Earlier this fall, the University of Michigan Record published an article on the dedication of the new Audubon Room, which was created on the ground floor of Hatcher Library as a venue for displaying items from the UM library special collections.
That room takes its name from the first book of any kind – special or otherwise – acquired by UM in 1838: “Birds of America,” illustrated by John James Audubon.
In that UM Record article, written by Kevin Brown, one line that captured The Chronicle’s attention was this: “[Peggy] Daub said fingerprints and grime along the edges of an opening page of the book, depicting a turkey, were not removed to celebrate the attention the book has drawn over the years.”
But October seemed early to try for a Thanksgiving connection. And so we shelved the idea of writing about the Audubon Room. But then, earlier this week through The Chronicle’s back-channel connections at UM library, we heard about a strange coincidence that had put turkeys back in the library news. It was the kind of coincidence that made us put on our investigative journalist hats – was it really a coincidence, or was it a special collections conspiracy?
The Monday Page-Turning Ritual
On the phone, Peggy Daub, who’s director of the UM Special Collections Library, confirmed what we’d heard: Every Monday morning since the Audubon Room had been dedicated, the special collections staff had been turning the book “Birds of America” to the next page.
And Monday of Thanksgiving week, the page that had come up was the one depicting the female turkey with her poults. [The first page of the book, which had not been cleaned, was a male turkey.]
When we pressed Daub to confirm that yes, really, that was just the next page to be turned, that it wasn’t arranged just for Thanksgiving, Daub checked with the staff member who actually turned the pages. Yes. Daub did allow that for Veteran’s Day a page had been displayed out of sequence, but that the natural sequence of pages has resumed after that holiday.
Asked whether the page-turning task required white gloves or similar precautions, Daub suggested that there was a “white glove myth.” In fact, she said, gloves tend to detract from manual dexterity needed to do the page turning. So staff just use clean hands for turning pages.
Other Display Items: Galileo’s Letter
The Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library is closed Nov. 26-27 for Thanksgiving, but has Thanksgiving weekend hours from 1-5 p.m. So readers who want to see the turkey page before it’s turned on Monday will have a chance to have a look at it.
Some of the other items currently on display in the Audubon Room include a letter written by Galileo with diagrams of bright objects – the document was written in August of 1609, so it’s just over 400 years old.