She also spoke of puzzling over artifacts “until their language became clear.” All artifacts can be read, once their language is learned, for what they have to tell about their own production and about the place they held in the lives of those who previously possessed them.[1]

My name is Jose Guerrero, and I have just joined the California State Library as the Cataloging and Metadata Librarian for their San Francisco branch known as the Sutro Library. My job is to make sure that the magnificent holdings of the Sutro Library are accurately described so that researchers from near and far know what we have and can request to view it in our reading room! I moved here from central Pennsylvania, but I was born and raised in East Los Angeles and graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz. I also worked for antiquarian booksellers in San Francisco for several years. It’s been wonderful getting to know my new colleagues at the California State Library and San Francisco State University, as well as getting reacquainted with this city!

In the above quote, G. Thomas Tanselle is referencing Ana Somers Cocks, formerly a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I first read “Libraries, Museums and Reading,” from which this passage is taken, many years ago and the words “puzzling over artifacts” never left me. As a cataloger, I am not necessarily supposed to assemble the puzzle, but I do make sure that all the pieces are there. Author names are like corner-pieces, subject headings are like the picture on the box that give you an idea of what it looks like put together, and physical descriptions make sure that pieces from different puzzles aren’t mixed together.[2]

I am excited to work with the Sutro Library’s antiquarian collection because there is much for our users—students of San Francisco State University, the people of California at large, and visiting scholars—to read and discover. Books held an important place in the life of Adolph Sutro, and the people who owned his books before him. “A book must be opened,” Tanselle writes, “simply to look at it fully as an object, for without examining the paper that makes up its bulk, and the inked markings on that paper, one has seen only a small fraction of the object.” I hope to facilitate this kind of interactive experience—of opening, examining, and interpreting texts—among our readers and visitors. If you don’t think of books as interactive technology, here are some reasons to reconsider:

“Scraps of Booksellers’ Catalogues” is a book made entirely of advertisements for books taken from other 17th and 18th century British books. The volume’s disbound leaves create an entirely new object reflecting, perhaps, interest in certain printers or eras of printing.  Sutro had a voracious appetite for books from this period, as the thousands of 17th and 18th century English pamphlets he amassed can attest to.

Legal printing, though often overlooked, is charged with meaning as this 1901 Mexican legal brief demonstrates. It looks like a book, but the pages are perpendicular to the spine. It may have been a mock-up, or galley proof, used by an editor to make corrections. Or, it could be a temporary binding  meant to get the text to the bindery and bound in more durable covers. Joined at the rear are scraps of the newspaper Regeneracion, edited by Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon, from August and October issues for 1900. Though deteriorated,[3] the crumbling newsprint preserves a possible link between the printer, Eduardo Dublan, the legal printer who was active in liberal politics of the time, and Magon.[4] These contemporaries both produced commentary on the politics of the porfiriato (the name given to the era that Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz was in power), one as a printer and the other as a journalist. Printed objects interact with the society that produces them, as well as collectors and readers and binders and libraries.

Let’s return to “Scraps of Booksellers’ Catalogues.” A sequence of  advertisements for Scottish printers Robert and Andrew Foulis opens with a handwritten caption: “Commenced business in 1740 – issued beautiful editions of the Classics.” One of these “beautiful editions” is De consolatione philosophiae, a 6th century philosophical work that was popular throughout medieval Europe. The Sutro copy bears the bookplate and handwritten commentary of Francisco Lopez Portillo, a colonial administrator in 18th century Guadalajara. It is also marked with the firebrand of the conventual library of San Francisco de Mexico. Enhancing the Sutro catalog record with descriptive information will help this book—not just the text, but the firebrand and bookplate and inscription too—move into the hands of its next user; the next step of an already long journey from 6th century treatise, to medieval bestseller, to the Glasgow printing office of the Foulis brothers, to colonial Mexico, to San Francisco, California.

Soon, much of what you just read about Sutro Library materials will be in our catalog which can be searched from virtually anywhere in the world. I am eager to play my part in the discovery process, and assist my colleagues whose instruction and outreach efforts have already done so much to help our materials tell their stories through exhibitions, classes, and volunteer opportunities. I hope to share more of the Sutro’s holdings in the future—in person and through this blog—as I continue to learn about our collection and community!

Jose Cruz Guerrero, Cataloging and Metadata Librarian, Sutro Library

[1] Tanselle, G.T. Libraries, Museums and Reading. Charlottesville, VA: Book Arts Press, 1992. First delivered as a talk, the audio is now available through the Rare Book School’s SoundCloud page along with many other presentations.

[2] This too can have interesting results, as Harvard librarian John Overholt has recently pointed out!

[3] Digitized copies are available at Archivo Magon. It was by referring to these scanned versions that I was able to date the newspaper scraps, whose dates have all been chopped off.

[4] When the Mexican government outlawed the printing of Magon’s writings, he relocated to the United States and became a central figure in the anarchist movement of southern California.

2 thoughts on “Greetings, From Sutro Library!

  1. A wonderful post, Jose! I look forward to learning more about this collection as you write about it here and elsewhere. Keep in touch! MN


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