424-Year-Old Uncatalogued Book Found in the Library

Morgan Smith, Staff Writer

A rare 424-year-old copy of The Confessions of St. Augustine was found in the Noreen Reale Falcone Library’s Special Collection in July.

The Confessions of St. Augustine is a set of 13 books written by St. Augustine that detail his conversion to Christianity and discusses the sins he committed during his early life. It is a very influential theological work that is thought to have helped shape early Christian thought and writings. The original text was written in Latin; the copy found in the library was translated and printed in Italian.

“It looks like it was duplicate, or withdrawn, from the Vatican Library,” said Inga Barnello, the director of the library. Barnello said that she could only find records of 10 other copies of this edition of the book in libraries across the world, including a copy in the Vatican Library.

“It was sitting on a shelf in rare books without any hope of discovery except by browsing, and no one can browse inside the rare books except library staff,” Barnello said. She added that the book had not been entered into the online catalog in 1994 when the library started using a digital catalog.

The book was found by I-Chene Tai, the technical services librarian, who was working on updating the library catalog to match the inventory of books in the Special Collection.

“It’s really very interesting, and it’s different from cataloging regular books, because regular books are just title and contents,” Tai said. “Right now I’m looking at the whole thing itself as a cultural artifact.”

Tai said that the first thing she had to do after finding the book was work on verifying its authenticity. She compared the text and publication information in physical book to records of the same book that other libraries have in their online catalogs to see if they were the same.

The paper that the book was printed on and the binding were also examined. The paper is in very good shape, and the book is bound in vellum, or animal skin. Paper made in the 16th and 17th centuries lasts longer than modern paper because it was made with more natural materials and it isn’t exposed to acids to make it bright white, according to Tai.

“We still need to make sure, but so far my feeling is that we own a legitimate copy.” Tai said.

According to Barnello, the book was donated to the library in 1979 by Dr. and Mrs. John F. Keiser. Dr. Keiser graduated from Le Moyne in 1967.

Once Barnello’s research on the book is complete, it will be placed into a protective ‘house’ made of special acid-free paper custom made by Tai. It will be cataloged into the library catalog, as well as the international library catalog WorldCat, then put back into the Special Collection.

Anyone who is interested in seeing or reading any of the materials that are located in the Special Collection can email Inga Barnello ([email protected]) to set up an appointment.