October 2009 Archives


In a rural area, you’ll find books for sale in unexpected places. Like the “hidden kitchens” featured in the NPR series, hidden bookstores offer nourishment off the beaten path.

In the Four Corners area--where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet--you’ll find bookshelves squeezed in near the coffee machine at the Dolores Market (pictured at left) in Dolores, Colo. (population 920). If you’re looking for a copy of a 1931 issue of Hound & Horn, they’ve got one. Just down the road in Mancos, Colo. (population 1,261), the Absolute Bakery & Café offers books along with baked goods. That’s where I once picked up a museum exhibition catalog on the work of Navajo folk artist Alfred Walleto. Then there’s sunny, book-lined Comb Ridge Coffee, located in a former trading post in Bluff, Ut. (population 300 or so).

Books: like coffee and groceries, they’re a staple. What’s your favorite hidden bookstore? Let us know.


Just a day shy of Halloween, Quirk Classics announced the next classic monster “mash-up.” Drum roll please... Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls. Billed as a prequel to the bestselling Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the book will follow Elizabeth Bennet as she begins her ninja training.


For anyone following Quirk (read about P&P&Z or Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters in our September digest), the announcement is slightly surprising; I was hoping they would pick a new classic author, instead of relying on Jane Austen again. Personally, I really enjoyed P&P&Z, but then again, as an Austen fan, I’m partial to P&P in the first place. The second Quirk Classic contained slightly more silliness - the publisher actually changed the formula from 85 percent “real” text to 60 percent - and that made it less appealing to me, but it will probably engage more teenaged readers. Both are national bestsellers, so they must be doing something right.


The publisher has also revamped the Quirk Classics website, and it is definitely worth a look, very Indiana-Jones-meets-rare-book-room.

While I was at the Golden Gate Park Book Fair Sunday, I answered a lot of questions for those who visited my booth. I’m used to the typical questions asked at book fairs about old books, rare books, and bookselling. What I wasn’t expecting was this question from three people who were wandering the fair together:

“Would you mind if we took a picture of that book?”

“Uh . . . I guess not. Sure, you can take a photo of it.”

A few minutes later they were still wandering through the booth taking pictures of many of my other books.

I tried to figure out if they were bloggers, like me, who might be posting the pictures of the books in a post about the fair. Or, perhaps they loved the books and didn’t have the cash to buy them so they thought a photo would suffice.

Since the four of us were squeezed in my tiny, 8′ x 10′ booth, I eavesdropped on their conversation. I know I shouldn’t have, but I was curious (and maybe just a little bit uncomfortable) about why they would want to take so many photos of my books.

“Oh my God! Did you see this one? Quick! Get a picture of it.”

“Check this one out!”

“Someone please tell me why don’t we still make covers that look like this one! This title is hilarious.”

Paranoia began to take over. What if they wrote a blog post about how not to sell books and used pictures of my books and my booth as examples? Or what if they were booksellers and what if they used images of my books to sell their own?

Paranoia is an ugly thing. One’s imagination can make one’s thoughts entirely irrational.

I couldn’t stand by and smile silently any longer.

Finally, I said, “So, do you mind if I ask why you’re taking pictures of so many books?”

“Oh. Sure. We’re book designers. We work for Chronicle Books. We’re at the fair to get inspiration.”

What a relief!

“Take as many pictures as you like to inspire you,” I told them.

I had to laugh.

When I was in college (aeons ago), I spent every summer vacation and winter break working as an intern for Chronicle Books. Back in 1987 it was a very small (I think about 15 or 20 employees) company owned by the same family who owned The San Francisco Chronicle. I loved working there. I used to take the train to the City every day and walk through the (then) gritty neighborhood to the office at Fifth and Folsom. As an intern, I rotated to different departments, sometimes working for Operations, sometimes working for Editorial, and sometimes working for Publicity. The people there were nice and took time to teach me things about publishing. Though I didn’t work there after college, I still remember the people I met there and the days I spent there with fondness. It’s fun and flattering to think that some of the books I’d chosen to retail for my own business might be providing inspiration to a former employer.

It’s also nice to know that in this era of digital books and cheaply made mass-market paperbacks some book designers are looking to the past to design the future.

