After I wrote my previous post on finding those two books containing Sir John A. MacDonald’s autographs, I remembered another discovery of mine.
I found this friendly fellow – with excellent hipster facial hair, I might add – as I was recataloguing books the other day. He looks to me like he belongs in one of Edward Lear’s nonsense poems, like this chap here:
Our bewhiskered gentleman friend peers out from page 64 of a 1702 text on The Practice of Courts-Leet and Courts-Baron. Courts-what? Since I can’t very well post on a law blog without offering some legal content, here’s the answer, taken from Wikipedia’s straightforward summary:
At a very early time in medieval England the Lord of the Manor exercised or claimed certain jurisdictional rights over his tenants and bondsmen concerning the administration of his manor and exercised those rights through his “court baron”. The main business of the court baron was the resolution of disputes involving a lord’s free tenants within a single manor, the enforcement of the feudal services owed to the lord of the manor by his tenants, and the admission of new tenants. The court had no power to deal with criminal acts; however, criminal jurisdiction could be granted to a trusted lord by the Crown by means of an additional franchise, giving to the lord the prerogative rights he owed feudally to the king. The most important of these was the “view of frankpledge”, by which tenants were held responsible for the actions of others within a grouping of ten households. In the later Middle Ages, the lord, when exercising these powers, gained the name of “leet”, which was a jurisdiction of a part of a county; hence the franchise was of “court leet”. The quo warranto proceedings of Edward I established a sharp distinction between the court baron, exercising strictly manorial rights, and the court leet, depending for its jurisdiction upon royal franchise. However in many areas it became customary for the two courts to meet together. Over time, serious cases were increasingly reserved for itinerant justices and the local courts restricted themselves to petty misdemeanours only. After the 16th century, the duties of the court leet were increasingly transferred to justices of the peace, though some courts leet continue to function in England.
Tuck that trivia away, and use it at a party. It’s a guaranteed conversation starter. For another definition, you can try out the always reliable Britannica, or consult Warren Ortman Ault’s Private Jurisdiction in England, available from our catalogue. But be honest – could you make it through a chapter on courts leet without even a single doodle to stave off the tedium? Doodle away — in two hundred years your book might in the hands of a historian. 
This image is amusing, no doubt, but it is also a great example of what we often look for in rare books: unique qualities. You sometimes hear the partial quotation, “books have their own destinies” (“Habent sua fata libelli” for all you fancy Latinists out there). Once a book is published and sent out into the world, anything can happen. Sometimes, over the centuries, one particular volume may acquire features that distinguish it from its brothers and sisters – a new binding, a stamp, an inscription, marginalia, or yes, even a doodle. This bonus content, as I like to consider it, can be enormously informative in the hands of a capable scholar. For instance, in the discipline of book history, determining the habits of readers long ago is notoriously difficult, but markings in books, however slight, might offer insight. Scholar H.J. Jackson devoted book length study to the readers writing in their books, available over in Scott Library.
Here at Osgoode, we’re doing our part to locate and catalogue such features. To do so, we’re editing existing catalogue records to add “genre headings” (please excuse my jargon). Genre headings allow librarians more options in their cataloguing. Catalogue records for most items in the library will contain typical fields indicating author, title, subject, publication information, etc, that all serve as access points to the item. If librarians want to add another piece of information / access point for which the usual catalogue record does not make allowances (for instance, content type, media type, carrier type, genre types, and form and physical characteristics, as listed by the Library of Congress) they can consult an appropriate LC approved thesaurus or glossary, find the term that describes what they desire to describe, and pop it into the record while citing the source of that term. With genre headings, instead of looking through every single book in our library to see which of them have inscriptions (or doodles or any other feature), we can simply search our catalogue for records with the appropriate genre-heading, eg, “Inscriptions”.
To see how this all comes together, take a look at our catalogue record for The Practice of Courts-Leet and Courts-Baron, or for the books featured in our last post, Chitty’s Precedents, and click the “Staff View” tab. This offers a look at the item’s MARC (MAchine-Readable Cataloguing) record, which breaks the record you’re used to into its coded data fields. You’ll find genre headings down in the 655 field. In this field, the word in subfield marked “|a” is “Markings”, a catch-all phrase to denote “any distinctive feature impressed manually or mechanically” on or in the book. The “|2” subfield indicates the source of the heading “Markings”. In this case we find “rbprov”, which means that this particular genre heading came from the Library of Congress’s Provenance Evidence: Thesaurus for Use in Rare Book and Special Collections Cataloguing. All of this to-do with thesauri and exact terminology stems from a very important concept in library science known as “authority control”. Who’d have thought the most despotic phrase in the entire English language would come from a librarian? It sounds ominous, but it’s really just a way to make sure we’re all referring to something with the same language – so we all say “markings”, for example, instead of “doodles,“ “scribbles,” or “neat stuff found in books”.
Our books have worth in themselves as documents of ages past, but with this continued project of cataloguing these unique and informative elements, we might be able to piece together these little fragments of evidence to tell another story.