Just because you love libraries and you love books doesn’t necessarily mean you love clean, pristinely intact books in libraries. Libraries necessarily lead to wear and tear on books – the fact that a volume is somewhat tattered means it has been used. It has been loved.
I buy used books, and often they originate with libraries, which at some point have to offload old volumes to accommodate new stock.
On of my favorites is The Goede Vrouw of Mana-ha-ta: At Home and in Society 1609-1760, by Mrs. John King Rensselaer, a member of New York Knickerbocker society during the Gilded Age and a founder of the Colonial Dames of America. The author was something of a firebrand, judging from a turn-of-the-twentieth-century New York Times article about her behavior during a New-York Historical Society meeting. “’Instead of an imposing edifice filled with treasures from Old New York what do we find?’ demanded Mrs. Van Rensselaer. ‘Only a deformed monstrosity filled with curiosities, ill arranged and badly assorted.’” Harrumph.
Her history, a feminist creation in its own way, was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1898, and bears a scrawled inscription that I’ve always told myself must read “Rensselaer.” Its pages are worn and soft and dogeared, stained at the edges. Its orange cloth binding with its marvelous faux-metal trim bears splits at the spine.
It’s an expired library book.
A little sleuthing explicates the book plate. The Wood Library is in Canandaigua, New York, on North Main Street, and is still going strong since its founding in 1857. Major Charles A. Richardson, who donated The Goede Vrouw, was a lifelong bachelor and Canandaigua resident, commissioned in the Civil War, who at the time of the book’s publication had recently been named to the commission charged with establishing the topographical features of the Gettysburg battlefield.
I like the idea of this century-old book by one staunch American given by another staunch American to a Main Street American library. And I like the book’s soft edges, its creases and stains, the carefully inked call number on its spine.
And that is why I find the series of photos of discarded and withdrawn library books by Kerry Mansfield so appealing. In “Expired,” her camera focuses intently on those soft edges, creases and stains. The yellowed, stamped check-out cards and paper pockets. Even some mildew. Behind it all, for me, the fever dream of library books stacked up, awaiting my attention on a summer day, the specter of stern librarians, kind librarians, the smell of library paste.
This artist says she loves paper more than she loves books. And these are artifacts, after all, not book reviews. But she’s taken 1,300 images so far, and for me that means you care.