See you in the stacks!

Oxford trees 2 low res.JPGI hop off my bicycle as I pull in to Oxford, a tiny town on Maryland’s eastern shore. It’s my first visit but I’m quickly confused by what I see. The sun is cascading down through the orange and red leaves of trees huddling up in a park by the edge of the Tred Avon River. Beyond them, cruise ships and sail boats on the Chesapeake Bay slide their way between celestial blue seas and skies. Behind me, bed-and-breakfasts with white picket fences dot the street leading to a ferry but they, like most of the restaurants, seem devoid of people.

Why is a place this beautiful so deserted?

My eyes light up when I spot an independent book shop across the street. Housed inside an old bank building, it is open for business. I’m certain the proprietor must be there, ready to ply me with an answer to my query and enough books to stuff the saddlebags I threw on my bike when I started my flat-as-an-endpaper ride through Easton, Oxford and St. Michael’s. I had been told it was a biker’s paradise; I didn’t know I’d discover the same is true for bibliophiles.

Kathy Harig, the owner of Mystery Loves Company, tells me that the town may be asleep today as it’s the off-season but that her shop does solid business year-round. Since moving her store here from Baltimore four years ago, she has focused on serving both the well-read mystery reader and locals who love the array of other offerings. Then there’s the constant stream of people like me who accidentally stumble on to her doorstep. 

Mystery owner 1 low res.JPG
“There’s a lot of stuff in this town but it’s tucked away,” says Harig, a former librarian who decided to buy the store -- then named The Butler Did It -- when she overhead two people at an American Library Association conference talking about its availability. “But it’s probably easier to find it on the Internet than in person.”

We continue chatting as I pile up a nice stack of my favorite kinds of souvenirs. I’m drawn to books I see inside the bank vault as I had never set foot inside one before. Here she keeps her signed first editions by mystery writers she has collected and hosted over the past two decades. I know nothing about the genre so she recommends John Dunning’s novel, The Bookman’s Wake. It’s about a book collector.


The vault is also home to mystery writers ranging from Laura Lippman -- creator of the Tess Monaghan series set in Baltimore -- to Washington D.C. resident and crime writer George Pelecanos.

Harig also tells me about local authors in other genres whose work line her shelves and cabinets. She pulls down Helen Chappell, whom she describes as the “Garrison Keillor of Maryland’s eastern shore.” She points to children’s writers like Priscilla Cummings of Santa Claws fame, and non-fiction writers that participate in her “Scribes of the Shore” events: Ian Scott, a former World Bank director, wrote about restoring his boat. Poet and Pulitzer Prize nominee Sue Ellen Thompson is there.

I make my final selections and add a t-shirt I can’t resist. “Real men read!” it declares
Harig hands me my receipt. I glance out the back window to the river and ocean, mentioning that I still don’t get why Oxford isn’t packed year-round. It’s just so beautiful.

“If you like nature and you like to experience it quietly,” she says, “this is definitely the place for you. It is amazing to me -- when you look at all the resources we have -- that the stores and restaurants aren’t open all the time.”

It’s a mystery to me, too, but a fortuitous one. I exit the book shop and see one of the bed-and-breakfasts with a white picket fence. Let everyone else keep away: I’ll be happy to have Oxford all to myself.

I am carefully wading out of a sea of boxes full of books and portable book cases strewn across my dining room/office to give you a full report on this past weekend’s Golden Gate Park Book Fair, held in the Hall of Flowers in San Francisco’s beautiful Golden Gate Park. After that, I’ll have to dive back in until all the books are put back on the shelves again.

The Golden Gate Park fair was the first one I have done (and I’ve done nine fairs in the two and a half years I’ve been in business) where there was a long line of people waiting to enter when the doors opened. The fair’s organizer did a great job getting the word out about the time and location of the fair. In addition to the bibliophilic crowd were the many people who were out and about walking through Golden Gate Park on a beautiful (75 degree) Sunday who were likely drawn in by curiosity and by the free admission. The aisles were filled with people from opening until closing time. Having occasionally done a fair where the aisles are so empty the booksellers could have used them as golf fairways, the sight of so many people at a book fair made me so happy.

