“Deutschland schwitzt!” (Germany’s sweating!) proclaimed the popular tabloid Bild-Zeitung, and it was right: in Munich at the end of last week the temperature soared to the mid-30’s. A local paper which I read over breakfast one morning recommended ways to keep cool – head for the shade of the Englischer Garten, swim in an open air pool, or enjoy a long, cool Bavarian beer. Alas, quite apart from not being a beer drinker (though a well-chilled glass of Franconian white wine or a nice Apfelschorle would have been viable alternatives), I was in Munich for work and spent most of my three days in the Bavarian capital in a rather airless lecture theatre at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. But in all respects other than the heat there was no ‘alas’ about it as I was listening to some of the great and good of the bibliographical world discussing ‘Early printed books as material objects’ at a satellite meeting of the annual International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) conference.
So great and good were many of those present that, as someone pointed out, a bomb falling on the hall would have effectively decimated international bibliographical scholarship! I was there in a much lesser capacity, despite the location not as head of German but wearing my other ‘BL hat’ as support to the Curator of Incunabula. I felt that I was very much there to learn, and learn I did from papers on topics ranging from the smallest details of marginal notes or rubrication to online projects of ambitious international scope, e.g. http://www.cerl.org/web/en/resources/cerl_thesaurus/main
The emphasis on books as material objects brought some strong feelings to the fore, especially those of bindings experts for whom repairing a severely dilapidated binding was little more than vandalism, although it had brought to light some fascinating 15th-century documents used as binder’s waste and rendered the book usable again. Another speaker talked about books which had been made up of pages from different editions, and argued for treating them not as single books but as fragments of multiple copies. This is a vital distinction for expert bibliographers, but perhaps not for readers past or present: an example of how a book can be a material object in different ways to different people.
I was also introduced to a colleague from the Munich office of the ISTC project and found out more about its international aspects. And there was an opportunity to see the Staatsbibliothek’s accompanying exhibition, showcasing some of their amazing holdings of incunabula. Well worth a visit if you’re in Munich between now and the end of October – if you can tear yourself away from the Englischer Garten and the cool beer.