College Libraries I Have Known and Loved (Plus Two I Didn’t)

central library

Jean and Alexander Heard Library.  Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.  I didn’t have a lot of luck with this library.  I was young.  I was scared.  I had no sense of direction at the time, so the tour I took as part of freshman orientation made absolutely no impact on me.  But none of that lead me to my defining moment with this library, the time I went to study for an economic test and found myself in a carrel located near a shelf holding general interest books.  I read a romance novel I found on the shelf.  I failed my test.


steely library

Steely Library.  Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, KY.  I did better with this library.  Not big enough to get lost in, and no romance novels that I ever found.  My relationship with Steely Library soured forever, though, the day I was searching the online catalog and another student selected the computer next to me, pulled up a chair, pulled out his cheeseburger, then pulled up on the screen in front of him.



Regenstein Library.  University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.  The Reg.  A truly serious library for truly serious students.  I spent most of my time in Special Collections with MS 116, a sixteenth-century martyrology on which I wrote my Master’s thesis.  Serious students in serious libraries take things, well, very seriously.  If you couldn’t find a reference volume you were looking for, it was quite likely that one of your classmates had hid it from you, either on another shelf or in one of the lockers available for use.  Of course, hiding reference books was highly verboten, but that didn’t stop people.  One of my friends lost her locker privileges after a surprise search revealed her misdeed.  I didn’t know she had it in her.



William Rainey Harper Memorial Library.  University of Chicago, Chicago, IL.  O, Library of Libraries.  I used Harper primarily for studying.  And for pretending I went to Hogwarts.  Magic.

The Thrill of the Hunt

Much of the career guidance I’ve received over the years has suggested that I do what makes me happiest.  I’ve never found a job that pays me to read, but I’ve worked in a bookstore and I’ve pursued life as an academic.  Neither ended up as my perfect match.  Last week I found my new dream job, thanks to a BBC New Magazine profile on book-collector-for-hire Kinsey Marable.  Marable’s company, according to his website, collects, catalogues, conserves, and deaccessions books, in addition to furnishing private libraries (need a ladder, anyone?).  Marable’s clients include individual collectors like Oprah, for whom he acquired a first edition of every winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, as well as decorators and architects needing to fill empty shelves.  (Oh, to have the problem of empty shelves!)

My prize.

My prize.

The clients may keep the books, but it seems like Marable himself has all the fun, buying books for which someone else pays.  I’ve never hunted a rare book on someone else’s behalf, but I’ve hunted a few for myself, my best find a copy of English poet Wendy Cope‘s Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (1986).  Having first encountered Cope’s work in my Introduction to Poetry to class, I searched for years to find her work outside of the Norton Anthology, an effort belied by the ease with which it can currently be purchased from Amazon.  Even if the pleasure Marable experiences in his work is halved when the books find their place on someone else’s shelf, it’s hard for me to imagine he doesn’t have the best job in the world.

I am, of course, mildly concerned by the idea of books as decorative items.  I wonder, has Marable had any requests from Pinterest afficianados interested in collecting books by color?  One hopes, too, that collectors at least showcase Marable’s effort and forgo shelving their books spine in as one decorating trend dictates.  I worry, too, about the idea of books as commodities acquired for cachet versus content.

My wish for Kinsey Marable’s clients: may you ever regard your books as investments in your intellect, your spirit, and your soul, not just as an item in your portfolio or fillers for your shelves.

My wish for myself: Kinsey, call me!  I’m ready!

Bookmarks: Friday, 6/26/15

Here are some articles that caught my eye this week:

Happy weekend, readers!