That said, I would characterize the customers at this fair as readers and book lovers but not necessarily book collectors (with a few exceptions, of course). What that means is I sold a lot of books, but the books I sold were in the $10-$25 range, books which are usually overlooked at the larger fairs with paid admission. What that also means is that there were many people in attendance who were like me several years ago. That is to say that I heard comments ranging from, “I never knew old books could be so beautiful!” to “Why would anyone pay $100 for an old book?” to (my personal favorite because I said it myself when I “discovered” the world of antiquarian books), “Why didn’t I know these type of books existed before today?”

There are a couple of ways booksellers view such potential customers. Some might refer to such book fair attendees as “looky-lou’s” because the person looks at the books and perhaps comments that they’re lovely but doesn’t buy any of them. Another bookseller might call such a customer a “tire-kicker”. This usually refers to a book lover who browses the books for sale, takes one off the shelf and then handles the book, often rather, er, exuberantly, perhaps opening it too far or bending pages when turning them. Such a customer usually has little or no experience handling old books. I’ve seen their book-handling methods make booksellers twitch.

The third way, and the way I think most booksellers assess such book fair visitors, is to see this as an opportunity to expose people to the world of antiquarian books, to book collecting, and to the fun of seeking and finding the perfect book. I was very impressed with the way so many people asked questions about the books -- “How old is this one?” “How do I know if it’s a first edition?” “Why is this book considered significant?” “How do I learn to do this?” Before I was a bookseller, I often attended fairs but NEVER asked questions unless I planned to buy a book. I was way too intimidated by either the books’ usually high prices or by the sometimes silent manner of the booksellers.

Yep. I was a “looky-lou”. I am officially ashamed to say that I did not have the self-confidence to ask questions so I could learn more. Now I still need to learn even more, but I’ve learned not to be afraid to ask questions. Many booksellers are so happy to have someone to talk to about books that they are thrilled to answer your questions. And if you find a rude seller, might I suggest trying again at another booth? While there are a few who genuinely seem to dislike people, most booksellers love to talk about books and are happy to talk to you at a book fair.

Once I observed that most of the people at this particular fair were not going to be buying rare books, I took the opportunity to explain to them why they might want to do so in the future and why it is so fun to build a collection in any field (not just the “expensive book” field) and how to go about doing so.

By the end of the day, I sold more than half of my book case filled with $10 books and had sales of a few more expensive books. I did make a profit, though smaller than my average for larger fairs, but I also think I may have attracted a few more potential book collectors (maybe even booksellers?) to the trade and that is always a good thing.

I bought a few interesting titles, and I hope to show those to you soon. Buying books and discovering new stock is another of the many benefits of book fairs.

Would you believe that in my rush to leave the house for the fair I forgot my camera? Sorry to say I did. I would have liked to show you pictures of my booth and of the bright, light-filled Hall of Flowers.

I have to run now, but tomorrow I’ll tell you about the mysterious customers who asked if they could photograph the books in my booth.

See you in the stacks!

Last week, an email popped up in my inbox that contained a 15-minute video tour of the Bienes Museum of the Modern Book (in Fort Lauderdale, FL). For some reason, putting the word “museum” with the word “book” sends my brain off toward a memory of a cartoon I saw - in the New Yorker, perhaps? - that depicts two futuristic museum-goers puzzling over an object in an exhibit case, until one of them says, “I think it’s a book.”


I was intrigued enough to watch the whole video, which was pretty cool. It showcases both the collection and the facility. So you can see books and objects from the museum’s strongest collections: ABC books, pop-up books, comics, books created by WPA writers and Florida writers. You also can tour around the reading room, exhibit space and vault. What impressed me most was how the video producers thought to include the behind-the-scenes processes, such as cataloging and preservation.


Is there a difference between a “museum” and a special collections department or library? There doesn’t seem to be many book “museums,” in the U.S. Even the other three that come to mind have a slightly different focus. I invite readers to add to my list.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art

The Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums

IMG_4352 SLClib.jpg

When I tell people that I live in Utah now, the first thing they ask is, Do you ski? After I explain that I’m in the other Utah, the red rock canyon country in the southern part of the state, I also put in a plug for Salt Lake City’s great book-related resources. They include the Marriott Library at the University of Utah, Ken Sanders Rare Books, and Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore.

