Amy Kaufman, head law librarian at the William R. Lederman Law Library, Queen’s University, Ontario, remembers her first London Rare Books School.  

I had been a law librarian at a Canadian university for about ten years when I first heard about the Institute of English Studies’ (IES) London Rare Books School (LRBS) from colleagues in special collections. I wanted to work more knowledgeably with the law library’s older print collections and realised that I required – and wanted – greater knowledge in the history of the book.

It took very little deliberation to sign up for a week-long intensive course in one of the world centres of the book trade. My first course was an engaging small seminar on the ‘Early Modern Book in England’ that included field trips to the Stationers’ Guild and Lambeth Palace’s library and was rounded out by lunches, walking tours of Bloomsbury, and friendly gatherings with the LRBS students and instructors.

During that week, when I learned these courses could be taken for credit toward a master’s degree in the history of the book, it seemed like a dream come true to be able to turn this new mid-career interest into an area of sustained study. What would it be like, I wondered, to continue to return to London over the next few years and delve more deeply into this fascinating discipline?

It turned out to be a highlight of my career. I returned for two courses in the summer of 2019 and then took an academic leave in 2020 to complete my dissertation. It was an intellectually and experientially rich time during which I learned about the History of the Book in different countries and eras.

This degree has enabled me to create deeper connections among special collections, history of the book, and law, and will enrich the research and teaching support I can offer to students and faculty.

It has allowed me to identify hidden collections, preservation needs, and digitisation priorities in my library. It has given me new lenses and approaches for my own scholarship, whether I am analysing the ledger of a local Justice of the Peace from the 1850s or locating and comparing suffragists’ law books in England and Canada. It has allowed me to turn my work into published papers, conference presentations, and now, with my dissertation, a short monograph. The LRBS refreshed my intellectual curiosity and enlarged my sense of possibility as a librarian and scholar.

Amy Kaufman is head law librarian at the William R. Lederman Law Library, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario. She holds an MRes in the History of the Book from the University of London and has published several scholarly essays on legal books and publishing including: “Everday Justice in Pre-Confederation Canada: The Ledger of Thomas Burrows, JP for Kingston Mills” (2020) 58 Papers of the Bibliographic Society of Canada 121-144; “‘Now That We are Voting Citizens’: A Canadian Suffragist’s ‘Excellent Book’ Turns 100” (2019) 31:2 Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 413-422; and “Building a Monument in the Mind: Comparing Early Modern and Contemporary Legal Reading Through Sir John Dodderidge’s The English Lawyer and Glanville Williams’ Learning the Law” (2019) 44:3 Canadian Law library Review 8-15 (2020 Feature Article Award).