Final Project’s First Steps: Poste’s Gifts

It’s finally time to develop the final project for the Social Life of Books course, and I couldn’t be more excited to dig in! Although it wasn’t easy and took a lot of considering and reconsidering, I finally came up with the topic that I want to focus on for this project: Dr. Leslie Poste’s contribution to the Special Collections in Milne Library at the SUNY Geneseo. It is my hope that this project will be accessible to both the Geneseo campus and surrounding community as it seeks to honor the memory of an intriguing and unique past professor and citizen.

Photograph of the inside cover of the Latin encyclopedia with the bookplate that marks it as a gift from Dr. Poste.

My first inspiration for this project was remembering my very first assignment for SLOB, which is also my first blog, based on the oldest book held in the library. I almost couldn’t believe it when I spoke with my Special Collections Librarian and she told me that our oldest book was printed in 1516: a Latin encyclopedia titled Sicuti Antiquarum Lectionum. Well, the title is actually much longer, around 100 words, so my library cut it off after the first 3. This book is very large, and in relatively good shape for being over 500 years old. The chain-line pages are thick and beautifully printed, while the margins are riddled with beautifully written Italian annotations, and perfectly round bookworm holes dot the front and back cover; it’s a antiquarian book-lover’s dream.

Photograph of Dr. Leslie Poste as depicted on Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art website.

So, you’d think that the book itself would be interesting enough, right? Wrong. The really special part about this book is who donated it: Dr. Leslie Poste. Dr. Poste was a professor at SUNY Geneseo’s Library Science department from 1958-1978. When he retired from Geneseo, he went into antiquarian book dealing, and donated a handful of books that he dealt with to Milne Library’s Special Collection around 1980. Before all of this, however, Dr. Poste served the Allies in WWII with a specialized group of soldiers called the Monuments Men, whose purpose was to travel Europe and rescue books and objects from libraries that had been terrorized and ransacked by the Nazis. While it may be tempting to assume that Sicuti Antiquarum Lectionum must have been one of the books he rescued (SWOON, am I right?), it is extremely unlikely, as it was donated to Milne Library in 1980, while he was working as an antiquarian book dealer; it’s much more likely that Dr. Poste simply came across our encyclopedia during his later book dealings. However, I still believe that this book has value in the way that it represents Dr. Poste’s interests, and his act of gifting it to Milne Library at Geneseo underscores the legacy he may have hoped to leave, as well as the vision he may have had for Milne as a keeper of such old and unique books.

This project has the potential to highlight a really interesting piece of Geneseo history and legacy, and hopefully will serve to better connect our wonderful village community with the campus, as Dr. Poste lived the rest of his life in Geneseo with his wife and daughter until his death in 1996.

There’s a lot to do and consider with this undertaking, so this week has been my first couple of steps. At the moment, I have most of the books gifted by Poste identified in the library, and have (hopefully) located his daughter, whom I’d love to have sit for an interview, depending on my time constraints. At the very least, it is my hope to connect with her and make her aware of my project that is honoring her father and his legacy at Geneseo. The website for my final project has the About Me page finished, and a basic Home page that will need a lot more tweaking as I proceed. My next steps are to record the provenance of the donated books and develop a Google Map or Fusion Table to help the site visitor get a better idea of where the books came from, and to develop the framework to the pages that will be featured on my site. I’m so excited to watch this come together!

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