Books new and old are in the spotlight this week at the Utah Book Festival, October 21-25 in Salt Lake City, presented by the Utah Humanities Council. On Saturday, October 24, the events at the fabulous Main Library, aka the City Library, include:

  • 1:30 pm: Rare Books Roadshow with booksellers Ken Sanders and Tony Weller. Bring your items for evaluation, or just enjoy the show.
  • 3 pm: Allison Hoover Bartlett, author of The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession, in conversation with Ken Sanders.
  • All day: book arts workshops and demos presented by the Book Arts Program at the Marriott Library.

For details see the festival calendar. And then, if you can tear yourself away from the book festival, I’d recommend a hike. This is Utah, after all.


Pardon the pun, but who knew C.G. Jung was a talented rubricator? From 1914 to 1930, the famous psychologist worked on what he believed would be his greatest work, The Red Book. The topic was psychotherapy, and he illustrated the volume with more than 200 illuminated pages, paintings and calligraphy.


Alas, it remained unpublished and unknown to all but a few devout followers. Until yesterday. W.W. Norton & Co. published a 404-page facsimile edition and translation of Jung’s magnum opus, complete with color illustrations that the publisher likens to a “Book of Hours.” According to the publisher’s website and Amazon.com, the book, which retails for $195, is already out of stock.

That old saw that book collectors like to recite that “anything can be anywhere,” can, quite honestly, waste a lot of your time.  I think that’s one reason that sites like AbeBooks and Biblio.com have become so popular -- they are, if nothing else, efficient.

I have also noticed -- and I don’t know if it is just me -- that flea market books are decidedly less interesting.  It has been awhile since I’ve found anything of note in such a place.  I think the access to price data on used books has greatly reduced the chances of finding something noteworthy.

But I keep looking, and if nothing else, I will occasionally find something of interest to me personally, even if it is not particularly valuable. 

This past weekend, for example, with a little extra time on my hands while in Greenville, NC, I decided to duck into an “antique” store to look around.  This involved actually parking the car, and I was torn about stopping in the first place.  When I entered, I was greeted promptly with, “We close at 5.”

“What time is it now?” I asked.

“It’s five ‘til five,” the clerk responded.  Should I turn and leave or give it a quick walk-thru.

“I’ll just be a minute,” I said.  With no books in sight, this wouldn’t take long, but about two minutes into my efforts, I spotted five or six books, which, even from a distance, I could tell were an assortment of old college yearbooks.  As I stepped closer, two were titled Yachety Yack, which I recognized as the yearbook of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.  I can’t say why I knew that, exactly, since I never attended there, but my father had, and perhaps he had mentioned it along the way.  I pulled the books out, and what struck me first was how much thinner the 1942 yearbook was than the 1941.  World War II, of course, had drained so many of the college boys away from campus in just a single year.

Although my father had never purchased a college yearbook -- he professed to being too poor for one -- I realized that with him having been born in 1920, he was almost certainly among the students in one of these books.  Sure enough, among the junior class in 1941, he was there -- nineteen or twenty years old, looking younger than I had ever seen him.  When you stare into a photograph of a parent in their youth, you really open a floodgate of emotions. You know this person hadn’t yet thought of you -- hadn’t thought perhaps about much of anything. 

I quickly looked through the 1942 yearbook, but of course, my father was not there.  He had gone to war, as I knew he had, and although he later became a doctor, he would never return to Carolina to finish his undergraduate degree.  After the war, I suppose, everything was different.

I bought the yearbook, of course -- $35, which was overpriced but yet a bargain to me.  I made the store clerk happy that she had waited a few extra moments, and for myself, I understood all over again the value of a book.

Sometimes we book lovers lament the state of the printed book. Will it be overtaken by electronic media? Why are so many booksellers closing their shops? Why are libraries using valuable floor space, once the real estate province of books, for computers? Everywhere we look, it seems that fewer and fewer care about the printed book.

