The Bookseller’s Perspective

The following is Chapter Three from COLLECTING, CURATING, AND RESEARCHING WRITERS’ LIBRARIES, A HANDBOOK, edited by Richard Oram and Joseph Nicholson (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014). This chapter deals with the role of the bookseller; other chapters deal with the roles of librarians, curators, and researchers, with accounts of some libraries, a list of authors’ libraries preserved in public and private hands, and interviews conducted by Oram and Mac Donnell with five well-known authors who describe candidly just how they organize and use their books. Copies of the book can be ordered directly from the publisher by clicking here and a 25% discount can be applied by entering promotional code 7F14ABAA.


The Bookseller's Perspective

by Kevin MacDonnell (MacDonnell Rare Books)

The lights lower, the curtains withdraw, and here is a stage set with a room full of books, the drama about to begin. Entering the stage in alphabetical order is the cast of characters: the author, the bookseller, the cataloguer, the collector, the curator, the executor, the family, the historian, the lawyer (maybe several), the reader, and the scholar.. Of course, in real life these characters would never all be on stage at the same time or even appear in the same order for every performance, but whether they are all present at once or separately over time, each has a role to play, and none of them will look around this book-filled room and see the very same thing. This is how it should be. In fact, the drama that emerges will spring from those differing perspectives. All of the conflicts, motivations, actions, and plot twists will result from the fact that none of these players see those books exactly the same way, nor do any of them fully understand how the others see the books. Gazing about the room at the books, one character sees well-worn tools, another sees money in the bank, and another sees a huge chore. For others on stage, the books choke them with emotion, evoke memories, or inspire hope. This is fertile ground for the playwright, but in real life all of these players would be grateful for a lot less drama. That is possible only if each person with a role to play in the real life story of the room full of books takes a moment to see these books through the eyes of their fellows. With this in mind, let’s begin with a look at how others imagine booksellers play their role.

I. A Day in the Life

It was a sunny but brisk morning with just enough nip in the air to awaken and arouse the senses, but the gracefully aging bookseller was still glad he’d worn his favorite jacket as he motored down unfamiliar narrow country lanes. Rachmaninoff’s “Moment Musicaux (number 5)” flowed adagio sostenuto from the radio as he made his way to inspect the library of a late great author whose writings had defined the sensibilities of two generations. He wheeled his vintage British roadster past the wrought-iron gates and swept up the oak-lined driveway, the utterly reliable engine purring like a kitten as he coasted to a stop in the porte-cochere of the grand old estate. Rising from his car, the chiseled good looks of his youth were still evident in the dappled rays of the morning sunlight. Casually folding his tweed jacket and laying it on the passenger seat, he thought he caught the faint aroma of the perfume worn by the favorite of his several super-model girlfriends. Despite being well-endowed with the photographic memory common to every antiquarian bookseller, he never could keep the preferred perfumes of his various girlfriends straight in his head. His favorite lover usually accompanied him on his increasingly frequent rural jaunts to inspect the untouched historic libraries of distinguished families and the vast accumulations of seasoned collectors. He missed the pleasure of her stimulating conversation as much as he did her unerring eye and voracious appetite for excellent eateries where the food was cheap, cooked to perfection, and bountiful. But she had to deliver a paper at a Jane Austen conference that morning and could not be with him. He paused for a moment, breathing in her intoxicating scent as his mind drifted back to memories of other biblio-jaunts they’d shared, and he savored the image of wind blowing through her hair, the scarf around her neck billowing behind her as the landscape unfurled along the roadsides in a blur.

His reverie concluded, he tamped out his meerschaum pipe, and strolled to the door. After thirty minutes of absorbing conversation with the author’s heirs, and some sips of cognac from the great author’s private stock, he entered the library. One glance at the shelves and anyone could have correctly guessed the name of the author whose books these were, so personal and unique a gathering of books it was. There could be little doubt that this wise and revered author had read every book in his library. Most libraries are smarter than their owners by virtue of the fact that few people have read every book they own, but not this time. As usual with great literary figures, every book the literary giant read had been carefully shelved as soon as he’d finished annotating it. Nothing had been disturbed since -- not even the slips of paper and literary correspondence the great writer had used as bookmarks-- and every book stood on the shelf, pristine and proud, protected for decades from dust, sunlight, and vermin by the leaded glass bookcases. The bookseller glanced at the climate controls elegantly concealed in the stately walnut paneling near the doorway to the library and was pleased to see a relative humidity of 55% even if the 60 degree temperature reminded him that he’d left his jacket in the car. He slid some Mylar sleeves and folders from a comfortable-looking leather armchair and sat down to give his advice to the heirs. Of course, they readily agreed to his every suggestion. After an hour perusing the books, he made his offer and the heirs promptly accepted without any arguing among themselves, and a week later the bookseller sold the library en bloc to a major institution, which, like all such libraries, had both the funding and the space to acquire the library without a second of hesitation. The bookseller made a stunning profit (as always), and when the library paid him a few days later, he was soon basking in tropical sea breezes beneath a cabana with his girlfriend, sharing sips from a bottle of 1818 Laffite Rothschild (a gift from the author’s grateful heirs) and a few hours later in the privacy of the bookseller’s beach-front vacation home, he confirmed what he’d suspected that glorious morning two weeks earlier as he stepped from his car to buy another library—it had indeed been her perfume, and yes, she was his favorite.


