To orient first-time readers of this blog, I am currently a graduate student in Library Science at Indiana University with a long-standing interest in rare books. My time at Indiana University has given me many once-in-a-lifetime experiences, from the time I’ve spent with incunabula, artist books, and giant Dutch atlases at the Lilly Library, to the seemingly bottomless holdings of far-flung authors in translation which are held at IU’s flagship Herman B. Wells Library.
But before I graduate this Spring, I have embarked on a joint internship project with two other Indiana University heritage institutions, the Wylie House Museum and the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab. Situated on opposite sides of Bloomington, these two institutions are a study in contrasts. The Wylie House Museum is an old manor house, originally the seat of a rural estate – now comfortably immured in a residential neighborhood on Bloomington’s west side – built in the first third of the 19th century by Indiana University’s first president (and the house’s first occupant), Andrew W. Wylie. The E. Lingle Preservation Lab is housed in Indiana University’s state-of-the-art Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility, which provides high-density, climate-controlled storage for millions of books. What brings these two institutions together is a need to preserve and make known the working library of IU’s first university librarian, professor of natural philosophy, and interim president Theophilus A. Wylie (1810 – 1895), who lived at the Wylie House with his wife Rebecca D. Wylie and their large family after the passing away of Andrew Wylie’s widow in 1859.
Unlike the collections of Herman B. Wells Library and the Lilly Library, the around 800 monographic titles in Theophilus Wylie’s collection have never been comprehensively cataloged, although previous workers at the Wylie House have created detailed inventories of the collection, including titles, dates, authors, publication information and notes on the condition of the collection. The books are stored separately from the smaller collection of books owned by Andrew W. Wylie, in an air-conditioned space conducive to their long-term preservation, but the books have not always experienced ideal storage conditions in the course of their movements from one owner to another, and many are in need of preservation treatment. Nonetheless, there is a plaque which sits in the room with collection in which the family of Morton C. Bradley, grandson of Theophilus A. Wylie and a subsequent owner of many books in the collection, stating that the family wishes to donate the collection to Indiana University so that it might serve as a monument to the kind of scholarly and educational culture that existed at Indiana University in its early years [note: get actual wording from the plaque]; and in the short time I have spent with the collection, I have come to see Theophilus Wylie’s library as an instructive resource for understanding the life and world of the Wylie family that can potentially complement what we learn from the Wylie family papers currently housed at the IU Archives and the Wylie House Museum.
While the first task of my internship is examining the books in T.A. Wylie’s library one-by-one in order to standardize their records and make them findable, I have found that many individual books in the collection, as well as all of the books collectively, do indeed tell a fascinating panoply of stories about the history of Indiana University and the Wylie family. I have found that the entire Wylie family, including Theophilus Wylie’s father, Samuel B. Wylie, his wife, Rebecca Dennis Wylie, his granddaughter Maria Louise Boisen Bradley and her husband Morton C. Bradley, as well as Theophilus himself, were assiduous in including marks of provenance in the books, generally including names and dates of acquisition, but also sometimes including tantalizing notes about who gifted a book or when and where it was purchased. Some of the oldest books in the collection date back to the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries and shed light on the world of Theophilus’s father Samuel B. Wylie, a Reformed Presbyterian minister born in Antrim county, Ireland, and after 1836 vice-provost of the University of Pennsylvania. Many other books in the collection were written by Theophilus Wylie’s colleagues and near-contemporaries in the natural sciences fields, and there is significant evidence to suggest that some of the most heavily annotated books were in use as classroom textbooks during an Theophilus Wylie’s time as an instructor at Indiana University.
The goal of this internship, as is true with many archives and special collections projects, is to make accessible a resource that students and scholars previously either did not know about or have access to. My hope is that the work I do during this internship will provide an opportunity to learn about cataloging and caring for a collection like this, and will help to make the significant resource represented by Theophilus Wylie’s library for understanding IU history and the history of 19thcentury American scholarship and higher education available to future students and faculty.