Mann Lecture musings

man, Seth Lerer, standing in front of room speaking

The 2016 Charles W. Mann Jr. Lecture in the Book Arts was given March 31, 2016, by Seth Lerer, distinguished professor of literature at the University of California at San Diego, on “Children’s Literature and the Art of the Book,” in Foster Auditorium. Photo by Wilson Hutton.

by Athena Jackson, Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair and head of Special Collections

Last Thursday afternoon, hardly a fortnight into my new role, I was immersed in the activity of one of Penn State Libraries’ most treasured annual events, the Charles W. Mann, Jr. Lecture, wonderfully arranged by Sandra Stelts, curator of rare books and manuscripts.

Affectionately called the “Mann Lecture,” this regular series started in 2002 and features lectures by enthusiastic experts on anything that might be considered an aspect of the book arts, broadly construed. We endeavor to sustain the spirit, dedication, and energy of Charley Mann, the first director of the Special Collections Library. Without a doubt, last Thursday’s talk fit the bill with our esteemed speaker Prof. Seth Lerer.

Lerer’s stimulating and scholarly talk wove together a tale of children’s literature and its art from the first instances of storytelling imagery intended for children in the ancient times to the modern era of that famous boy-wizard, Harry Potter. Lerer offered our captivated audience an opportunity to reinvigorate an existing or cultivate a new appreciation of the art of the illustration alongside the art of the words that paint images in the “museum of the mind” of the child in all of us.

Many members of the audience will agree that Lerer’s own storytelling prowess suspended time as we playfully, yet keenly, examined children’s literature with plenty of fodder for rethinking and reimagining the history of reading and how it segues to a technologically connected present. History doesn’t stop with the analog, to be sure!

horizontal image of Sandra Stelts and Seth Lerer in Special Collections Library Exhibition Room

Sandra Stelts, curator of rare books and manuscripts, shows the “Metamorphosis” moveable book facsimile to U.C. San Diego Professor Seth Lerer, the 2016 Charles W. Mann Jr. lecturer, in the Special Collections Library Exhibition Room. Photo by Wilson Hutton.

It is an honor to follow in the footsteps of past directors since Charley who had the foresight to keep the Mann Lecture as a cornerstone of our local programming. Learning from our past to understand the present and prepare for the future is a tall order. And, it is my goal that at your Special Collections Library you will find much of what you need, and the knowledgeable friendly staff, to begin your discoveries to do so.

I am already excited about what we will be planning for next year, and with the insight and support of a creative and innovative team at the Eberly Family Special Collections Library, I am confident you will always keep the Mann Lecture dates on your calendars and delighted for what’s to come.

Don’t miss our exhibit “Playing to Learn, Learning as Play: 17th- to 19th-century ‘Play-things’ for Children” on display through June 3 in the Special Collections Library, 104 Paterno Library, on Penn State’s University Park campus.