Reflections on Collections at the Library

by Bill Peak

Mortality bothers me. No, really, it does. Especially my own. For instance, after I'm gone, will my heirs decide, as they wander about my house, that things aren't as clean as they might be, that the blinds need dusting, the rugs a good airing out? And what about my books? Like nosy guests, will my nieces and nephew—noticing the gaps on my shelves—find themselves thinking that, for all his airs, Uncle Bill wasn't really so well-read after all? I mean he hasn't even got any Stegner. And wasn't he always quoting Virginia Woolf at us? So where is “Mrs. Dalloway,” and where, pray tell, “To the Lighthouse”?

So, like a ghost whispering from the wings, I send out this lonely message to all those that come after me (cue the sound of dragging chains): “It is the gaps in a man's library, the works you expect to see and do not, that tell you the most about him; for these are not lacunae but landmarks, they denote not the places of works he failed to own but of those he owned and prized above all others, those whose contents meant so much to him he had to share them with the world. And now, as a result, they are missing, lent long ago to souls who, though they never returned them, may even now be gaining comfort from their message ... and so too (let us solemnly pray) the soul of the man who lent them.”

Similarly, the gaps on the shelves in the Talbot County Free Library have their tale to tell. While a favorite book at home might get pulled from the shelf three or four times in a decade, a popular work at the library can be taken down and read twenty times in the course of a single year. And so, over time, library books tend to show considerable wear and tear. A dedicated team of volunteers works hard to patch these up, but, eventually, a book reaches the point where, sooner or later, we know we shall have to replace it. The question then arises, with the library about to return to 100 West Dover Street, why pay to have books moved thence that will soon be tossed anyway? Similarly, why pay to have books moved that have grown outdated and, consequently, are no longer read at all?

So it is that, over the past year, the professional librarians on our staff have gently weeded our library's garden, with the result that a leaner, meaner (less-expensive-to-move) collection now awaits relocation to 100 West Dover. But the folks planning all this have proven themselves even more farsighted than that. A portion of the money raised for the project was, from the outset, set aside for the rebuilding and expansion (by some 9,000 volumes) of Talbot County's collection. New and replacement books have already been ordered. Shortly after we've returned to our beautiful new building, large intriguing crates full of these will begin arriving at our door. Imagine the treasure that awaits within.