II. Reality Bites

The fifth of Rachmaninoff’s “Moments Musicaux” is indeed played adagio sostenuto (or should be played that way) but not a single other word of this fantasy has its counterpart in the real world. Long before booksellers arrive on the scene, the author himself has given away, thrown away, loaned, lost, or otherwise dispersed half or more of the books that he’s ever (or never) read, and many books that survive the author’s own dispersals have no annotations or signs of ownership. Libraries are living organisms and evolve over time; the library an author possesses at the end of his life is never the library he had when young.

The reality is that following the author’s exit from the stage, family and friends latch onto mementos, sometimes grabbing everything they can find that looks even slightly valuable. They have even been known to contest who gets what. Whatever the library might have looked like when in use by the author, it’s now usually somewhat scattered to various rooms, attics, garages, barns, or even homes, or else has been divided among heirs, who, even if they know each other, may not be on speaking terms. It probably has been otherwise rearranged in ways impossible to unravel, much less comprehend. Any evidence of climate control would induce a medical emergency for the heartiest of booksellers, but there’s rarely any risk of that happening. Surprisingly, many private libraries lack most of the common signs of the owner’s identity, like bookplates or inscriptions. At best, someone glancing over the shelves might guess at the owner’s occupation and a few of the owner’s hobbies, but that’s all. In a certain sense all libraries look alike, with similar distributions of bestsellers and popular books. Our libraries –even writer’s libraries—often tell less about their owners than we’d like to think. If relatives have had a chance to remove books, they very likely chose books they did not already own themselves, leaving behind more familiar titles, and the library left behind will look even more or less like every other library. Booksellers can give advice but owners can do as they please, and they often do. The lucky buyer that does not lack space or funds is a greater rarity than a wholly intact author’s library. Collectors want to cherry-pick. Scholars want bargains, or photocopies, or unrestricted access. Finally, authors’ libraries today might even include the bytes on Kindles, laptops, iPads, and some MP3 memory sticks with audio books on them, to say nothing of what an author may have stored in “the cloud.” Fortunately, if it were not for the reliability of old British sports cars, bookish super-model girlfriends with hearty appetites (and abundant fine roadside eateries to keep them happy), the life of the antiquarian bookseller might be less than perfect.

In regard to the business aspect: Booksellers are often confronted with authors or their heirs who assume that all libraries have ample money, space, and staff to curate their entire collection, and sometimes can’t understand why a sale cannot be consummated and payment made in a matter of days. Likewise, many librarians, collectors and even scholars actually embrace the delusion that authors preserve things with care and that their loving families are equally careful to leave things alone, always get along among themselves, and never fail to take sage advice offered by booksellers. If a hungry Jane Austen-loving super-model girlfriend was your only clue that something was amiss in the “day in the life” of our handsome bookseller, keep reading.


III. The First Order of Business: Defining the Library

A bookseller’s first order of business when dealing with an author’s library is defining just what comprises the author’s library. This sounds simple, but books are often mixed with magazines and miscellaneous papers, and the day may soon be coming when an author might have more titles stored on his e-reader than on his shelves. An author might also have listened to audio books, now lurking on CDs or MP3s in some nearby device like a laptop, or iPhone, etc. Distinguishing an author’s library from a “household” library can be tricky. Spouses, children, relatives, and others in a household may lay claim to portions of the library. In many households, libraries are scattered around the house and are the mutual domain of every family member, some of whom may have strong feelings of possession for certain volumes. Even if an author’s library is clearly segregated from other household books (and magazine and papers and e-books, etc.) the books an author chooses to give his spouse, children, and others, may be just as revealing and historically valuable as the books an author kept on his own shelves. These books are not the property of the bookseller, who must respect the wishes of those who own them. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, then it’s also nine-tenths of the library as well, and as often as not, a library is scattered in more than one location. Libraries are often divided among different rooms, floors, or buildings, and some libraries are divided among a primary residence and vacation homes, and some books may be in storage—a nearby climate-controlled facility if luck holds, but more often an attic or garage or barn. Libraries can find their ways into other places as well: the attics and garages of friends and neighbors, on loan to libraries or historical societies, or at a place of business. Retrieving libraries from these various locales can involve legal, diplomatic, and physical challenges.

