I have mentioned, I think, that we send books “upstairs”: that is, when books are donated which would suit the Newberry’s own collection, they are added. This gives the Library a chance to save the money it might have paid had the book been bought somewhere, or even to acquire books the curators might not have run into anywhere else.
Less often, we do this for other institutions as well, particularly when the book or manuscript involved is something that would be difficult to sell. Oddly enough, that second bit is the part people find most difficult to grasp. I have lost track of the number of times I have shown off a rare book I intend to charge a three-figure price for, only to have the person say, “You know, there’s a Museum of Chopsticks History that would love that!”
To which my usual answer is, “Well, they can buy it, can’t they?” I’m a good Samaritan, but not a great one.
This benevolence of ours operates somewhat like our sales on eBay: it represents a way of dealing with stuff that’s hard to sell because it’s too small, too big, too fragile, or just plain unique. This week, for example, I’m sending records to Iowa: the previous owner recorded some Henry Wallace campaign speeches off the radio in 1948. There MIGHT not be any other recordings of these speeches, so though I could possibly sell them online, surely these records will do more good in the archive dealing with the Wallace campaign.
Right now I am dealing with a manuscript that is difficult because it’s just too interesting to pass on to anyone until I finish reading it. It is a diary, kept by a man whose name I do not yet know, from March 23 to Dec. 31, 1908. He keeps track of the weather each day, and notes very briefly what he was doing. This is interesting because 1) his spelling in the “wheather” sections if fun–it is often fogy, and the wind can be awfull strong–but he is consistent, and 2) he seems to have been sheriff of Lake County.
So far (I’m nearly done through May) the most interesting thing he’s done is consider buying a car so he doesn’t have to rent a horse and carriage every time his business takes him to Highland Park or Barrington. (There was some trouble with an elderly man who wouldn’t swear or affirm to his testimony in court, on religious grounds. The sheriff had to fetch the man’s son from Zion to explain.) But it has been hinted to me by some suburban history buffs that there may be a train robbery in his future.
Eventually, I expect we will deposit this with a county or city historical society. Once again, there might be some eBay potential, but surely it ought to have a home where it’ll be available to anyone who wants to study the transportation methods of Illinois sheriffs. Maybe I’ll send it to an automobile museum. What he says about car dealers indicates that car buyers haven’t changed in a hundred years.