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ROSENWALD COLLECTION AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

As reported in an earlier issue, with the death of Lessing Rosenwald the bulk of his significant Blake collection has passed to the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress (for a listing of the collection and its distribution between the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art see Blake Newsletter 35). The holdings were made available to the public in November; however, owing to the unanticipated heavy demand for the Blake materials, a written application and screening procedure has recently been instated.

The servicing of the Rosenwald Collection occasioned some unusual problems for the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, where any person with one piece of identification is entitled to reader privileges. According to Peter VanWingen, head of the Reference and Reader Service Section of the Division, there was always a great reader interest in Blake, but with the advent of the Rosenwald material, “the demand has really been quite frightening.” Mr. VanWingen notes that while as a public library the Division has had a history of very seldom turning down requests, they are troubled by the number of enthusiastic casual readers who come with requests such as “‘I don’t care what Blake I see just so I see what it looks like.’” Severely limited exhibition space precludes any regular display of their originals.

The Division has now instituted a form for “Request to Use Original Blake Materials.” Persons wishing permission to consult the holdings should request a copy of the form or submit a letter stating “the items requested, length of time items will be consulted, scope of project for which materials are requested (including publication plans, if any), summary of work done to date, Blake collections previously consulted, and reasons why originals are required as opposed to facsimiles.” The Division is particularly interested in the latter point as many of the Trianon facsimiles are based on Rosenwald originals—the facsimiles, they feel, are “about as close as a person can possibly get to the originals.” Under the new guidelines, according to Mr. VanWingen, “if a person needs an original Blake they have to prove that they need an original Blake—and a statement to the fact that they’ve been going around the country looking at original Blakes isn’t enough.” Nonetheless, such requests are more frequently “modified” or “streamlined” than rejected outright, and a kind ear still exists for the scholar who turns up on the doorstep: “we’re being very careful about how we handle readers.”

By the end of July the large file of negatives (mostly black and white) which grew up around the Rosenwald holdings will be transferred to the Division, which will handle requests for copies. The cost is currently $5 per reproduction of existing negatives. The Division (which does not have any Blake specialist on its staff) looks forward to serving the increasing number of Blake scholars they will surely be seeing—correspondence regarding the Rosenwald Collection should be directed to Mr. VanWingen at the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress, Washington DC 20540.

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