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From the Letters to the Editor column of the February 2008 issue of Perspectives on History

Letters to the Editor: On Saving Books

Timothy Buchanan, February 2008

Editor's Note: Perspectives on History welcomes letters to the editor on issues discussed in its pages or which are relevant to the profession. Letters should ideally be brief and should be sent to Letters to the Editor (or mailed to Letters to the Editor, Perspectives on History, AHA, 400 A Street SE, Washington, DC 20003-3889) along with full contact information. Letters selected for publication may be edited for style, length, and content. Publication of letters does not signify endorsement by the AHA of the views expressed by the authors, who alone are responsible for ensuring accuracy of the letters' contents. Institutional affiliations are provided only for identification purposes.

To the Editor:

Like James Cortada ("Save the Books!" in Perspectives, December 2007), I collect books from the internet, for both my research and the pleasure of "the original artifacts as read in their day." I have noticed that an increasing number of these texts are library discards, a boon for me but troubling for other researchers. For example, I have the first English edition of Stalin's Leninism, from the Psychiatric Clinic Library of Johns Hopkins University (in their defense, I note that no one, over eight decades, ever borrowed this book). I have Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, ex libris University of California at San Diego, a copy once owned by John Somerville, and filled with his glosses. Not all discards are antiques; Tempe Library sold a copy of William Moskoff's Hard Times, a useful study of economic conditions during Perestroika, for one dollar. The most ironic example in my collection is a copy of Communism in India, by Gene Overstreet and Marshall Windmiller, a text that is perhaps the best study of this movement. In their foreword, the authors note that the work "was written under the auspices of the Modern India Project at the University of California, Berkeley." That is where I secured my copy, as a discard from the university's Library of Asian Studies.

I love my collection, and studying these texts; as I am fortunately married to a former librarian, no one will discourage me from hoarding these books. Sometimes, I feel like the bibliophile archivist in Fahrenheit 451, except good intentions and not malice has created this situation. With our obsession on electronic access, I wonder if we will end up like H. G. Wells's Eloi (I admit to spell-checking that reference on the net). Will we let our books crumble into dust, and receive our knowledge from talking rings?

—Timothy Buchanan,
Manitou Springs, Colo