systematic, and successful. It is a book to be read, and could be used in study groups and tutorials on the Qur’an. This reviewer is very glad to have the book in his possession."

This book was released in March 2009. So, more than two years later, my book is getting the sort of endorsement that a trade publication would have needed within weeks of its release, or preferably prior to its release. According to OCLC, copies of my book can be found in about 250 academic libraries around the globe, the vast majority of which are in the USA, but Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, the UAE and the Netherlands are also represented. With this new review, I am hopeful that scholarly uptake of my book will increase, but perhaps the greater potential lies in my ability to use the review as a means to further promote my book to a wider audience through social media.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Too Late Now

One of the great frustrations with trying to re-construct your family history is the lack of information about various individuals that arises out the assumption that there is no need to write things down because someone will remember. Well, what happens when no one remembers, or when there is no one around to remember?
This is a picture of my father Bill Campbell taken around 1930. Beside him is his sister Jess, and in front of them are Jack and Mary, their two younger half-siblings (same mother, different father).
I do not know when Jess was born and I have no idea whether she is still alive. I know that both Jack and Mary have died, but I do not know exactly when, and I can only guess at when they were born, based on the age they appear to be in this photograph.
Beyond staying in touch with his mother, my father had very little to do with his family and so my exposure to his siblings was minimal. Jack married, but had no children. Mary remained a spinster. Jess married and had one son, but I only remember seeing him on a few occasions when I was still in public school. Of course, it never occurred to me when I was in my teens to ask the sort of questions that would prove helpful in later genealogical research. Too late now.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

My Paternal Grandparents

My paternal grandfather, Robert Campbell, was born in Toberhead, a farming community near the town of Magherafelt, Londonderry County, Northern Ireland, on January 29, 1864. He arrived in Canada on May 22, 1881 with his parents and siblings, aboard the SS Moravian. He married Sarah McTavish on December 23, 1891, and they had two sons, Robert (born February 19, 1893) and Peter (born April 16, 1898). Sarah had been born and raised near Arthur, Ontario, northwest of Toronto, and both sons were born in Claremont, Ontario, northeast of Toronto, where my grandfather was working as a carpenter and farmhand. Sarah died sometime before 1909, by which time Robert and his sons were living in the Parkdale area of Toronto.
My paternal grandmother, Mary Jane 'Minnie' Bailie, was born in Ballynahinch, County Down, Northern Ireland, in May 1885. She arrived in Canada on April 25, 1909, aboard the SS Lake Erie, and was employed as my grandfather's housekeeper. They would marry on July 25, 1912. Robert and Minnie had two children, my father William (born August 17, 1913) and Jess (born c. 1915). Robert would be killed in a railway accident at the Parkdale Station on January 31, 1917.
Minnie would go on to marry Thomas Hamilton Cannon on February 28, 1922, and they would have two children, Mary and Jack. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Can I Read Arabic?

As I discussed in an earlier post, when people learn that I have written books about the Qur'an, their first question is usually to ask me if I am Muslim. Once that issue has been dealt with, they are curious about whether I can read Arabic. I assume that the motivation for asking is to determine by what authority I presume to write about Islam's sacred book - one that is deemed to be a sacred book only in the original Arabic. As with the previous question, however, the answer does not come down to a simple yes or no.
I first point out that I do not speak or read modern Arabic, emphasizing that knowing how to ask directions to the subway, or being able to order eggs and coffee for breakfast, are not really matters that get discussed in the Qur'an. I then go on to point out that while those who are proficient in modern Arabic will be able to read the literal text of the Qur'an, that is not the same as saying that they will then understand what they are reading. The Arabic of the Qur'an represents a stage of linguistic and cultural development in the Arabian peninsula 1400 years ago, and much has changed linguistically, culturally, politically and religiously since then. Even for those modern readers whose first language is Arabic, reading the Qur'an in Arabic means reading the Qur'an in translation.
I then indicate that while I have some ability to read the Arabic of the Qur'an, I do not claim any special expertise as a linguist, nor do I think I will ever reach a point where I consider myself to have mastered the subject. Rather, I see myself as a perpetual student of Classical Arabic, of the Qur'an, and of Islam more generally. I have to read translations of the Qur'an in order to think and write about it, and so does everyone else.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Discovering Distant Relatives