But if we take the time to look closely, we can find those who dedicate their lives and livelihoods to books. They’re out there. Here’s one example:

For those of you bibliophilic readers who live in the Bay Area or are planning a visit here, be sure to schedule some time to visit San Francisco’s newest addition to the preservation of book history: The American Bookbinders Museum.

Founded by Tim James of Taurus Bookbindery, the museum and all it holds was featured in a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle. You can read it by clicking here. The museum and its website have interesting exhibits of and information about equipment, manuals, documents, bookbinders, and endpapers.

Those of you interested in bookbinders’ tickets, the little stickers and tags often found on the endpaper of an old book, should feast your eyes on the collection at the museum.

I haven’t had a chance to visit here myself, but I plan to go soon. The museum is located in San Francisco at 1962 Harrison Street and is open 12-4pm on Saturdays or by appointment. Admission is free. The phone number is (415) 710-9369.

See you at the museum!

History in the grand tradition--including one new edition of a classic written 2,500 years ago--comprise my choices for this current batch of new releases, each one worthy of your attention.

emplib.JPGEmpire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, by Gordon S. Wood; New  York, Oxford University Press, 778 pages, $35.

Gordon S. Wood, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize for The Radicalism of the American Revolution, here offers a painstaking account of the United States of America during its first quarter-century, a continuum that takes in the formation of the Republic and the beginning of nationhood under the Constitution, and follows through to the War of 1812. It is a period, as David M. Kennedy, general editor of the Oxford History of the United States--of which this is the latest installment (three earlier titles in the series have also won Putlizers)--was an “astonishingly volatile, protean movement that lay between the achievement of national independence and the emergence of a swiftly maturing mass democracy and modern economy in the Jacksonian era.” Wood’s approach takes in politics, law, the economy and popular culture, and anticipates the great battle that will divide the country by the middle of the nineteenth century. One ominous note at book’s end is the realization that despite Northern opposition, slavery was stronger in 1815 than it had been in 1789. Wood’s effort--30 years in the making--has all the earmarks of being a standard work.

Keegan.JPGThe American Civil War: A Military History, by John Keegan; New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 396 pages,$35.

In more than twenty books over the past half-century, the British scholar John Keegan has established himself as the outstanding military historian of his generation, with several of his works, most notably The Face of Battle, The Second World War, The Mask of Command,  The Price of Admiralty and A History of Warfare, acclaimed as classics in their own time. In his last book, Keegan offered a cogent analysis of the Iraq War; now, he applies his outstanding grasp on the nature of human conflict to offer a fresh evaluation of the American Civil War. He opens thusly: “I began an earlier book with the sentence ‘The First World War was a cruel and unnecessary war.’ The American Civil War, with which it stands comparison, was also certainly cruel, both in the suffering it inflicted on the participants and the anguish it caused to the bereaved at home. But it was not unnecessary.” Among the numerous areas he explores are psychology, ideology, and demographics, but most tellingly, the role of geography in the unfolding course of the war. One of the more astonishing findings: “about 10,000 battles, large and small, were fought in the United States between 1861 and 1865. This enormous number of battles, seven for every day the war lasted, provides the principal key to the nature of the war. Americans fought as frequently as they did in the Civil War because they could find no other way to prosecute the conflict. Economic warfare, excepting blockage, was not an option.”

Dickstein.JPGDancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, by Morris Dickstein; New York, W. W. Norton, 598 pages, $29.95.

A great deal has been written about the long national nightmare of the Great Depression, with numerous interpretations offered as to its causes, concerns made especially relevant by the recent downturn in the economy that has had many people recalling the bad old days. But none, to my knowledge, have taken on the subject in a true cultural sense--the films, the novels, the architecture, the music, the photography, the penetrating images that continue to resonate of those dark days. Morris Dickstein, professor of English and theater at CUNY Graduate Center in New York and author previously of Gates of Eden and Leopards in the Temple has fashioned a remarkable narrative of the times that is a model of interdisciplinary technique, and a true joy to read. The Empire State Building, Citizen Kane, the Yellow Brick Road, Scarlett O’Hara, the Rockettes, the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair, John Steinbeck, Erskine Caldwell, James Agee, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White, Richard Wright, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas--it all fits in, and is all handled seamlessly. Dip into this, and you will quickly appreciate why Norman Mailer called Dickstein “one of our best and most distinguished critics of American literature.”

redflag.jpgThe Red Flag: A History of Communism, by David Priestland; New York, Grove Press, 676 pages, $30.

