Ascher of Boulder Libraries elected to Grolier Club
James P. Ascher of the Boulder Libraries has been elected a member of the prestigious Grolier Club. The Club, founded in 1884, is the largest and oldest society for bibliophiles in the United States, with nearly 800 members involved in the promotion of books and the graphic arts.
Ellsworth Mason, author of “The University of Colorado Libraries and Its Makers,” a retired librarian at University Libraries, was elected to join the Grolier Club in 1965. But today, there are only five other existing members in the state of Colorado.
According to the membership guidelines, nominations are based on a candidate’s personal and/or professional commitment to books, as demonstrated through outstanding activity as a collector, antiquarian book dealer, rare book librarian, or some other bookish pursuit.
Ascher first encountered his passion for what he calls “the language-game,” when he was pursuing a graduate degree in pure mathematics. Speaking of his transition from f-rings to symbolic communication in general, he describes his fascination as stemming from the idea of grammars as rules for a game involving words.
“I was enamored with this concept applied to mathematics,” Ascher explains. “Proofs of the same things could be elegant, or ugly, while certain moves were allowed while others illegal.”
As a rare-books librarian at University Libraries, Ascher managed the donation and the cataloging of more than 1,7000 items from the late Calvin Otto. Ascher is also involved in teaching courses on book history and faculty workshops in English literature, art history, journalism and other departments.
With the belief that “a rare book collection is not simply a hoard of treasures, but should be a living laboratory for thinking about information and communication,” Ascher has founded ScriptaLab, an initiative of the University Libraries.
He aims to weave together the scholarly threads that address text as a cultural artifact and a means of communication, allowing faculty and students to experience digital and physical media through historical and contemporary equipment to provide for many new and innovative learning opportunities.
“It seems to me that one of the greatest things that an institution can do is make available knowledge and ideas for researchers now and in the future,” says Ascher. “While we continue to digitize materials to great benefit, there is real information coded in the physical objects passed down to us from posterity. Printing variants can shed light on the intentions of an author and aesthetics can explain both how a writing was interpreted and received.”
Since its inception in 2009, ScriptaLab has sponsored more than nine events in which the historical book has been placed within contemporary media issues. These are available on YouTube and at http://www.scriptalab.org/.
On campus, Ascher co-convenes the Material/Artifact/Text History seminar, where both faculty and advanced graduate students are able to share their research in areas of textual studies including philology, bibliography, book history, print culture and—recently—the history of pornography.
An active member of the Book Arts League, Ascher promotes community outreach, bringing high-quality speakers to the Front Range and expanding league open houses to include a monthly movie night.
Ascher has taught at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia; the premier educational institution for rare books, textual studies, special collection librarianship, and related disciplines.
“As a poor graduate student, I didn’t have a great deal of money to spend on collecting books, so I realized the incredible value of public ownership of our cultural record” Ascher explains.
Serving as a lab instructor for the Introduction to the Principles of Bibliographical Description, Ascher teaches librarians, book sellers and scholars how to properly analyze and describe the physical features present in historical artifacts. He is also a recipient of the William Reese Company Fellowship in American Bibliography and the History of the Book the Americas for his research on early Colorado printing.
Serving as Vice-President for Publications in the American Printing History Association, he takes part in an organization that aims to support the study of the history of printing and allied trades with a special emphasis on the United States.
He also serves as chair for the Publications and Communications Committee for the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries of the American Library Association, where he coordinates both publication and communication activity for the primary professional organization for rare book librarians.
Additionally, he is serving as Preconference Program Planning Chair for the 2013 RBMS conference on the theme of performing arts.
Ascher’s research explores bibliography within new media, the infrastructure of printing, and submerged histories in libraries. His published work includes bibliographical methods, issues in diplomatic transcription, processes for collection surveys, and methods for training and recruiting librarians. His recent article in Rare Books and Manuscripts introduces a new methodology for bibliography and has been cited by several other studies already, while his research into collection surveys as an initial step to comprehensive bibliographic access has been published in the Journal of Academic Librarianship.
Ascher stresses the importance of the study of manuscripts and the intricacies involved with the analysis printed word: “There are depths of information and experience still to be plumbed within [them]. Physical books, texts and rare books contain hidden stories still to tell and it’s my delightful charge to help carry these forward for another generation.”