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Lilly Library

Still Unpacking the Kripke Collection

At the beginning of 2023, I wrote that I’d pull interesting dictionaries and occasionally other language books and items from boxes of the late Madeline Kripke’s collection of 20,000 or so volumes — recently acquired by the Lilly Library at Indiana University — and write about them weekly. I promised not to pick the most expensive or the most exotic or venerable or beautiful of the books but instead would rely on the luck of the draw to bring unexpected items to the attention of those interested in dictionaries and other things that interested Madeline. The last year has been one of the most exciting of my career, because of the Kripke Collection and this blog. I’m grateful to Madeline for collecting the treasures I’m finding, to the Lilly Library and the Indiana University Libraries for acquiring the collection, and to readers of the blog for unpacking the collection with me.

Committed readers of the blog, however, will already have noticed that we haven’t published a post per week as I’d originally intended. Indeed, despite my enthusiasm, weekly posts might have been too much even for me. But blogs like this one aren’t produced by one person alone, at least, not by this one person. For instance, I’m not allowed to unpack Kripke boxes unsupervised, any more than I’m allowed to manhandle books in the Lilly Library reading room — I’m familiar there but like other reading room readers, I have to follow the rules, and I’m not left to my own devices.

So, I must thank (and, if you’ve enjoyed the blog, you must thank) my colleague Erika Dowell, Curator of Modern Manuscripts at the Lilly Library, first for watching over me among the collection and then posting what I write about whatever I discover. The posts would be much less interesting without pictures, and I have both Erika and Jody Mitchell, Digitization Manager at the Lilly Library, to thank for supplementing each thousand words with pictures worth thousands more — or maybe it’s the other way around. Some books are tall and wide and thick and difficult to photograph, so we’ve also had help from Elise Calvi, Head of Preservation for the Indiana University Libraries, and Natalie Guingrich, who straddles the Preservation and Conservation departments.

Over the last year, I’ve not been the only one unpacking the Kripke Collection. Erika has assembled a team of students to inventory the books and artifacts box by box, and as of today, they have listed more than 10,500 items or roughly half of the total collection. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, Madeline had compiled a catalogue of about 6,000 works before she died. The catalogue is much more detailed, item for item, than the inventory, but crucially, the inventory not only lists more items but records the boxes in which we can find them, which means that we are approaching the point where, should someone want to consult something from the collection, we can locate the item and make it available. Currently, however, we still cannot say whether a book is in the collection, and we won’t be able to do so until the last box is unpacked. Those books don’t inventory themselves, and we have the following colleagues to thank for bringing us to fifty-percent coverage: Casey Machenheimer and Cassidy Pollack served as co-coordinators of the accessioning effort last spring and were joined by Orlando Shassberger, and Michael Betar, while Erin Byers and Sarah Hensler continue the work into 2024, with Sarah as the current coordinator.

Project Coordinator Sarah Hensler in the Kripke Collection workroom.

I’ve seen from looking at recent additions to the inventory that we have a new team member, Breon Mitchell, Professor of Comparative Literature and Germanic Studies and Director of the Lilly Library emeritus. Breon is an award-winning translator of German fiction and, like Madeline, a collector of dictionaries, in his case bilingual dictionaries from around the world, many of them documents of language contact. Breon has donated The Breon Mitchell Collection of Bilingual Dictionaries 1559–1998 to the Lilly Library. The library’s general collection includes many fascinating dictionaries, but with Breon’s and Madeline’s collections, nine tons of material from the Barnhart family’s dictionary enterprise, and the papers of Eric Partridge, the Lilly is now the epicenter of dictionary research in North America, perhaps the world. Breon is just the sort of person who, in retirement, would volunteer his time and expertise to inventory Madeline’s collection, but I suspect that, like all the rest of us, he wants to see what’s in all those boxes.

As accessioning continues, the Lilly can respond more quickly and effectively to inquiries about the Kripke Collection, but it will be most accessible when it’s all catalogued, and the cataloguing of so many books — many of them with special features, like bookplates and signatures, annotations and inserts, and many of them very likely the only copy to be held by a research library — will take a long time. That said, the Lilly Library has begun the process with “easily” catalogued twentieth-century books, an effort led by Lori Dekydtspotter, our Special Collections Cataloguing Librarian, and including Marcia Corner and Alisah Hilt, both Monographs Catalogers, and Emily Sanders, Senior Monograph Cataloger. If you know much about libraries and how they approach major acquisitions like the Kripke Collection, you’ll already have registered that the Indiana University Libraries is moving with unusual speed, and that says better than any press release how committed the Lilly Library and the Indiana University Libraries are to preparing and sharing Madeline Kripke’s legacy.

As you can see, it takes a lot of people to manage post-acquisition preparation of a collection as large as Madeline’s (it took a lot of people to manage the acquisition, too), and as a member of the dictionary community and friend of Madeline, I am most grateful for the time, talent, and attention currently devoted to the Kripke Collection. I’m just one person among the many, and my job is to write the blog posts, which I will continue to do at least until more of the collection is publicly available.

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