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Collecting Books in the Modern World

Ardent collector and UNLV alumna Beverly Rogers on the value of books as historic artifacts.

People  |  Nov 10, 2015  |  By Cate Weeks
Beverly Rogers

UNLV alumna Beverly Rogers during installation of the Victorian Publishing Practices exhibit now on display in the Black Mountain Institute reading room for faculty and students.

Editor's Note: 

This is part of a series on the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute (BMI), an international literary center dedicated to promoting discourse on today's most pressing issues. 

A bibliophile can easily wax poetic about her love of tangible pages, crafted covers, and that comforting aroma of ink and paper, but in today’s age of iPads and audiobooks, is collecting physical books anachronistic?

That’s a fair question, especially amidst all the redline remainders at big-box stores, said Beverly Rogers, ’77 BA History, ’06 MA English. “But I don’t think book collecting is going away anytime soon, not after this many thousands of years. There’s a huge contingent worldwide of people who understand that the book is a historical artifact just as a dinosaur bone is a scientific artifact.”

Rogers is a namesake of the Beverly Rogers, Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute (BMI) and of the recently remodeled building that houses the literary center, the English department and the Honors College. She has bequeathed her 1,200-volume collection of rare books to BMI.

historic books

“I started collecting in 1997 when Jim and I got married,” she said, referring to her late husband, Jim Rogers, a former chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education and supporter of UNLV. “We were doing a lot of traveling and I found this memoir in an airport (Used & Rare: Travels in the Book World) about a couple who were simply trying to find unique gifts for each other. They were new to collecting, and they weren’t rich. They showed me that anyone can become a collector.”

While her own collections include authors she loves — Joseph Conrad, George Eliot, John Steinbeck — she also collects to preserve, document, and study publishing industry practices, particularly of the Victorian era. So alongside the leather-clad first editions are examples of the bound magazines that first published Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and novels that would be delivered “in parts” through a 19-month subscription. She also collects “the works” of Thomas J. Wise, a 19th century bibliophile and creative forger.

“The material object can tell us so much,” she said. “From the title page to the fonts to the printing to the binding — I love the minutiae of it. I love the fact that these things are being saved from obscurity.”

This leads to her advice for novice collectors: Collect books you love. Talk to booksellers — they’re quite honest and helpful individuals — and find a purpose or direction, but don’t be afraid to make mistakes as you develop your collection’s focus. “The point is just to start.”