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Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Special Literary Darwin Award

Every so often we hear it; the horror story that makes not only our collector’s collective hair stand on end, but everyone else collective general public’s hair stand on end. This week it was the story of the rare, shredded ancient Chinese books. That’s right, mega dittoes to the dumbest thing I’ve heard yet, one of the biggest blows against literacy that hit at an International Level. The worthy librarians of my alma mater, Augustana, not the one in Sioux Falls, who just chaired my wonderful neighbor Prof. Roger Rabbit, shredded a set of ancient Chinese texts,! Probably, they are now in a heap in Prof. Roger Rabbit’s garbage cum compost pile. One of the real professors discovered the sacrilege and went to the media. When the books were first donated to Augie Doggie’s library, they were worth, in the 1990s, $8,000. Now, they were worth around $50,000. Mere change, apparently, in the great non-profit empire. The defense of the loonie librarians; well, one book was missing. Oh, gee, now it’s worth only $30,0000.

And, wait, there’s more! They’ve been doing this all along, because like Margie R., and the rest of the well educated library scienced mavens, they claimed no one had told them not to do it!

Ah books, Ah humanity, Ah, Project Bartleby. Those books, and others, lasted for centuries. The digital e-book kindles, nookie Nooks, etc., can be gone in a flash of lightening, made obsolete in weeks, even days. We really are a throw away society, but then, there were the dark rumors of dumpsters coming in dead of night to BHC to haul away books people had left to The College.

In the good old days, we had book sales, and I used to walk down to the bowels of the old marble library designed once to be a mausoleum, to the basement lair of Mr. Sims, reference librarian and archivist, in his late seventies, widowed, and slightly dapper and English in accent. If he liked you, he sold you books, and gave you books. Whole sets of Hugo, Sherman’s My Life among the Indians, an 1847 Jane Eyre, Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte, a 1749 German Bible, art folios and prints, dozens of museum brochures, fifties novels, G.Wilson Knight on Shakespeare, all mine. Still mine. Treasured, studied, used, these many years.

I wonder if my Augie librarian friends are the descendants of the monks who burned most of The Popol Vuh. May the ghost of Dr. Bergendoff, whose library card was his painting on the wall across from the circulation desk, haunt their dimwitted souls forever. I think of my friend Mary Hillier making a plea for antique dolls and writing about how priceless Queen Anne dolls were used for kindling! And of course, there are the collector police, the anti “hoarders” who never had anything, and don’t want anyone else to have it, either. Well, antiquarian book collectors unite, we have nothing to lose but our acid free paper, and we will lower the temperature from Fahrenheit 451.

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