Monday, November 19, 2012

Some ?'s and Answers with Patrick Coleman

What is your official position with MN Historical Society? How long have you worked

PC:Officially, I am the Acquisitions Librarian. I usually introduce myself as the Minnesota Historical Society’s Book Curator or Rare Book Librarian. I get fewer blank stares that way. I started here when Moses was a baby.

How and when did the idea for the 10,000 Books blog get going?

PC: The 10,000 Books Blog is a project of our Publications Department (sorry if that was who you really wanted to talk to) and my blog is titled The 150 Best Minnesota Books. Many states have published reference books identifying their best 100 books. Over the years, several people suggested that I to do the same for Minnesota. One day as I was leaving work, I counted out one hundred 3 by 5 cards, stuck them in my pocket,and over the next several nights filled out a few cards as I was falling asleep. I kept those cards listing of my choices of the 100 best Minnesota books for years. I would occasionally share them with knowledgeable folks, like Trish Hampl, soliciting feedback. When Minnesota turned 150 and everyone was thinking in that number, I thought about releasing my list slowly, in blog format, adding room for fifty more books. This was both to conform to the sesquicentennial and, more importantly, to allow reader input about titles they would like to see identified as Minnesota’s best. Truthfully, I am disappointed that the blog hasn’t become more of an electric water cooler for people to gather around and debate the merits of Minnesota books.

Sometimes it can be hard to keep a long-running program like this one going? What
helps you guys keep going and doing it well?

PC: Good question. I obviously have trouble rolling out books for my blog on a regular timetable because it is a low priority on my work schedule. I am sometimes prompted by readers who either post a message on an older entry or are tired of waiting for my next selection; sometimes I am shamed into writing by my colleagues. Naming a book to this list works best if I can piggy back on another project. If I am lecturing about an author, say Margaret Banning, I can use my notes to add one of her titles to the list.

I know that one major part of your job is acquiring stuff for the permanent collection there(or I think that's true, please do correct me if not). Where do you get things from? Has there been one or two most exciting books you've gotten?

PC: You are correct. My most important duty is to acquire books related to Minnesota history and culture for the Society’s reference library and thus for posterity. I try to get all of my books at Micawber’s but sometimes need to go farther afield. Several times a year the MHS finds something so remarkable that it is hard to believe it was out there in the world. One such item was the poignant hand written manuscript “Treaty of Washington,1858” between the Yankton Sioux and the U. S. As a typical example, we were also recently given a copy of one of my favorite Sinclair Lewis novels, Cass Timberlane. This copy was presented to a lefty labor Judge in Duluth, Mark Nolan, with an inscription noting that the protagonist was modeled on him! There were photos of Lewis and Nolan picnicking on the North Shore included in the gift. I have ten thousand other great
acquisition stories.

Most MN book very few people know about?

PC: Tough question. Take a look at the growing list of Best books… …and pick one
you may have not known was a Minnesota book. Perhaps Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s
Column: a Story of the Twentieth Century. Chicago: Schulte and Company, 1890.

What is the size of the collection?

PC:The Minnesota Historical Society’s library contains approximately 500,000 volumes
covering every aspect of Minnesota history and culture. I am especially proud of our
collection of Minnesota literature. We have important collections on other topics such as the Mississippi River, Native Americans, the Civil War, Canada, books about books, and many other subjects. The library is free and open to everyone. It is a research library so you do have to use the books in the library.

Do things ever get retired due to condition or other issues?

PC: Yes we “weed” the collections all the time. I once sold a collection of 5,000 books on Shakespeare that had been cataloged in our library. Obviously, very few researchers thought of coming to Minnesota Historical library to study the Bard.

Do you have the only key to the secret vault?

PC: No they don’t trust me that much.

And, finally, do you ever get tired of hearing, "Say, isn't you brother...?"

PC: …Norm?