July 2010 | L. D. Mitchell

Book Collecting for Posterity

We all collect according to our interests and circumstances.  And we often begin our book collecting adventures with very little thought as to what exactly a new-found collecting interest might eventually entail in terms of time, money and effort expended.  

There's absolutely nothing wrong with this.  Some of the world's greatest book collections have begun serendipitously and proceeded willy-nilly for a number of years.  At some point, though, virtually every book collector realizes that he or she will not live forever.  Thus it is that book collectors often devise some sort of plan to better utilize their remaining years and resources.

These plans run the gamut from very simple to very complex.  The best of these can easily hold their own against the collection development plans of professional librarians.  It sometimes dawns upon book collectors who have reached this point that they no longer are collecting for themselves...they are collecting for posterity.

Of course, a few especially thoughtful collectors may actually begin their book collecting adventures with a plan firmly in place.  More frequently, though, most book collectors simply...begin.  Especially for book collecting that is generated by a response to something "in the news," it may be years before any sort of plan suggests itself.  

Consider the BP oil spill.  How does one build a meaningful book collection about this event, given that the impact of the event may not be fully known for decades?  

Perhaps one starts by adding to one's bookshelves titles about oil spills in general (mindful that such titles have been published for both adult and juvenile markets).  One may discover that oil companies (and their suppliers) have published a great many titles that anticipate the possibility of oil spills (response guides and the like) , and thus these also may be added to one's bookshelves.  What else?

Biographies, autobiographies and histories of the major players (British Petroleum, Tony Hayward, etc.) would seem to be important for such a collection.  As would material published in response to the event (Congressional hearings; leaflets, broadsides and other ephemeral printed material issued by activists in affected areas; etc.).  [Because the Federal Government is committed to making the documents of its various agencies available electronically, one may have to print such documents oneself to add them to one's bookshelves.]

As time passes, one also may be able to add to one's shelves scientific analyses of the spill's impact on various environments, local economies and so forth; technical treatises on how well the technologies deployed in response to the spill did or did not work; memoirs of particular individuals affected by the spill (local fishermen, politicians, etc.); and so on and so on and so on.

But this event is still unfolding, and so book collectors who are collecting in response to this event may be forgiven for not yet knowing exactly where they are going, or where they may eventually end up.  Whether they are collecting simply for themselves, or for posterity....