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Wednesday, June 4, 2014
My editor asked me to write a post for Avon Loves Librarian’s Week because I used to be a librarian. Well, sort-of-not-really. I spent several years writing catalogs of rare books and manuscripts for major auction houses in London and New York. My love for the rare book business made its way into my historical romance series, The Burgundy Club, featuring a group of Regency era book collectors. Later I worked in Special Collections at the Dartmouth College Library in Hanover, NH, cataloguing a collection of plays, playbills and other items relating to the theater. I’ve used some of what I learned and saw in my books. (Writers are champions of mental recycling.)
|The Radcliffe Camera, |
My earliest library memory is of the mobile library van that toured our part of rural England. It stopped about half a mile from our house and my mother would walk us there to stock up on enough books to last two weeks. (I always ran out.) Since then, I’ve used all kinds of libraries, from the local library in my small Vermont town to the greatest of all, like the British Library, the New York Public Library, and Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale. No matter how large or small, there’s magic in entering a room full of books, a feeling of endless potential. You never know what treasure of knowledge or entertainment awaits you.
At Oxford University, the library I used most was the Radcliffe Camera, the great domed building that housed the history and English collections of the Bodleian Library. Later I used another famous circular library, the Reading Room of the British Museum, where luminaries like Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, and Bram Stoker worked. The British Library has now moved to new premises and I love it for it’s breathtaking efficiency. In the old reading room it could take hours, days even, to get a book and quite often the item you requested had been lost. But the staff were always wonderfully helpful. I remember once needing to look up one section of a work that came in dozens of volumes and I didn’t have the proper citation. Against the rules, a librarian snuck me into the stacks to find what I needed.
|The old round Reading Room at the British Museum|
|The old British Museum stacks. |
I've been there!
In New York, I got to know the legendary Lola Szladits, curator of the NY Public Library’s Berg Collection of English and American Literature. Her motto was “what Lola wants, Lola gets.” The tales of how she bribed and cajoled the archives of numerous writers into her hands were fascinating. Lola is an example of how a great librarian can make a collection.
Lola tried to persuade me to go to library school and become a librarian myself but I never wanted to be on that side of the library desk. I enjoyed the two years at Dartmouth but it was enough. Working as a library cataloguer did make me appreciate a side of librarians that most patrons don’t see: the painstaking and frequently tedious work of cataloging and shelving. Because if a book is wrongly described, or shelved in the wrong place, it is basically lost and useless, unless discovered by serendipity.
|The main reading room at the New York Public Library|
This weekend my local library holds its annual summer festival and fundraiser. It is with great pride that I see my name listed as sponsor and local writer. None of us, readers or writers, would be where we are without libraries and the dedicated people who run them.