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SOLD OUT: A Picture of a Book is Not a Book

Wednesday, February 7, 2018 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm

This event is SOLD OUT. A wait list will not be maintained for this event.

Reception to follow
Registration is required
Members only with no fee

A Picture of a Book is Not a Book

Dr. John A. Buchtel

For two centuries the members and proprietors of the Boston Athenæum have pooled their resources, interests, and expertise to create an extraordinary shared collection of rare books. From a hand-colored copy of the monumental 1493 Nuremberg Chronicle to the imaginative sculptural structures of contemporary book artist Julie Chen, the books in the Athenæum's collection are available to each and every member, as well as to a broader community of scholars, learners, and book-lovers.
Incoming Curator of Rare Books and Head of Special Collections Dr. John A. Buchtel explores what it means for an athenæum to continue collecting, cataloging, preserving, and providing access to physical books in our increasingly digital age. Books, he argues, convey a range of meaning, emotional and aesthetic power, and historical connectedness that extends far beyond their texts. Drawing on examples he has encountered during two decades in the field, Buchtel meditates on the human presences revealed in books considered as artifacts: their producers, owners, and readers. Offering examples of books he anticipates pulling off the shelves when he takes up his new position at the Boston Athenӕum in June 2018, he reflects as well on the first-hand enjoyment of finely wrought bookbindings, illustrations, and typography.

Dr. John A. Buchtel has been involved in the field of special collections, rare books, and manuscripts for the past 20 years as a curator, educator, and manager. His diverse experiences help him advocate effectively for the ongoing significance of primary sources in an increasingly virtual world, even as he seeks to leverage the use of technology in the service of  scholarly discovery of original materials.

Since 2008, Dr. Buchtel has served as Director of the Booth Family Center for Special Collections at Georgetown University, with administrative and academic responsibility for Georgetown’s rare books, manuscripts, art collection and University Archives. Dr. Buchtel played a key role in several transformative additions to the collections, most notably the Paul F. Betz Collection of Wordsworth and English Literature, the John Thatcher Collection of Lives of Women Saints and Women Religious, and the papers of African - American composer Margaret Bonds.

In his previous role as Curator of Rare Books in The Sheridan Libraries of The Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Buchtel was responsible for rare book collections totaling more than 400,000 volumes in three locations, two of them housed in historic buildings. During his four years at Johns Hopkins, he collaborated with colleagues across the library to more than triple the number of faculty making object - based learning a part of their students’ educational experience.

While earning his doctorate in English at the University of Virginia, Dr. Buchtel worked for Rare Book School, the nation’s leading institute for the history of books and printing, first as Assistant Director for Programs, and then as RBS’s first Curator of Collections . The topics of Dr. Buchtel’s lectures, exhibitions and published articles include early modern British literary patronage and book dedications, education in the Renaissance, the reception history of English literary works, rare book curatorship, book collecting, and library history. Dr. Buchtel sits on the Council of the Bibliographical Society of America, for which he chairs the New Scholars Committee. He is active in the Grolier Club, America’s leading association of book collectors and bibliophiles, and the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the Association of College and Research Libraries.

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Most programs held in the Bayard Henry Long Room on the Athenaeum's first floor are amplified and assistive listening devices are available for patron use.

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To request ASL interpretation services for any of the Athenaeum's programs, please contact Hannah Weisman at 617-720-7617 or