My maternal grandmother Marie Des Neiges Proulx was born on October 8, 1897, in Perce, Quebec. Her great grandfather Joseph Proulx had moved to the Gaspe region from the Quebec City area in about 1802. Joseph was a descendant of Jean Prou, who had come to Canada in about 1666, settling in Montmagny on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. I have not been able to determine at what point and for what reason the spelling of the family name picked up the "lx" ending, but I have discovered that Jean's surname had been changed from Proust to Prou, upon his arrival in Quebec.
Jean Proust had been born in the village of Distre, a few kilometers from Saumur, and about 40 kilometers from Angers, in the district of Maine-et-Loire (formerly Anjou), France, on December 2, 1646. Local records exist for his father and grandfather, both of whom had been named Jean. Not being able to trace the family line back further than the late 1500s, I started to wonder if I could establish a link between myself and the acclaimed French author Marcel Proust, who had been born near Paris, and who had died there in 1922.
Marcel Proust is perhaps best known for his seemingly endless, and actually never completed, epic novel, most commonly referred to in English as Remembrance of Things Past, the title given to it by its first translator Moncrieff, but perhaps more appropriately called, as it is in some more recent translations, In Search of Lost Time. The novel, which runs for more than 4000 pages over several volumes, contains over 2000 characters, and so it only seems appropriate that my relationship to the author is one of Proustian proportions, in that I was able to determine, thanks to the efforts of many distant relatives for whom genealogy research has become an addiction, that I am his fifty-eighth cousin, nineteen times removed.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Are You A Muslim?

A co-worker passed me in the hall this week and said, "I see you have a new Qur'an book out. Are you a Muslim?" I hesitated, smiled and said, "You wouldn't believe how many times I get asked that question." Not wishing to pursue the matter any further at that point, I quickly moved on.
Looking back over the past several years, the question usually arises when I am teaching courses on Islam or the Qur'an, when I am giving public lectures on these topics, and when I am being interviewed about my books. Both Muslims and non-Muslims have asked. My answer is always the same: "I don't answer that question, because I do not want to introduce any sort of bias into the reception of me or my ideas." I do however wonder at the motivation for asking.
While I'm sure that some people are merely curious, as if to say, "Robert Campbell doesn't sound like a Muslim name," I also suspect that others are looking to determine by what authority I speak about the Qur'an, thereby establishing how much credence they should place in what I have to say and to some extent allowing them to slot me into one of the convenient categories of apologist, detractor, heretic or zealot. After all, if I can be pigeonholed, the individual avoids the work of having to listen/read and think about the views that I am expressing.
One young Muslim woman told me that she and her husband had read through my first book (Reading the Qur'an in English) twice, and had spent a good amount of time discussing its content, all the while looking for clues that would help them determine my religious identity. They concluded that, while I certainly had an impressive understanding of the Qur'an, because I left some questions unanswered and appeared to advocate the questioning of some generally accepted precepts, I was not a Muslim. From my perspective, I was ecstatic. I had managed to get two people to carefully read through what I had to say, discuss it at length and draw some conclusions about their understanding of what it meant to be a Muslim. What more could I want?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Day Late

Well, here I am, only six weeks into this blog, and already I am a day late in posting. I could make all kinds of excuses, such as the fact that I have a new computer and I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to transfer files and get everything set up the way I want it - which is all true - but it is certainly no excuse. I could also say that I wasn't in the mood for writing, but I am almost never in the mood for writing, and that doesn't prevent me from doing it on a regular basis. I could say that I used up all of my energy yesterday shoveling snow - again quite true and very frustrating - but still not really an excuse. I did some reading and I even watched some TV, but I had plenty of time to write a blog entry. I just got lazy and decided it could wait.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Tragedy of the Commons

