Illustrations of the Grand Canyon – our retiring librarian’s favourite rare book

Librarian Christine Kiddey retires this week after 26 years at the National Museum and Te Papa. “The length of my time here is just about equivalent to Te Papa’s formal history – the Museum of New Zealand Act was 1992,” she says. “However, I think Te Papa will far outlast me!”

Here, Christine chooses her favourite rare book – and it’s possibly an unexpected one: Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary history of the Grand Cañon district.

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Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary history of the Grand Cañon district, 2018. Te Papa

I love the way the illustrations, by William Henry Holmes, portray the sense of infinite space and mystery, which is still there now. I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, but the usual bits that everyone goes to. There are still vast areas of it that most people will only ever see in photos. Google Grand Canyon images and you’ll see all those huge empty vistas.

I also admire the skill of the artist. He was making the pictures as a scientific record (imagine doing those thousands of tiny stratigraphic lines) – but they’ve transcended their recording function and become works of art.

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Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary history of the Grand Cañon district, 1882, by Clarence E. Dutton, United States Geological Service. Te Papa (RB001314)

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Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary history of the Grand Cañon district, 1882, by Clarence E. Dutton, United States Geological Service. Te Papa (RB001314)

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Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary history of the Grand Cañon district, 1882, by Clarence E. Dutton, United States Geological Service. Te Papa (RB001314)

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Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary history of the Grand Cañon district, 1882, by Clarence E. Dutton, United States Geological Service. Te Papa (RB001314)

‘You never know what’s going to come up next’: On 26 years at Te Papa

The library has moved around a bit. When I started in 1992 it was in a custom-built building at the back of the old museum (built to absorb the Royal Society library in 1991).

We moved to the fifth floor at Te Papa a bit after it opened, then down to the fourth floor where we were open to the public seven days a week for several years. That was always interesting, because you never knew what people were going to ask you.

Then we moved to our present location, and I relocated to Tory St, where I’m mainly looking after the Science and Conservation people.

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Christine and Atlas to Accompany the Tertiary history of the Grand Cañon district, 1882, by Clarence E. Dutton, United States Geological Service. Te Papa (RB001314)

One of the best things about working here has been the range of subject material. You never know what’s going to come up next.

The first day I started we went over to the main building for morning tea (you could just about fit everyone into the tearoom at that stage). One of the first people I met was then-Curator entomology Ricardo Palma, and he was talking about head lice being found in an ancient Egyptian comb. I remember thinking that this was going to be a whole new sort of job experience (I’d been at Defence before that).

The late Cheryll Sotheran once said of working at Te Papa that you may be frustrated, but you’ll never be bored, and I think that sums it up pretty well.

6 Responses

  1. Lucy

    Hi Christine. What a lovely blog. Good luck for your next chapter (pun intended), and I’m sure it will include many books – maybe you’ll even have time to read them! Because despite what people say, Librarian’s don’t just sit around reading all day… Best of luck. Arohanui, Lucy J

    Reply
    • Christine Kiddey

      Hi Lucy
      Read them and collect far too many of them, alas! Good to hear from you

      Christine

  2. adele

    I love old books, have here at home a very old copy off THE POETICAL WORKS of Dr Johnathon Swift published 1787. Perhaps I should donate it to Te Papa?
    I did have another old book but have donated it to Carterton and Mayor John Booth has it now, it was written by Charles Rooking Carter in London in 1870 and published in London in 1875, about Charles and family travels around England and Continent, bought it on line before Christmas at a very good price!!! Also have another ancient book on Masons.. think its 1850… I must be a book worm!

    Reply
    • Christine Kiddey

      Hi Adele

      It would be out of scope for us, but thank you for the thought. The world needs bookworms!

      Christine

  3. Janet

    I can understand why you picked this book. I still miss being able to pop into the Library at Te Papa and experience all the gorgeous books you looked after. It was such a treat to have have access to such special books.

    Reply
    • Christine Kiddey

      Hi Janet
      Nice to hear from you. I’m going to miss those gorgeous books, too!
      Christine

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