Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Rare Books?




Now that I've become a true library student, one of the things I've come across is the subject of rare books. Now, rare books by definition are special because of their antiquity, provenance, or small run on press. They've survived the ages, and have fell into the laps of book collectors around the world.

I'd like to think of my collection of signed first edition Beverley Nichols books as a good rare book collection. I'd even throw in my first edition Jane Eyre, my first edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and my dust jacketed first edition of The Mysterious Affair at Styles into this pile of rare books. I spent a small fortune collecting these things. Some came to me by chance, others by auction, others by emptying my wallet onto the counter of a great books shop in Evanston, Illinois.

Now I've got my share of expensive books too. Ones that aren't rare at all. My annotated Shakespeare consumed every penny I received for my 12th birthday. My Arwas book on Art Deco wasn't that cheap, and either was the Parris volume on the Pre-Raphaelites. Both were easy enough to find back in the day. Both are out of print now, so I guess I can throw them back into the other category.

I don't want to confuse rare books with expensive books, but often times the terms co-exist. You can't separate one from the other. But I've just spent a HUGE chunk of my hard earned shelving money buying books that seem to exist in both worlds. Library Science Text books.

I am full time, and am taking 3 classes. So far only two of the professors have bothered to give us our reading list. The two that have set me back almost one months wage.

First, the books were available on Amazon.com, but required 2 to 3 weeks to ship. Not good enough, I only get 9 days to get my books before classes start.

Second, the books are nearly impossible to get at the book store. I am insane, so I buy mine the first day. But the book store only had 1 copy of a cataloguing text, 5 of the other, and 10 of the 2nd class' books. There are 30 people in each class.

Third, why do professors assign rare books as text books? One of the books is out of print. Is that a good book to assign? Is it part of the secret initiation right into the world of libraries? If I find these books, do I get extra points in some leather bound book filled with quill and ink inscriptions?

Fourth, one of the books received some of the most horrible reviews that I've ever read. And no, the professor didn't write the book. But we still have to buy it. I'm encouraged by knowing that scholars around the globe have found this text useless, and difficult to understand.

I'm thinking of writing a letter to Miriam Webster, and letting them know that "rare books" can also be defined as Library Science Textbooks. How bitterly ironic.

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