Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Brief Encounter

A few brittle moments on Saturday…

In weekly trips to the public library there is something of a pattern to my visits, and a big part of that is the time spent looking through the large cart of donated books just inside the door. The books are not meant to be snatched up and freely taken without a word to library personnel, and there is a procedure to follow—quite simple—in the case of a desired book from the cart. I’ve done it at least a dozen times.


The donated book program is managed by a group of volunteers called Friends of the Library. The aim is not to make a great deal of money for the library, but to add marginal financial support to library programs and to offer a service to readers and book lovers. Most books, unless newly released hardbacks by well known authors, are priced between one and two dollars. I once paid $3.30 for a new first edition hardback release by Barbara Kingsolver, the most I’ve ever paid. This time it was a 2005 Penguin Classics paperback of Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales, suggested bookstore price $16.00.


Familiar with the procedure, I took the Hans Christian Andersen book over to the reference librarian’s desk and explained that I was interested in purchasing a book picked from the donations cart. I wasn’t sure how it would work this time, whether they would allow me to buy it immediately, or after processing in two or three days time. Either way was fine. This time the librarian on duty said the book would be processed, priced, then placed on the shelves in the small book sale room. Mmm…news to me.

“May I write my name and telephone number on a slip of paper to put on the book indicating my interest?”

“Yes, that would be all right, though I’m not sure they will call you.”

“Really? They’ve done so on one or two other occasions.”

A shrug.

“I’m going to ask on the note that in processing the book they please not mark the price on the front cover with a grease pencil, but write it on this paper instead.”

“No, that’s the system. That’s how they price mark the books.”

“Well, marking the cover devalues the book and writing the price on this slip of paper is not too difficult.”

“Yes, well that’s the system.”


Having received no phone call by Tuesday, I stopped at the reference librarian’s desk to inquire. A different librarian was on duty this time and after hearing my request, promptly located the book on a nearby shelf. A price of $3.50 was written on the slip of paper with my name and number. The librarian took one look and said, “That’s too much. It should be $1.10.” And that’s what I paid for a clean copy in fine condition.


Each of the thirty fairy tales in this collection is preceded by an illustration. The example above is from the story, “The Tinderbox,” one of the writer’s early tales, first published in 1835. Unknown to many is Andersen’s artistic abilities, and that in his early years he considered focusing entirely on art. One of his talents was making paper cut-out figures of characters from the folk tales of his childhood. Thirty of those paper cut-outs are reproduced in this edition of Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales.

3 comments:

  1. For book collectors it's always a thrill to find good books at bargain prices. Every year the Friends of the LSU Library have a huge sale of donated books and I always come away with several bags fully stuffed. Can't resist--at the LSU sale or an estate sale or some readable paperbacks at a garage sale. The Betty Ford Clinic has yet to open a wing for my addiction.

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  2. Librarian #1 seems a little difficult. Ours are much more accommodating. At my book sale,for example, I would have a list under my desk calendar of any authors you were looking for and save them behind my chair. And in return you would bring me giant bags of M&M's and a nut roll at Christmas. That's how it works around here.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America