Realizing the Value of "Old" Books
November 27, 2011
After Tellabration at Mt Holyoke College this year, the producer, Gail Herman, asked me for the source of the story I told: The Conjure Wives. Actually, I have been telling the story so long that I no longer remembered where I found it! I had to dig though my personal library to find the source. This is a good reminder to credit sources, even when it appears to be in the public domain.
The Conjure Wives was written by Frances G. Wickes around 1912. It is included in the book It's Time for Story Hour, edited by Elizabeth Sechrist and Janette Woolsey, published in 1964. This book is one of my earliest acquisitions as a storyteller. It was a sold as a discard from the Central Mass Regional Library System.
Another "old" collection that I've loved ever since I started travelling this storytelling path is To Read & To Tell: an anthology of stories for children chosen and edited by Norah Montgomerie, published in Toronto in 1962. This book sadly disappeared from our public libraryís shelves. I had checked it out at least three times, and when it was no longer there, the librarian, familiar with my love for this book and knowing my disappointment, apologized profusely, saying, "I know who last barrowed it, but she claims that she returned it." The helpful librarian got the book for me through inter-library loan - the closest copy was from Illinois! Needless to say, I photocopied the entire book, probably breaking every copyright law! But, such is the risk of storytelling! I figured that I had a darn good reason, and I was more than a little "ticked-off" with the person who had failed to return the book.
My friend Lori works in a small town public library, and she has funneled a couple of wonderful collections to me when her library decides to discard them. Whenever I find a good edition of a story collection, I tell the librarian how much I like it, and I ask her if it is checked out very often. If it is not, I ask her to remember how I much I would like to have it if the book should be discarded. Itís doubtful that the librarian will remember, but itís certainly worth the effort. And librarians are very helpful people!
Then there are the really old books, sometimes first editions. When I see a treasure on a library's shelf, I inform the librarian. Libraries sometimes have the very same books sitting out on their shelves that the Boston Public Library keeps in their special collection - no pens allowed for these non-circulating books that are kept in a protected, closed-off room. At least two books that I know of no longer circulate in libraries near me. The books are now kept in the back stacks. The librarians feel important to have such a book in their collection. They realize the value of libraries as "keepers of the word", and I know the books will be there when I need them!