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Patrick Spedding on banned books exposed

  • Date recorded: 18 Jul 2016

  • Duration: 54:49

'The mere existence of a closed Scruple room excites curiosity, speculation - since only the brave, the brazen, will go to the librarian and boldly name the book.'

- Patrick Spedding

About this video

In this entertaining 2016 Foxcroft Lecture, Dr Patrick Spedding discusses the history of 'private cases' - the restricted access collections of purportedly dangerous, indelicate or obscene books in libraries from the Vatican to the British Museum, from the New York Public Library (NYPL) to France's Bibliotheque Nationale, and even at State Library Victoria.

Patrick talks about Ralph Ginzburg, New York journalist and publisher of Eros magazine, who first brought the existence of private case collections to wider attention in the 1950s.

He describes the range, purpose and characteristics of private cases including the L'enfer ('Hell') collection at Bibliotheque Nationale, the Scruple collection at Boston Public Library, the Fire collection at the Bodleian Library, the Cage collection at NYPL, and the single-most important collection of English erotica anywhere, the Private Case at the British Museum.

Patrick explains the common librarian practice of discreetly cataloguing private cases using Greek letters like phi and delta, and symbols such as scruples, asterisks and stars. 

He closes with a discussion of the private case collection at State Library Victoria, where for 60 years the State Librarian presided over 'vulnerable books' locked in the dome annulus – the warren of rooms that encircle the dome, in which the Changing face of Victoria and World of the book (formerly Mirror of the world) exhibitions are now displayed.

This free lecture was held at the Library on 18 July 2016.


Dr Patrick Spedding was educated in Sydney, Hobart and Melbourne and received his PhD from Monash University in 2004. His doctoral project, A bibliography of Eliza Haywood, was published in 2004 and won the MLA Prize for a Distinguished Bibliography in 2006. From 2007–09 he was editor of Script and print, and an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow conducting research on 18th-century erotica. Since 2010 he has been a lecturer in Literary Studies and Associate Director for the Centre for the Book at Monash University.