Having recently re-read the autobiography of Loren Eiseley, I decided to read a biography of the 20th century eminent writer and scientist. Soon a copy of Gale Christianson’s Fox at the Wood’s Edge arrived, and I eagerly opened the package only to find an ex-library copy that the seller had not advised, so I requested a refund. Now, I own several copies of ex-library books and have no issue with them. In fact, I have read of collectors and book readers who prefer them for several reasons. However, I requested a refund because the particular copy I received had not been so advertised. The dealer refunded the money and instructed me to keep or donate the book to a charity, which is standard practice.
The book had been in the collection of the large public library system of Fresno, California, and it had the usual stamps of all public libraries. All ex-library copies that I know of have a prominent stamp in them stating in some way that the particular book has been withdrawn or discarded. The Christianson was a bit different for on its front flyleaf page was stamped in the usual, large, black letters: WITHDRAWN, Worn, Soiled, Obsolete.
If a librarian wishes to determine that a book is too worn and soiled to remain in the collection, I will not argue with that evaluation. Being worn and soiled is in the eyes of the observer, after all, and to make such assessments is, I think, one of the duties of a librarian. I also understand that a public library collection needs culling of its holdings and some books that are not checked out by readers occupy space that could be used for new acquisitions. So, without knowing the use history of Christianson’s biography, I must assume (ouch) that the book was seldom checked out, thus making it “Obsolete”.
This reflection is being written on a lap top, but I learned the keyboard in a high school typing class during the early 1960’s, using an Underwood typewriter. The first telephone I used was a rotary dial one that had finger holes corresponding to a particular number; it was dull black, plugged into a telephone line outlet, and had a receiver for talking and listening that rested in it cradle, There was a time when the television had only three channels and to change from one to another, I had to get out of my chair and turn a dial. To raise or lower a car window, I had to turn a hand crank. As a beginning teacher in 1968 I learned to make multiple copies of handouts for my students by hand-cranking a Mimeograph machine in which I had placed the master copy. In order to conduct academic research, I had to go into a library and sit at a large table to read because the “Reserved Books” could not be checked out. All of this is a short list of things in my lifetime that have, thank goodness, become obsolete because a better way or better product was thought of or invented. Innovation is a great thing, and one that I benefit from and appreciate.
However, there was a time that in any row of stores in an American town could be found a repair shop. The one I favored long ago was Appliance Fix-It, and the owner and “fixer” ,whose name I wish I could recall, would and did fix, it seemed, anything. There were also shoe repair shops where a favorite pair of shoes or other leather item, whether out of adoration or to save money, could be repaired, granting new life to a worn favorite. These fixtures of a past America have, sadly, become obsolete because it is now easier and cheaper to just discard an iron or lawn mower or lamp or any other commonly found items in and around our homes and buy a new one.
Products and items become obsolete. I understand that, but what I can’t comprehend is the idea that a well-regarded biography of such a writer and thinker as Eiseley can and was determined to be obsolete. Worn and soiled is possible. But like the fixer and the shoe repairman such books should never be thought of as obsolete.