Most of us would define a library as the books and reading materials on a shelf or otherwise physically present in some form of media, but scholars may want to know everything an author read (or may have read) and have a keen interest in knowing, besides the books an author owned himself, what books he borrowed and the subscriptions he may have had to different online magazines, his favorite websites, and any listservs he read. The things that influenced an author are not always sitting on the shelf waiting to be found, and if every room full of books were viewed as a crime scene it would be a severely compromised scene with much of the evidence missing or tampered with, and a long list of suspects with different motivations. Extracting, retrieving, gathering, and assembling an author’s library can be as complicated as reconstructing the scattered shards of a Greek vase. Booksellers are often viewed as agents of dispersal, but booksellers just as often find themselves the victims of dispersals by others, beginning with the author himself.  


IV. The Second Order of Business: Assessing Salability

Once the parameters of an author’s library are established, an assessment must be made to determine the salability of the library. If a bookseller has the funds and faith to purchase a library outright, and the family agrees to a sale, this task is somewhat simplified for the bookseller who is then free to act on his own behalf once he owns the library. But with an author’s library, the bookseller is just as likely to act as an agent for the sale, and the laws of agency require an agent to represent the fiduciary interests of the property’s owner(s). Fiduciary duty, simply put, means to act in the best financial interests of the property owner. These interests may sometimes conflict with historic preservation, or the desires and interests of libraries, collectors, and scholars. Most booksellers, by the nature of the profession itself, have a deeply felt sense of history and scholarship, and will advise families accordingly, but as owners of the property, families have the right—and often the inclination—to put monetary gain above all other considerations. On the other hand, when a family has already decided to take a course of action that may best serve scholarship and history but diminish their financial gain, fiduciary duty requires a bookseller acting as their agent to advise them of this fact. Likewise, if a family intends to impose restrictions on use, or special housing requirements, or if the materials need extensive conservation work, or if copyrights would restrict the publication of some materials, the bookseller is obligated to explain the impact that these factors would have on salability.

Depending on the needs or desires of a prospective buyer (or buyers) the inclusion or exclusion of some materials can affect the salability of a library. Some buyers might consider magazines, e-books, and even unannotated books a negative, while another buyer may only want certain portions of a library. If, for example, a collector wants only annotated books, and a library on a limited budget dearly wants everything else, and the family insists on maximizing their financial gain from the sale, a bookseller would fail his fiduciary duty to the family if he did not divide an author’s library among two (or more) such buyers. If a family or executor of an estate wishes to maximize the monetary gain from a library it is possible that selling the books and related papers individually may be the most profitable mode of sale. Although the historical or research value of a library is greater than the sum of its parts, the monetary value may be greater when broken up for sale, either singly, or in small groups that reflect market demands. But each library and owner is unique, and a library of a certain size or certain ratio of components (high and low value materials, books and papers, for example) may be more easily and profitably sold en bloc.     


V. The Third Order of Business: Valuation

The third order of business is to assess the monetary value of the library, which involves making an inventory of the books, and dividing them into groups according to their values. Authors’ libraries have historical value and research value, but this often does not translate into high monetary value. Regardless of their historical or research value, some rare book materials may be present and require extra attention. Likewise, material suitable for publication may have high potential monetary value, unless their publication potential is limited by copyright (it depends on who owns the copyrights). While the focus here is evaluating an author’s library for eventual sale, appraisals may also be required for insurance, estate, or charitable donation purposes and these appraisals must adhere to strict standards established by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP), and Generally Accepted Appraisal Standards (GAAS). Appraisals done for charitable donation purposes are sometimes called “8283 appraisals” since they require IRS form 8283; likewise, estate valuation appraisals are sometimes called “706 appraisals.” In these situations, the appraiser’s obligation is to the client, not the client’s agent (and the client must be clearly identified, and may not even be the entity that pays for or even sees the appraisal), Federal privacy and confidentiality laws apply, the appraiser is not the client’s advocate, who may advocate only for the appraisal itself, the principle of “highest and best use” does not apply (“intended use” applies instead), the appraiser is limited to acting as an appraiser (not as a lawyer, accountant, or financial advisor), and the appraiser’s work must conform to IRS, USPAP, and GAAS standards regardless of what may be the client’s interests. These legalisms are no small matter, and the literature on these rules is extensive and complicated, but beyond the scope of the kind of evaluation being described here.  