Happy to say that my video is receiving a good number of views, primarily from within Canada, but increasingly from Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The print copies of "Women, War & Hypocrites" should be arriving this coming week, so that means distributing copies to potential reviewers and local media, as well as getting ready for an official launch event.
However, today's task is teaching my MBA students about the tragedy of the commons. Among the issues to be discussed are: how can we allow unchecked population growth when we live in a finite world where many essential resources are nearly exhausted, and can conscience and rationality trump the basic human tendency toward unbridled self-interest.
In my view, we are on the brink of a population crisis that will see up to one-third of the world's people vanish in the next three to five years. Some of this will be from disease, but I think that most of it will be the consequence of natural disasters such as earthquakes and massive flooding. Of course, a good deal of the extreme weather patterns experienced around the globe are a direct result of the human exploitation of natural resources and the pollution related to the processing and use of these resources.
I am not a pessimist or a doomsayer, I'm a pragmatic realist.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Call to Prayer

Check out this video that I posted a few days ago on YouTube. The audio portion is a recording of me reciting the Islamic call to prayer (adhan), and the video is a slide show of recent and historic photos of Cape Breton Island, where I live. At the end of the video, I provide a shot of the covers of my two books on the Qur'an, as well as the url for my home page, so that you can get more information about me and my work.
My new book Women, War & Hypocrites is now available from (USA), .ca (Canada), (United Kingdom) and .de (Germany). Basically, the book describes how to approach reading the English text of the Qur'an to gain insight into the way in which matters pertaining to women (e.g., marriage, inheritance, hijab and wife beating), war (e.g., killing, battle, jihad and terrorism) and hypocrites (e.g., People of the Book, intoxication and the crucifixion of Jesus) are covered, especially in the fourth surah (chapter) of the Qur'an, known as The Women. Rather than attempt to tell you what the Qur'an says about these matters, I try to help you to develop your own understanding of the text.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Three Things

First, after only a couple of weeks I have changed the name of my blog to Profrac, which is exactly what I should have called it in the first place. Now my blog name matches my presence on Twitter, YouTube  and elsewhere in the social media sphere.
Second, the proof copy of my book arrived and it looks great. It should be available from Amazon by the first of February. I hope that lots of people will buy copies for themselves and for their friends, and I hope that several people will take the opportunity to post a review of the book on Amazon, on book review sites, and on their blogs.
Third, I am working on my first video for YouTube. It consists of me reciting the adhan with a slide show of scenes from Cape Breton as the visual component.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Available Soon

The publisher has uploaded the content and cover files to Lightning Source, and a proof copy of my new book, Women, War & Hypocrites: Studying the Qur'an, from Cape Breton University Press, should be arriving for approval at the first of the week. If everything looks okay, the book will be available from Amazon and other web-based retailers in about one week's time. Copies will make their way to conventional bookstores over the next month or so. If you haven't seen my earlier book, Reading the Qur'an in English: An Introductory Guide, published by Cape Breton University Press in 2009, you might want to check it out.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Make Haste Slowly

This is my second blog entry one whole week after my initial post. I've tried blogging before and while I started out posting several times per week, it soon became once a week and then a couple of times per month, and then nothing. This time I'm going to take my time by starting with the more modest goal of posting once per week, even if the content of my posts is merely stream of consciousness material. My objective is to develop the discipline of posting regularly rather than attempting to be the most erudite blogger on the web. See you next Saturday.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

First Post

I decided to call my blog "Palimpsest" because it's my favorite word.
I have no idea how successful I will be at maintaining a regular schedule of posting, but I want to use this blog to talk about the articles and books I have already written and the ones that I am working on now.
The topics I am interested in include genealogy, intellectual property, leadership, libraries, print culture, religion and science.
Please check back often. Hopefully, I'll say something interesting.