Shelf Life

The last few months have been on one wild dash with no room for blogging―and I’ve sorely missed the freedom of writing for the pure enjoyment of it.  Right now, I’m chilling at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport on a lengthy layover and I’m thinking it’s time to blog!   

Fact is, I’m heading to Querétaro, Mexico for one final term of intensive Spanish Language in an immersion program, and while there I hope to post a few blogs on the food and culture of the area.Querétaro is a colonial city between Guadalajara and Mexico City, surrounded by history and plenty to see and do.  But, more on that later.  
Right now I want to share a little on one of my recent projects: one that proved far more provocative that I anticipated.  It’s difficult to get too worked up about a course in Library Science but this one was a surprise.  I worked with the library staff at the University of Oregon to create an independent studies course related to cookbook collections: what makes a good one, and the various forms that they can take.  The real attention grabber was the development currently taking place in online digital collections―thanks to technologically innovative college and university libraries.  
Often rare monographs, texts, and documents are tucked away in “dusty archives” that are not widely known to the general public.  Now, with the advent of online technology, digitizing these one-of-a-kind collections is making them accessible for everyone.   If you are into food history or read cookbooks, here are a few collections worth knowing about.

Indiana/Purdue University provides a small but well represented collection: Service Through Sponge Cake.  This helpful project is a good way to begin exploring online collections.   About 67 searchable community cookbooks and menus are easy to explore, with plenty of helpful links and curatorial information.

It’s not a surprise that Cornell University, home of the noted School of Hotel Administration would offer an outstanding site.  It takes tons of man hours and technical expertise to organize an undertaking of this magnitude.  Currently featured, Not by Bread Alone is one of several searchable collections worth checking out not only for  historical significance, but for charming graphics and solid background material.
Another project worth knowing about is the collection at the University of Texas, Austin presenting  the Knopf Archives:  Julia Child’s “the Proper Binge” Collection, which features correspondence, photos, and such between the publishers and Julia Child during the writing of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. 

Michigan State University’s Feeding America, projects and cookbook collections showcase well over 10,000 cookbooks and Americana food/cookery publications destined to become even more impressive over time.  Because of its size, it can be cumbersome. Don’t miss the amazing collection, Little Cookbooks: Alan and Shirley Brocker Collection.  Also featured, many museum objects can be explored with interface maneuverability; excellent descriptive and curatorial documentation is provided. 

As libraries look for creative ways to stretch their dollars and consider how to draw in a new audience of savvy technology oriented readers, digital collections are surely to become more and more mainstream.   Digital collections make sense in wooing a younger audience: a move toward expanding their reach beyond the hallowed halls.  But it is not likely that books will disappear off the library shelves altogether, for who loves books more than librarians?  However, pragmatists recognize that the world is changing: libraries must adapt to new needs and they are surely becoming more selective in what they purchase and how it is presented.

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