The official publication date for this big book is Nov. 9, the twentieth anniversary of when the Berlin Wall began to come down, the first vital sign that the twentieth century’s thunderous experience with Communism was entering its final stages. David Priestland, a lecturer in modern history at Oxford University, offers a sweeping overview of the phenomenon, tracing its roots to the  French Revolution, and carrying it forward into its continuing applications today in China, Cuba, and Korea. All the big names are here--Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky, Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara--and many others who are lesser known, but just as compelling. Drawing generously on the wealth of archival materials that have become available in recent years, he is able to offer fresh insights that do not rely entirely on the published works of others. Just as important, he writes in a lively, accessible style that never loses sight of the continuing drama. A massive, admirable effort.

Xenophon.JPGThe Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika, translated by John Marincola, edited by Robert B. Strassler. New York, Pantheon, 579 pages, $40.

This new translation of the ancient historian Xenophon’s Hellenika joins earlier editions in the Landmark series of Greek histories by Thucydides and Herodotus, and includes a fabulous selection of maps, annotations, photographs, illustrations and sixteen appendices written by notable classical scholars. This work covers the years between 411 and 362 B.C., a time when relations between Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Persia were extremely volatile. A student of Socrates, Xenophon was an Athenian who first served in the expedition against the Persian King Artaxerxes II, and later joined the Spartan army.
I must confess that parts of the Fine Books web site are a bit hard to use.  I learned this myself tonight when I went looking for anything on our site written by Joel Silver.  Joel, who is director of special collections at Indiana University, you might recall, wrote a column called Beyond the Basics for Fine Books & Collections during our heyday (if you can call it that). 

This search was prompted by an email I received earlier in the day from one of our still-disgruntled former subscribers complaining that we should still be publishing essays by Mr. Silver.  As much as we agree with that sentiment, for a variety of reasons, we haven’t been able to do so.

Even so, at least two of Mr. Silver’s wonderful essays are online, and I thought you might like a sampling.  The first is on marbled paper, which can be found here:


The other piece is on leaf books found here:


If you like Joel’s work, I will shamelessly plug the Fine Books back issue collections available in our store.  But if you prefer your reading matter digital and free, please explore our search engine on this site.  You might just find another one of Joel Silver’s gems.

Last Monday, October 5, 2009, Terry Belanger, founder of Rare Book School, gave a talk to the Book Club of California, a group which recently allowed the likes of me to become a new member. I was lucky enough to attend the event, held at the lovely University Club in San Francisco. The title of Belanger’s talk was “Eating the Seed Corn: Reflections on Institutional Sales of Rare Books”.

Given the controversy over the University of San Francisco’s recent sale of a few of its treasures from the Gleeson Library, including a Durer print of St. Jerome -- the patron saint of libraries -- I looked forward to what Terry Belanger had to say and figured that since he was speaking in San Francisco he would almost certainly bring up recent events.

Belanger’s speech served a lot of food for thought to donors, to institutions, to collectors/potential donors, and even to us antiquarian booksellers.

The talk was not so much a diatribe against USF specifically as it was an acknowledgment that deaccessioning happens but that it needn’t have happened the way it did at USF. Belanger covered some of the problems of bequests and donors and libraries and of the income to be derived from selling deaccessioned materials.

Here are some guidelines he recommended institutions take into consideration when they are faced with deaccessioning books:

* If multiple copies are owned, the inferior, not the superior, copy will be sold.
* The institution needs to honor the conditions of bequests. Failure to do so jeopardizes the trust of donors in making future bequests to any and all institutions.
* If books must be sold, the should be sold in a way that will realize the highest possible price.
* Association copies and those containing manuscript material will be retained.
* Deaccessioning could emphasize out-of-scope material.
* There should be advance, public disclosure of proposed deaccessioning.

