Neatness Counts | Newberry

Neatness Counts

Our preference is for neat and tidy books. Books which have a lot of papers stuck inside lose those treasures (unless they enhance the book in some way, like this big coffee table book on William Glackens with the big color transparencies of Glackens paintings from a gallery.) Books with sticky notes stuck in them have those pulled out (unless we think we’ll pull the whole page out with them.) Books which are fiercely highlighted and underlined just get added to the recycling bin. Unless….

This year we have, for example, had books arrive from two historians, one who has passed on to a Library in the Great Golden Ultimately and one of whom is simply downsizing. Each of these men did a bit of underlining and annotating in their books. We have decided NOT to throw these away, at least those in which the scholar in question has written his name. There are a few customers who will say, “Wow! This was annotated by Dr. Brown!” and buy it just for those marks which, if they had been made by an undergraduate cramming for a final, would have sent the book to the pulping mills. (We do price these books a little lower, and write “As Is” when we think you might assume we hadn’t noticed. So someone who doesn’t care if Dick Brown made notes in the book but wants a really cheap copy of that tome on the presidency of Martin Van Buren will be gladdened, too.)

Once we received four copies of Casebook On the Hawthorne Question, a fairly standard book for those students of nineteenth century American literature who want to tackle big questions. You can get a good copy for sale online for a buck. The four copies which came in to us are not good copies. The covers are loose, and they are slathered with notes, underlinings, and other markings. I have this collection for sale as a lot online, along with a copy of The Scarlet Letter which is in only slightly better shape. Why did I not toss these into the bin with the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and 1993 Tax Code? Because these copies came to us from the collection of Agnes Donohue, the editor of the book. We assumed HER notes might be worth something to a Hawthorne Hunter.

A case which still causes shudders (and which nearly made one of our liveliest volunteers walk out in a huff) was some sixty boxes of art books which arrived late in June, exactly the wrong time of year. (You know that: it’s why you’re not donating books at this point, right?) These books bristled with sticky notes, because they had belonged to groundbreaking art historian Michael Camille, who died young. Naturally, because these were his work, he had marked passages of importance. We decided, in view of his importance AND because we had only a few days to get these priced and added to the Book Fair array, that we would NOT remove all those yellow flags. We instructed our volunteers to say that to anyone who questioned their presence.

Instructing volunteers can be like the tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. One of our volunteers, every single time he saw someone buying an art book, volunteered the information that these had belonged to Michael Camille and that was why we weren’t removing the stickies. His co-volunteer eventually marched up to me and explained in a firm voice that if she had to listen to that story every ten minutes, she was going to go home, have a good stiff drink, and forget the Newberry even existed. She didn’t, as it happened (that is, she didn’t march out and she didn’t forget us. I hope she had a drink.)

But that’s the problem with holding your books to certain standards. Make an exception, and you can wind up with a sticky situation.

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