Every library is different, and there is no single approach that will fit every situation, but as a general rule, annotated and inscribed books must be identified for their special value. In most cases, a library is going to be moved and the arrangement of the books as the author left them will not be preserved. This is unfortunate since the arrangement of a library can be a valuable piece of evidence in determining the way an author’s library was used. Books kept on a desk close at hand might have been consulted daily, while books kept on the highest or lowest shelves may have been largely ignored. Books inter-shelved with bric-a-brac may have had some special relationship to that bric-a-brac (should the bric-a-brac be sold with the books, to be preserved as well?). Books from certain friends or on certain topics might have been kept on a shelf together. Books sent by admirers or for review might be boxed up in a barn. How an author arranges his library may reflect the arrangement of ideas in the author’s mind and how he orders his world, as well as hinting at the frequency of use for particular books. A perusal of Leah Price’s Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books (2012) is instructive on this point. A library in situ that preserves the evidence described above has special value but unless that original arrangement is carefully preserved its value cannot be part of the valuation.

Without a shelf-list inventory or detailed photographs this evidence will surely be lost, since no method of cataloging can adequately capture the precise original arrangement of an author’s library. But before an evaluation can be made, the annotated and inscribed books must be segregated, either physically, or by inventory. With the exception of any rare books or manuscripts that may be present, annotated and inscribed books will usually comprise the greatest monetary value in the library.

Annotated Books

Annotated books are often the first evidence of the creative process, and document the meeting of minds—even conversations—that authors have with themselves or with fellow authors, living and dead.  Of course, these are one-sided conversations since books don’t talk back. A book merely makes its case and the reader is left to consider and even argue with what the books says, but the book does not engage the reader beyond that point, so the subsequent arguments take place inside the reader’s head, and that’s exactly what makes annotated books such valuable literary evidence. Marginal comments, underlining, and brackets are often the transcripts of that precise moment when the germ of an idea is born that later becomes a book itself, and the conversations these transcripts document span time and space, entire generations and cultures. Scholars who focus on manuscripts to the exclusion of annotated books may deny themselves deeper insights into delineation of the creative process. An annotated book, especially one with notes or letters laid in, may be viewed as a manuscript or proto-manuscript. Even casual readers who read a book with annotations will find new levels and layers of meaning, not only in the book being read and the annotations themselves, but also in any book that might have emerged from those annotations. For readers and collectors alike, annotated books can serve as relics, textual totems, talismans, fetishes, icons, or merely touchstones for inspiration. Even if the annotations were not part of a creative process, they often illuminate some facet of the author’s personality, or provide a data point in an author’s biography.  Inscribed books that connect one author with another less often stand as evidence in the creative process, but they too are sought as relics, totems, and icons, and also serve as biographical documents.

Unannotated Books

Unannotated books are often ignored, even discarded. At first glance they seem to lack the physical evidence of annotated books, and cannot be linked to the creative process, or serve as transcripts of an author’s thoughts. They would seem to have nothing in them that would qualify them as relics or imbue them with the powers of a totem or iconic object. But annotations are not the only evidence that a book was read. A heavily worn well-read book with dog-eared pages cannot be ignored, even if it has no annotations, for no completely satisfactory method of cataloging has yet been devised that can adequately describe the precise physical properties of such a book as evidence of having been read. Although a list of such books could be compiled with the intention of standing in for the actual books, the forensic tools that can be applied to books cannot be applied to lists of books. Also, an unannotated book is not necessarily an unread book, and lists of such books cannot distinguish the read from the unread, but forensic tools of the future might make those distinctions, and knowing that an author did not read a book when given the opportunity can be as valuable a piece of evidence as knowing what an author did choose to read. Likewise, digitized texts cannot provide forensic evidence, now or in the future, unless they were digitally annotated when the author read them.

