Friday, January 18, 2019

It's About The Content

Managing a personal library is a serious housekeeping challenge. The urge to retain everything is worth respecting: one never knows when a fragment of paper will become the only record of vital information. That said, retaining everything is a recipe for going nuts. Paper records foster allergenic mite waste like nothing else.
Speaking only as a housekeeper who has repeatedly dusted several generations of trade books, there comes a time when the editing function must take precedence over mere warehousing. Making decisions can be delayed, but sooner or later someone must. Sometimes that someone is a silverfish, fungus, or rodent.

A bound book on paper is the result of nearly two millennia of low-tech audio recording engineering. A competently designed volume protects the voice of the author, the whole point of the production. Cover, fly leaves, and margins are devices that buy time from the wear and tear that of reading. Books are fragile and live longest in the same conditions enjoyed by human beings. That said, there is a library in the far north of Europe that is renowned for the longevity of its volumes, that are protected by extreme dry cold.

Books are bulky. In my experience they provide good insulation and sound-deadening qualities in a densely populated area. That's the crude way to evaluate a library. Over the years, I have weeded yards of shelves. The first round found me determined to eliminate anything I was likely to be able to find in a public library. My time line was too short: I didn't realize that professional librarians have the same problems. On-line sales of used books helped me correct early mistakes. It is heartening to observe that books that were hard to find ten years ago have been reissued.

The home libraries of early Western Washington European-American households often held collections of literature identically bound in a series.Sometimes the series was printed in a small format to enable use in the field. It's precious, but nineteenth century books suffer from the acidic machine made paper on which they are printed. Conserving one is expensive and painstaking. 

My personal collection is now limited to a few feet of well-designed trade editions of classics and a few more feet of areas of special interest. The nineteenth century pride in scripture and family photo album is a good shorthand for necessities. A homesteaders' guide to subsistence farming, livestock management, cleaning products, health, and beauty would be a good third element. When considering books as books, I'd add Paul Shaw's "Eternal Letter" -30-

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