Hibolire Doctoral Summer School - Tampere June 4-5 2009

Ilkka Mäkinen

It was a cold (+5 degrees Celsius), wet and rainy early June 2009 in Tampere, Finland (hard to imagine now, a couple of weeks later, when it is +25 degrees). I had advised the participants of the HIBOLIRE Doctoral Summer School that this time of year was usually nice and warm: but now “rough winds” did “shake the darling buds of June”. Happily, leaving the cold winds outside, the 25-person group gathered at the new faculty building of the University of Tampere to create their own warmth. The participants, all members of HIBOLIRE, came from different Scandinavian and Baltic countries.

The mood was enthusiastic since, among the senior members and the doctoral students, were new faces some of whom were to speak before an international audience for the very first time: true “darling buds”. An item of news that also inspired was that our HIBOLIRE member Henrik Horstbøll had been installed as the new professor of Book and Library History at the University of Lund, on that very day. Unfortunately, because of that event, he could not participate in our summer school.

HIBOLIRE, the Nordic-Baltic Research Network on the History of Books, Libraries and Reading, is a multinational and multidisciplinary network of scholars from Scandinavian and Baltic countries. We also wish to improve our cooperation with scholars in northwestern Russia. The activities of HIBOLIRE are supported by Nordforsk, an independent institution operating under the Nordic Council of Ministers for Education and Research. Our intitial three-year funding covered the period from 2006 to 2009, while an extension will enable further activities from 2009 to 2010. The network organises annually at least one doctoral seminar, in addition to other events. Next year, our main goal will be to co-organize the annual SHARP conference in Helsinki. Minna Ahokas, a member of the organizing committee, informed us of the present status of planning.

The first keynote speaker, Dr. Lotte Hellinga from UK, former Deputy Keeper at the British Library, opened the summer school with her speech titled Histories of the book, old and new, and what they have in common, where she touched upon many important themes. What especially struck me was the importance she laid on the popularization of book history. Why doesn’t someone write a “Gutenberg Code” or a “Schoeffer Code”? Book history is full of good stories. The popularization theme is closely connected with another matter she raised, namely, the importance of lifting one’s eyes from details and over the national boundaries in order to see and talk about the larger context.

Dr. Hellinga’s coments about popularization reminded us that our network had listed popularization as one of the initial aims of HIBOLIRE. Popularization in a manner that is both exacting and appealing is difficult to do, but in our own way we shall try, by publishing in July a popular book on the library histories in the region that our network covers; indeed covering a large part of the globe from Greenland to Finland. The book will be titled Library Spirit in the Nordic and Baltic Countries. Historical Perspectives. Not a “Library Code” (perhaps a “Dewey Code”?) but hopefully more accessible than ordinary treatises on library history.

The theme of the summer school, Books as material objects, books in space, books in movement, was deliberately unrestrictive, since all doctoral students of the network irrespective of the subject of their dissertation should have a chance to receive feedback. The theme was intended also to involve jointly both book and library historians. Nevertheless, one theme, books in space, was so successful in gathering speakers that the theme earned its appearance in the title of the summer school. One of the keynote speakers, Prof. Alistair Black of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, spoke about Books, Buildings and Social Engineering. Early Public Libraries in Britain from Past to Present based on the newly-published book co-authored by himself, Simon Pepper and Kaye Bagshaw. His presentation was as richly documented with images as the book itself. I believe it was fortunate that the somewhat trite term “social concept” was replaced by “social engineering”.

A senior member of the network, Nan Dahlkild from the Royal School of Library and Information Science, Copenhagen, entered the history of library buildings from the Scandinavian angle, and a doctoral student, Pentti Mehtonen, from the University of Tampere presented his dissertation project on the discourse on library buildings in the Finnish professional press. The trio was completed by the presence of Ms. Hanna Aaltonen, who has written an extensive article on Finnish public library buildings in the recent Suomen yleisten kirjastojen historia (History of Finnish public libraries) published just after the summer school. Such a congregation of themes is very welcome, even if it is not possible always to achive, since research themes in the fields covered by the network are so varied.

There were additional senior researcher papers by Wolfgang Undorf (Royal Library, Stockholm) challenging a number of concepts that we take as self-evident in book history, and Alma Braziniune (Vilnius University, Lithuania) about the private library as an object of research in book science and librarianship. Both subjects also have a contemporary importance given the current digitisation of books and even whole libraries. These papers should surely be published as articles or books.

It is impossible to provide summaries of every doctoral students’ paper at the summer school. And, fortunately, there is no reason to do so. Students will be presenting the results of their work in due course themselves: the entire workshop program becoming available at here.

We were successful in gathering people from different levels of scholarship, from different countries and with different disciplinary backgrounds. The mix created a fruitful opportunity for getting to know people and exchanging information and opinions. A problem was the different rhythm of universities in the Nordic countries that prevented people from certain countries from participating. This fact must be taken into account when future events are planned.

Doc. Ilkka Mäkinen is a lecturer at the Department of Information Studies, University of Tampere, and the treasurer of HIBOLIRE.

1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.