The nineteenth century brought us the scientific tools of ballistics, x-rays, and fingerprints –tools that could not be imagined by the eighteenth century mind. The twentieth century has brought us DNA, UV lights, and lasers, all based on principles alien to nineteenth century minds. Lasers can recover lost sound recordings and DNA can prove who handled an object. In a 1940 article in The Colophon, New Graphic Series (IV:1), pp. 55-63, Lawrance R. Thompson describes how UV light was used to discover Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s first book appearance when a UV photograph revealed the text of an erased marginal note Longfellow had written beside an anonymous poem in a book of prize poems from Longfellow’s library. Longfellow’s note read, “I sent.”  Infrared has been used recently to uncover texts in the Archimedes Palimpsest, and a set of tools including a sophisticated digital camera, spectral illumination panels, and computers to process the results has been used to gain a clear image of a signature that long ago bled through to the verso of the title-page of a 1568 Anglo-Saxon law book and appears to read “Wm. Shakspere” in the hand of the Bard himself. What secrets might be unlocked from seemingly unannotated books by as yet uninvented forensic tools of the future?  The answer to this question shall not come from glancing over lists of books or gazing wistfully at digital texts. Unannotated books can not be valued today on the basis of their speculative potential future value that might result when they are subjected to future forensic technologies, but unless they are retained their value is lost forever.

The e-Decade & Beyond

Until the last ten years, booksellers concerned themselves mostly with books, but once the annotated and unannotated books have been identified, similar segregations of magazines and papers must be performed. Next, the bookseller must confront the problem of electronic storage devices. Many devices allow for electronic annotation, and while scholars will appreciate the research value of such a text, it is too soon to know if collectors will ever come to value such a text as a relic or totem in the same way they value an annotated book. Depending on what else may be stored on a device, families may not be willing to sell electronic storage devices for fear of making private matters public. They might be happy to hand over an e-book reader, but reluctant to hand over a laptop, tablet, or hand-held device until personal and financial files have been quietly deleted, emails silently edited, and the cache cleared. Links to any cloud storage used by the author will be lost as will evidence of online reading habits. The librarian, scholar, and collector may be eager to know exactly what websites an author visited most often for news, research, or shopping, and what online subscriptions an author had; an author’s heirs might be horrified at this thought.

Of course, this raises some of the same issues as when dealing with a library in situ. Just as something is lost when books are removed from a shelf, packed, moved, unpacked, and then rearranged on new shelves, something will surely be lost when electronic files are edited or segregated. Also, the long-term physical stability of various forms of electronic media is unproven. To make matters worse, electronic media can be corrupted, manipulated, or destroyed, sometimes by accident, sometimes deliberately. Preservation issues for electronic media are not limited to the media themselves, but also the maintenance of a variety of [soon to be obsolete] hardware and devices used to access various media. Spare parts, batteries, and technical expertise to maintain such machinery may be difficult to find in the future, and while media can be transferred from one format to another, is something lost in that process each time the format changes? The legal issues surrounding software licensing and “ownership” of downloaded ebook texts may also be an obstacle. Finally, the questions of compatibility, access, and security for electronic media raise a different set of questions and considerations than access and security for print media. Authors’ libraries are not crime scenes or archaeological digs, but the bookseller, librarian, scholar, and collector all want as much evidence preserved as possible, even if their motivations differ. They all want to know what an author read, when he read it, what he thought of it, and how this influenced his own life and writings. All of this must be considered when valuing electronic media, and although the valuation of electronic media is still in flux, such media may contain materials and information of great value.


VI. The Fourth Order of Business: Preparing For the Sale

After a library has been sorted and the value established, the fourth order of business for a bookseller is to prepare it for sale. Just as real estate agents “stage” a home for sale, booksellers must present a library to the best of their ability. If they are acting as an agent, this is a legal obligation to the owner of the library. Books must be gathered from various locations, dusted or cleaned, and sometimes even repaired or restored. With an author’s library, repairs and restoration can do as much harm as good if not done to archival standards and not limited to structural repairs. Restorations that disguise evidence of use are an obvious example. Books that have bookmarks, letters, and papers laid into the text should be preserved as they are, but this does not always happen, especially if an over-eager bookseller puts loose scraps into archival sleeves or folders in an attempt to please a potential buyer. Some buyers, both institutional and private, expect everything they acquire to come “prepackaged” while others prefer things to be untouched. But both buyers and sellers should remember that the seeming “chaos” of an author’s library may reflect the intellectual “order” of the author’s mind, and the author’s concept of order may not conform to the notion of order embraced by the buyer or the seller. By this stage the conflicts between the wishes of the family, the expectations of various potential buyers, and the fiduciary duties of the bookseller may have come into sharp focus, and it is time for the final step in preparing for the sale of the library.