Two other lists were covered by Belanger, which, if my notes are correct (sorry, but that’s unclear at this point -- any errors are mine), came from the New York Public Library. The nine kinds of deaccessioning deserve mention here:

1. The Deaccession Nugatory (getting rid of ephemeral materials)
2. The Deaccession Rapacious (wartime plunder)
3. The Deaccession Inadvertent (materials deaccessioned as worthless about which later generations think differently)
4. The Deaccession Censorious
5. The Deaccession Covert
6. The Deaccession Incendiary (of. Alexandria)
7. The Deaccession Extraneous
8. The Deaccession Duplicative
9. The Deaccession Remunerative

The last list was of factors institutions should consider when deaccessioning books:

1. Institutional goals
2. Crown Jewel aspects: great treasures need constant display
3. Integrity of bibliographical records: is the item listed as yours in a catalog or catalogs distributed throughout the world?
4. Preservation: the present physical condition of the item; the cost of preserving it; the cost of making it saleable
5. Security problems
6. Legal matters: get them straight
7. Original donor’s intentions
8. Public relations
9. An accession by definition makes something accessible; it follows that a deaccession does the reverse.

If someone who has access to the President of USF could courteously let him know about these ideas, he might see to it that, from this point forward, the university stops eating the “seed corn” and starts understanding that libraries and the books they hold provide the intellectual nourishment that a good university like USF purports to serve its students.

See you in the stacks!

The last couple of weeks have been pretty busy for me, starting off with a keynote address in Columbus, Ohio before the Ohio Preservation Council on the occasion of the group’s 25th anniversary--the theme for the event was irresistibly titled “A Celebration of Paper--followed in quick succession by presentations in Worcester, Mass., to benefit the Worcester Public Library and the Mid-Manhattan Branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

There were very nice audiences in attendance at each of the events, all of them reaffirming for me my abiding conviction that book people are the greatest. I was pleased to learn in Worcester that the main branch last year had more than a million people use their services, quite a testament in a city whose population is somewhere in the neighborhood of 180,000 people. If there is any municipal service anywhere that gives its residents more bang for their taxpayer dollars than the library, I’d like to know what it is. Doesn’t matter if you’re a senior citizen, an elementary school student, an immigrant looking for help, or a just casual reader interested in reading the new Dee Brown blockbuster, the library is there, doing it’s job--and with no lobbyists, either, pleading its case to the politicians who vote on budgets. I was one of three speakers--Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson, and historian Russell McClintock were the others--and we helped raise enough money to keep the library open on Sundays through the rest of the fall. Pretty cool.

The story was much the same in New York. The Mid-Manhattan branch is situated directly across Fifth Avenue from the main research library--the magnificent building featuring Patience and Fortitude, the wonderful lions carved of pink Tennessee marble, at the front door--and is six floors of activity, with public programs mounted pretty much every week-night, all of them free and open to everyone. Hats off to Cynthia Chaldekas, senior librarian there, and coordinator of all these events. A class act all around.

I would be remiss, finally, if I did not mention the great time I had last Sunday participating in the day-long program of activities organized by Hand Papermaking magazine, which included an introduction to the remarkable collection of papers from all eras and every continent--some 40,000 specimens all told--gathered over the years by Sidney Berger, a noted bibliophile and writer of books about books, who is also director of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. Sid’s wife, Michele Cloonan, is dean of the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Services, one of the top programs of its kind in the country, and an enthusiastic collector of paper and type specimens in her own right.

Also on the agenda was a visit to the International Paper Museum in Brookline, Mass., established by Elaine Koretsky, one of the outstanding scholars in papermaking history, justly celebrated as the Dard Hunter of her generation. I wrote a piece for Fine Books & Collections magazine two years ago about a trip I took to China with Elaine and a group of paper pilgrims, our goal to see paper as it has been made for more than two thousand years in the place where the skill was invented; it’s on my website in the travelogue section, with a bunch of photos I shot; check it out.
The Fine Books & Collections Compendium is mailing in about 10 days, and following a practice we began some time ago, I contacted the American Library Association in an effort to include special collections librarians who may not be subscribing to our magazine.

In 2007, when we first began doing this, the special collections librarian list totaled 875 names.  You could certainly argue that this list doesn’t represent all special collections librarians, but it certainly represents a benchmark.

When I received the counts for the current special collections list from the ALA, the total had fallen 620 names -- down by 155 librarians in two years.  Where did they go?

