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Reviewed by:
  • Boston Parish Library Catalogue
  • Neil Harris (bio)
Boston Parish Library Catalogue. Boston: St Botolph's Church. 2006. 437 pp. £27.50. ISBN 978 0 9553958 0 2 (hardback); 978 0 9553958 1 9 (paperback); 978 0 9553958 2 6 (CD-ROM). Available from the Parish Office, 1 Wormgate, Boston, Lincs. PE21 9EY.

Twenty-four steep winding steps lead to a room over the south porch in the parish church of St Botolph in Boston, Lincolnshire. Overhead, and a much more daunting climb, both for the number of steps and for the narrowness of the stairway, is the famous stump tower, a landmark for miles around. The first seed of the collection of books therein was sown in 1634, when Laud's commissary, Sir Nathaniel Brent (in the single-page introduction Brent is only a name, but he was Warden of Merton College, Oxford, and his dates were 1573?-1652) inspected the church, found it in bad shape, and ordered it to be tidied up and to get a library. Sketchy subsequent records show that the library was duly constituted and grew slowly, enough to require the purchase of its actual bookcases in 1766. Unlike the Trigge Library in St Wulfram's in not-too-far-off Grantham (founded in 1598; see the [End Page 221] catalogue published in 1988), the books were never chained, which raises questions perhaps about the scale of the public using the facility. The earliest inventory of its contents took place in 1819, when just under a thousand items were recorded; unfortunately several hundred, probably interesting, pieces were deemed 'trash' and eliminated, while others were sold, presumably and erroneously as duplicates. Over the course of time the staff of the church and interested helpers put together a card-index catalogue and the library's holdings were regularly checked for projects such as the STC, Wing, ESTC, and ISTC (though small discrepancies with the present record inevitably surface). In 1997 a project was launched to conserve the books, restore them where needful, and produce the present catalogue. It received Heritage Lottery funding, and the outcome is a desktop-publishing job, without frills or pretensions, sturdily bound in blue buckram (it is available also in paperback and as a CD-ROM). This reviewer comes from a lengthy experience of small-scale Italian catalogues, usually describing collections in minor centres with limited bibliographical resources and (sometimes) expertise, so I looked with curiosity at this British example.

One can understand, perhaps even applaud, the reasoning behind the (unexplained) decision to include everything in a single, unbroken alphabetical sequence, comprising 1, 734 entries. A catalogue is the engine behind the library and in that respect this work performs its task egregiously. Purists might cock an eyebrow however at a melting pot comprising the library's greatest treasure, a codex with Augustine's commentary on Genesis, written in about 1170, from the Cluniac priory of Pontefract (no. 77; see Ker, Medieval Manuscripts in British Libraries, ii, 150); modern manuscripts, mostly relating to the church or to its parish, but also including books of remembrance for those who died in the Second World War (nos 238-39); printed ephemera, such as a collection of American calling cards (no. 10), a postcard album (no. 1287), and a scrapbook of Lincolnshire newspaper cuttings (no. 1389); the typescript of a postgraduate dissertation (no. 871); four incunables (nos 169, 173, 695, and 926); 150 sixteenth-century books; a wealth of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century books, much of it theological controversy; plenty of nineteenth- and twentieth-century material, mostly relating to local history; right through to a work published in 2003 (no. 89). The real drawback to the work lies instead in the uneasy balance between the paper and the electronic versions: the latter inevitably has a retrieval mechanism; the former suffers from a complete absence of indexes, and frankly this is a nuisance. Compiling indexes, especially chronological or for printer/ publisher, is an extremely good way of spotting silly mistakes and might have avoided errors, such as the slide of the 1541 M. Tullii Ciceronis Orationum uolumen primum to the beginning of the letter M (no. 1078). In short, you can lead a computer to...


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