Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Should it stay or should it go, now?

(Sing it with me!)

Ah, the age old debate between the packrat and the housemouse (or however that saying goes): keep the miscellaneous ephemera only tangentially related to established collections, or get rid of it? One of the items in question is this lovely little copy of The Franklin almanac and western New-York calendar for the year of our Lord 1842.

Why? Why do we have this? Sadly, that information has been lost in the mounting sands of time. It was just uncovered in a box of Medical Museum Collection items, without provenance or donation information. Sure, it's lovely. It's obviously not complete, lacking at least one page (though how many more than that is difficult to tell). Thirteen libraries are shown as holding this title in OCLC's WorldCat. We are not near Rochester; the almanac as is contains no medical information; there are no marks of ownership to indicate whether it belonged to any person affiliated with the university. But it is the sort of thing one hates to discard, the sort of thing that many assume should be kept. It cries "rare books." It even smells good.

Today, I chanced to read the "Public Domain" column in the latest issue of Fine Books & Collections. Adapted from Eugene Field's The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac (1899), the piece is entitled "On the odors that my books exhale." Describing his own fondness for the smell of books, and in particular of libraries, Fields addressed the strange case of the British Museum, where patrons
complain not infrequently that they are overcome by the closeness of the atmosphere in that place, and what is known as the British Museum headache has come to be recognized by the medical profession in London as a specific ailment due to the absence of oxygen in the atmosphere...
Put on the case to make a scientific explanation for this anomalous library, one Professor Huxley conducted a series of experiments and concluded that "the presence of poison in the atmosphere was due to the number of profane books in the museum." A modern reader can only wonder whether there might not be a second, perhaps more scientific, explanation (low light in the reading room comes to mind, but then I'm not a doctor).

We often get comments about the smell of the History of Medicine Room from first-time visitors. While we haven't made a concerted effort to question patrons and compile comments, we have had more than one person describe the smell as "cloves." Our little almanac doesn't smell like cloves, to me, but does have a bit of Field's "fragrant, gracious" air to it. Reason enough to keep it? I guess we'll have to sleep on this one.

1 comment:

Allen said...

Hmm...Until I learn to sing better I think I'll leave it to them.


Ah, that delightful smell and feel of books. I think it's the magic the new Amazon Kindle thing just can't match. Hey!! NOT that don't want one!! ;-)

I wonder with the social networking thing if it's owner may just come looking for it soon enough. Seems like these little happy connections are happening more these days.

It's really amazing how all the "new ideas" really aren't so new after all. Just not remembered. :-)