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Preserving Pages in Charlottesville

Terry Belanger, founding director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, holds up a copy of St. Jerome's letters, printed in Parma, Italy in 1480.
Jacki Lyden, NPR News /
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Terry Belanger, founding director of the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia, holds up a copy of St. Jerome's letters, printed in Parma, Italy in 1480.

The Rare Book School at the University of Virginia is the only one if its kind in the United States. NPR's Jacki Lyden took a tour of the school's collection, and talked with elite scholars attending week-long sessions to learn more about the preservation and art of rare books.

The school's founding director, Terry Belanger, tells Lyden that every year, scholars, librarians, rare book collectors, curators and lay scholars of rare books come to the university's campus in Charlottesville for a week of hands-on classes. The Rare Book School offers about 40 five-day, non-credit courses on old and rare books, manuscripts and special collections.

They might learn about Medieval Latin paleography -- the study of handwriting -- or they might study printer's marks on paper from the 17th century.

"It's not so much about the intellectual content of the book as it is the preservation of knowledge -- literally," Lyden says. "The binding, paper, script, type, pagination, hide covers -- how all these things were made and used tell scholars and historians loads about how the texts were used, regarded and disregarded."

The sessions at UVA are considered the ne plus ultra by those attending -- an elite group that, during Lyden's visit, included representatives from the Library of Congress and the Royal Library of the Netherlands.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Longtime listeners recognize Jacki Lyden's voice from her frequent work as a substitute host on NPR. As a journalist who has been with NPR since 1979, Lyden regards herself first and foremost as a storyteller and looks for the distinctive human voice in a huge range of national and international stories.