Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Book hoarding

Yesterday, while checking out at the library, a student employee informed me that I had forty-two (42) books one day overdue, for a fine of $6.00.

This was mildly upsetting, as are all fines, great or small. It is now extremely easy to renew my library books online, so had I simply clicked a button the day before yesterday, I would owe nothing. Using the library's comment box, I have inquired as to the feasibility of having renewal reminders emailed to patrons, for precisely this reason. They haven't gotten back to me, though, and I guess I don't blame them. There are not many easy ways for libraries to make money these days, and enforcing rules is one of the few.

But the news was also disconcerting for a different reason. It confronted me with the fact that I have reached a point in my life when having 42 books overdue is not unusual. It was almost like being told that I had just turned 42 -- a sort of unexpected mid-academic-life crisis. Currently, I have eighty-two (82) books checked out from the Milton S. Eisenhower library. The titles range from the more well-known (Dror Wahrman's Imagining the Middle Class; Czeslaw Milosz's Facing the River) to the more obscure (one volume of the Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier; the autobiography of William Lovett; Frances Acomb's Anglophobia in France, 1763-1789). Some might say that I am hoarding library books, and Some would be right.

In my defense, however, there are four good reasons to hoard library books:

(1) You are worried that if you return the book, it will fall forever down the memory hole. You checked the book out because you learned about it from a footnote while reading at the library. Instead of relying on some unreliable mnemonic process like, say, writing the title down, you felt sure that by having the thing itself, glaring at you from your bookshelf, it would eventually find its way into footnotes of your own. (This accounts for more than a few of the books I have out.)

(2) You actually use the books on an everyday basis for reference and research. And you can feel reasonably confident that no one else in your department (or perhaps even in the world) has just cause to reclaim them from you. When you do receive a recall notice on these books, and are forced to painfully strip the volumes of your Post-It Notes and loose-leaf papers, you can justifiably mutter to yourself that the offending and nameless patron better have a good reason for this. In this category, I personally place all six volumes of the Letters of William Lloyd Garrison, three volumes of the Black Abolitionist Papers, Dwight Dumond's 1961 bibliography of antislavery pamphlets, a four-volume biography of Garrison, written by two of his sons, and various other arcane volumes that I have rescued from the accumulation of dust. Or at least I have reserved for them the peculiar distinction of accumulating my dust, certainly a weight of glory.

(3) There are books that you hoard so that others cannot hoard them. These are the books that went missing from the library for months at a time, even though they were shown in the catalog as checked in, meaning that someone or something was insidiously hiding the books somewhere within the library, making them impossible for you to find. So you had to have the library order second copies, and now you cling to those second copies, even if you are not presently using them, to prevent them from the oblivion of being "lost / withdrawn." You dutifully renew your temporary ownership of them in order to preserve their status as common property. There is really only one set of items in this category right now: four volumes of the Frederick Douglass Papers: Series One.

(4) Finally, there are the books you hoard because you are teaching yourself about something new. These are the books whose call numbers you have scribbled on countless index cards, napkins, and scraps of paper -- books known and unknown, authors famed and forgotten, whose subjects are yet to be discovered. This is my favorite kind of hoarding, because it comes closest to the literal meaning of the word -- you store these books up for the survival of your mind, to ensure that you will not run out of things to learn during the long winters ahead.

Collective Improvisation:
A tale of book-hoarding gone too far:

A friend of mine once recalled a book from himself. He didn't realize what he had done until the library informed him that he already had the book.

Posted by Blogger eb on 11/24/2004 01:58:00 PM : Permalink  

You are doing the library a service. If every graduate student returned their long-term books, the libraries would collapse.

Posted by Blogger Jonathan Dresner on 11/24/2004 03:41:00 PM : Permalink  

E-mail reminders don't always work very well; the University of Toronto has them, and whatever system they use is inconstant at best.

The primary reason I hoard books is that when books get turned in the library staff sometimes take ages to get them back where they belong; I once mistakenly turned in a book I needed that didn't get back on the shelf for a month and a half. No one had checked it out; I don't know what took them so long just to put it with the right books and put it on the shelf. I suppose that falls under (3), although I'm pretty sure no one in the library was hoarding a Latin edition of Francisco Suarez's Metaphysics.

Posted by Blogger Brandon on 11/24/2004 04:48:00 PM : Permalink  

I also have heard tales of people recalling books from themselves. And it has also been my experience that "my" books are either slowly or incorrectly reshelved. If it takes so long to get Latin metaphysics back on the shelf, then perhaps the libraries would be overwhelmed by an onslaught of returns. Thank you, all three, for aiding in my rationalization.

Posted by Blogger Caleb McDaniel on 11/25/2004 08:54:00 AM : Permalink  

I visited a very interesting site, they have a vast collection of books which have been categories and are presented to viewers in an easy-to-search format. You should check it out.


Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 11/27/2006 05:13:00 AM : Permalink  

Loved your post. I have taken to eschewing the library for just purchasing books I want, cheaply, on ebay or alibris, abe, etc.... I love the library books but they get lost in the book pit that is my house. And I can't take the guilt anymore of not returning them on time or months late. Good luck on your hoarding.

Posted by Anonymous Anonymous on 1/14/2008 01:47:00 AM : Permalink  

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