A primary responsibility of a special collections librarian is to catalog new works.  With an increase in technology and reduced budgets over the past two years, it is easy to see that the need to catalog new works is declining.  In a digital age, access to collections located “somewhere else” are readily available.  And one might argue that, in a digital age, the effort required to catalog a work is somewhat less challenging.

That said, I certainly believe that new collections are forming at an accelerated pace.  There isn’t less to do, there’s more.  So why the decline in librarians?

I think it comes down to budgets.  Nothing hurts like a crummy economy, and nearly every year, colleges, universities, private libraries, and other repositories of books fret over the state of things.  Truly, it’s not just this past year, it is seemingly every year.  There’s never enough money.

What will be the result of all this?  I think one day we’ll wake up and realize that there’s a lot of work to be done in special collections.  I’d like to think re-hiring will take place.  I certainly hope it’s soon.

For the past few years, the editors of Fine Books have been working with AbeBooks to help them answer their “Ask the Experts” questions for their e-letter.  The original plan was to field questions from readers, pass them along to AbeBooks booksellers, and build readership.  But this plan started going south almost from the beginning.

First of all, pulling a few answerable questions from the hundreds asked proved to be a challenge.  I’ll prove this point in just a minute when I reveal a few questions that we didn’t answer.  But once we did have a good question, it became difficult to find a bookseller to answer those questions.  Some just didn’t have the time.  We can appreciate that.  Others, however, really weren’t qualified to answer some of the questions, which wasn’t too much of a problem when the bookseller realized that and declined the question. The real problem, of course, came when they didn’t realize they weren’t qualified and answered the questions anyway.  It stands to reason that you can’t know everything about everything, but some people (and I know this will be hard to believe) including booksellers believe they are experts on all subjects.  Well, it was fun to watch, at any rate.

But back to the questions.  I thought it might be interesting to read some of the questions that didn’t get answered.  In many ways, these say much about the public understanding of rare books and even more about the public nature.  Punctuation, or lack thereof, is left “as is.” Here are some samples:

Hi.  I have 11 books in fair condition.  I think there is one missing.  Could you please tell me if they are worth anything.

I am in possession of Julius Cesar book issued by Penguin which was signed in 2005and little notes have been written by Ralph Fiennes, John Shrapnel, Fiona Show and many others. I am keen to find out what would the value of such a book be on the open market?

Hi, I’ve recently purchased a copy of the said book. It is volume 2 of an unknown amount, and measures around 5.5X3.5 inches, so is a small book. The condition is utterly lovely; better, in fact, than some modern books i own! I bought it in a small bookshop, and upon getting home, decided to research it. However, doing this, i can find none on ABE, and no reference to that title in the ESTC. Is this unusual, and is there anywhere else i might look? Firstly, out of curiosity, but also, as I would rather like to gain the other volumes too!

About 20 years ago a local Reverend was closing out his library.  At that time I knew so little about antique books. I asked him to show me his oldest book. I purchased a diminutive Almanac- 1777 (2 1/2” x 1/3/8”) Printed for the company of stationers. Did I make a good purchase?

I recently found a wonderful copy of Mark Twain’s book entitled “Life on the Mississippi” It is red, 481 PPS. and also says it is the “Author’s National Edition, Volume IX.  The copyright page says 1874 and 1875, by H. O. Houghton and Company and the second line says Copyright, 1883, 1899, 1903 by Samuel L. Clemens.  Under that it has a trademark by S. L. Clemens.

I have many old books from my father’s Antique Store and was wondering if any of them are valuable.

And so on.

What you realize in all this is that most people who come upon a book aren’t collectors and that they are motivated by value.  These aren’t typically the folks who are courted by rare book booksellers.  It’s also the reason why a television show like Antique Road Show, where experts assign values to items brought in by the unknowing, does so well.  People want to know values, and they love it when they’ve made a good find.

I actually find most of these questions charming.  Unfortunately, most are impossible to answer without seeing the item.  I really makes you wish that all those open used and rare bookshops hadn’t closed their doors in recent years and gone online.  There’s nothing quite like holding a book, especially if you want to know its worth.

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