Never heard of Sully? Me neither. I don’t put on airs in these matters. I had never heard of the guy until I looked him up while mulling over this column. I did intuitively, right away, understand why he went by ‘Sully.’
No wonder there.
His real name was Rene Francois Armand Prudhomme.
But I digress…
A friend called me the other day, alarmed that a purge of good books, some ‘classic,’ may be underway at our library. Reason for alarm, that. Could it be?
Rick Ward, Patrick’s librarian, says the process is continuous.
“Weeding is an ongoing fact of life in libraries. We are trying to make the collection more attractive, easier to find, more room for new titles.”
I am not a snob where books are concerned. I do the ‘beach reads’ like lots of people do. Read the same escapism. The same pabulum.
Nor do I worship books as artifacts. I treat mine badly. I have a First Edition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fabulous One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of the best-top three or four-novels ever published, in any language.
To a collector it’s worth a couple thousand dollars. I’m not a collector. I gave fifty cents for it, have read it to death, spilled coffee on it, burned it with cigarettes, bent most of the page corners at one time or another, and scribbled in it.
That’s the way most of my ‘keepers’ are-I beat them all to pieces.
Sure, I purge my books from time to time, just like libraries do. Money and space are finite constraints for me, too. But I keep the “keepers.”
“I’m taking every book off the shelf one row at a time,” Ward says. “I look to see what kind of condition they are in, if they are part of a series, how many times that book has circulated and whether it has won an award or not.
“If I find an award winner, I place a label in the back of the book to let people know. I am not discarding any book that has won a major award. I’m taking this very seriously. I am not chucking anything out willy-nilly.”
A lot of good stuff never makes it in to begin with. Two reasons: no money and no demand. It generally takes three patron requests to put a book on the regional acquisition list.
The 2003 National Book Award fiction winner, Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire, is not in our library. Nor is the 2004 winner. Nor are the winners for 2005, 2006, 2008, or Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule, this year’s winner. Not a single work by 13 of the last 20 Nobel Prize authors resides in Stuart. I didn’t check the Mann-Booker winners. I didn’t check the Pulitzers. I didn’t check the Great Books inventory.
“I agree we should have some of these books you mention on the shelf, but I have a responsibility to the public in general to get the books that will appeal to the majority of our patrons with the limited funding I have-maybe not the best way to go about it, but one that has the books that patrons come in looking for every day.
“When I first came up here at the end of 2006, I had almost $1000 a month to buy Adult Fiction and Non-Fiction books. I now have right at $400 and the book prices keep going up.”
He has a suggestion, a good one:
“Anyone who would like to buy a Nobel/National Book Award/PEN Faulkner/Booker winner that we don’t have and donate it to the collection would be more than welcome.”
I know libraries are about so many things besides books these days. I know technology is turning them into relic bins. I know they serve a wide and diverse constituency. I know that some-many, but not all-of these titles are available somewhere in the Blue Ridge system and can be fetched up in a day or two.
I have been in all of the regional branches-in Bassett, in Collinsville, in Ridgeway, in Martinsville-and can say without prejudice that Patrick’s is the pearl of the fleet-a good place, if you ask me, to keep the system’s ‘keepers,’ to keep the great works forever, in a permanent collection, off-limits to any purging-whether patrons regularly ask for them or not.
I don’t claim to be an arbiter of taste or preference in the matter of reading, have no desire to be, make no pretense of it, pass no judgment in that regard. I can suggest that a sustained effort to acquire and keep works by the prizewinners would be a good place to start.
Mine is a modest suggestion-modesty that doesn’t match Queequeg’s when, to keep Ishmael from seeing his naked feet, he crawls under the bed to pull his boots on-but maybe it’ll do.
“I love living in Patrick County and I love this library and will do anything in my power to make it the best it can be.”
That makes two of us.
It occurs to me that we have an opportunity here. We have the pearl of the fleet. We have the staff here in Patrick-they’re world-class. With a few private dollars, we can make our library to prizewinning literature what the Bassett branch is to genealogy-and Bassett is no slouch there.
My check is in the mail. You can send yours to the Patrick County Library, 116 West Blue Ridge Street, Stuart, Virginia, 24171. Tab the check ‘A Home For Sully.’
Sully? A French poet and essayist, Sully Prudhomme won the first Nobel Prize awarded for literature in 1901. He doesn’t show anywhere in the database of our regional library system. Paris Hilton does. Six times. Thank God they’re all in Henry County.
Best to you and yourn-BKD.