inscription by Nabokov ...
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Repping The Rare Books: A Three Week Old Acquisition Speaks of His New Job
By Daniella Zalcman
PUBLISHED OCTOBER 19, 2007
Gerald Cloud has only been working in Columbia’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library for three weeks, but he’s already settled into a comfortable office on the sixth floor of Butler. Formerly a reference librarian at the University of California, San Diego, Cloud was hired by Columbia to create programs to study and raise awareness of the sizeable collection—one which few Columbia students know about.
Spectator: How did the RBML get its start?
Gerald Cloud: The department didn’t officially form until about 1930, but Columbia owned rare books and manuscript material long before that. Samuel Johnson, the first president of the University, and his son William were both book collectors,
What are some of your favorite books and manuscripts in the collection?
The literary manuscripts–particularly the collections of Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg’s work. We have, for example, letters that Kerouac wrote to both Ginsberg and Burroughs as early as the late ’40s—not too long after they had met at Columbia, when they were all still quite young.
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What one book should all Columbia students come to the RBML to see?
That’s the thing—there’s not just one. You could bring somebody in and say, “Here’s a copy of Herodotus’ Histories that belonged to Erasmus.” Somebody who’s gone through Lit Hum might really find this exciting. Or they might like the copy of Homer’s Odyssey that was inscribed to Martin Luther. But someone else might be equally excited about coming in to see a third printing of Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which is a book that’s worth maybe $30, but includes an inscription by Nabokov and a sketch of a butterfly that he drew in books for people he liked or was close to. That would probably be far more interesting to a Columbia student.
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