This final step cannot go smoothly unless a well-written contract is in place. The interests of the owner, the bookseller, and the potential buyer are best served if all of these details are hammered out between the owner and the bookseller and written into a contract after the library has been inspected and before the author’s library is offered for sale. Ideally, such a contract should clearly identify the owner of the materials, the term of the contract, the terms of the sale, any restrictions on use or housing, price, an exclusivity clause, a mutual non-disclosure clause, specific sanctions for violating specific terms of the contract, and should spell out exactly what flexibility the bookseller has when negotiating as the owner’s agent. Despite this precaution, booksellers encounter owners who ignore some or even all of the terms of a contract they have signed. Booksellers have experienced clients who have denied that a contract even existed, and owners who try to offer their property to others and cut the bookseller out of the transaction. Such behaviors can lead to headaches and expensive lawsuits, but the better the contract the better the probable outcome.


VII. The Last Order of Business: Negotiating the Sale

The final step is negotiating the sale. Once the library is readied for sale, the bookseller must decide where to offer it for sale, and when making this decision must respect the wishes of the owner. Booksellers tend to give “first refusal” to clients who represent the path of least resistance, who negotiate fairly and in good faith, and who pay on time. They also tend to offer material of this kind first to the buyer they think is the most appropriate. If an institution already has substantial holdings of a particular author, including manuscripts or correspondence, most booksellers would consider that library the most appropriate repository for that author’s library. But the owner may have other ideas, or the library or client thought most appropriate may not have sufficient funds, space, or interest. Sometimes there are other valid reasons an author’s library did not follow his manuscripts or correspondence to a particular institution, and a prudent bookseller will try to learn those reasons before making an offer. Private customers may be able to make a decision quickly and pay quickly (or slowly, or never). Institutional buyers may need time to raise funds or resolve academic political conflicts in order to reach a purchase decision, and then need time to pay (or pay promptly). Depending on the size and nature of the author’s library and the location of the buyer, shipping expenses and logistics (including customs and export/import legalities) may be a deciding factor, or even a deal-breaker. The family may wish to dictate payment schedules and terms, and may wish to place use or housing restrictions on some materials, and these can often be obstacles (an owner once insisted that faculty and students of another college be given “priority access” to use materials over scholars and students of the institution acquiring the collection). A bookseller who offers such a library (on commission) to one of his regular clients may deplete that client’s budget, thereby reducing the potential of more profitable sales to that client in the near future, and it is not unheard of for booksellers to function as bankers for some of their clients (seldom a good idea). Things can get complicated when several buyers are aggressively competing for the same author’s library, and it is important that the bookseller alone act as agent for the owner during negotiations. A good contract will have anticipated these common situations and conflicts. The bookseller’s final duty to the library’s owner occurs during the phase in which books are being inspected by potential buyers, and the materials must be tactfully protected against damage, disorder, and theft.


By the time the various players have exited the stage and the curtains close on that room full of books, all kinds of dramas may have played out, and an audience entertained. But in real life these dramas are usually a lot less entertaining, and could mean that portions of an author’s library remain isolated in various locations or in the hands of different heirs, with uncertain futures. By the time the bulk of an author’s library is sold portions of it might well have been dispersed over the years by the author himself, by the author’s heirs, or by one or more booksellers or auction firms. By the time a sale is consummated the price, terms, restrictions on use, housing, and other details may not be what everyone at the table had hoped to see. Compromise doesn’t make for high drama on stage, but it moves things along real life. The conflicting interests and concerns of the various players can be formidable obstacles to the successful sale of an author’s library, but the better each player understands the roles of the others, the smoother the process will be. In real life, under the best of circumstances, the result will usually mean that the library is now probably organized in a manner entirely different from the original one. It very likely will have better climate control than ever before, and some degree of scholarly or public access (even some collectors make their holdings available for study or display). A library that once served as part of an author’s creative process will now serve several purposes. It will be a research tool for scholars, provide inspiration and insight to readers, and become the focus of veneration by collectors and the public. This may not be the happy ending dreamed about in a perfect world, but when was the last time a bookseller and his Jane Austen-authority-super-model-girlfriend sipped Laffite Rothschild of any vintage under a cabana, tickled by tropical breezes?


This excerpt is taken from Collecting, Curating, And Researching Writers’ Libraries, A Handbook (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) and has been reproduced with the permission of the author and publisher. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without their express written permission.


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