Ex-Library Copy

From Empty Mirror:

Ex-library books are generally undesirable, due to the fact that they have usually have been stamped, taped, glued, and subjected to other indignities, such as the application of a card pocket. In addition, it may have been damaged by careless library patrons. Occasionally one may come by an ex-library book which is minimally marked, these are lucky finds.

I have always rather fancied ex-library copies, partly because of the “indignities” mentioned above. Although underlining (especially in pen, which I regard as desecration) and missing pages are taking it too far, I like the signs of wear and age on library books, and wondering how many people must have read them before.

My library explorations this week have been thwarted by a prickly cold that has left me hoarse and weak. I can only lie in bed dreaming of libraries, and feeling a little guilty that I am not out exploring to report back to you all, my dear readers.

Instead I thought I’d show you a few of the ex-library books that I discovered while browsing in Goulds Books in Newtown. Goulds Book is a Sydney institution, and is probably best described by a peek in the door:

Narrow aisles, and books everywhere. You could spend days in Goulds, getting deeper and deeper into the piles. You leave with grimy fingers, sneezing from the dust, perhaps with an obscure treasure you found at the bottom of a box. I generally prefer to look through the boxes of books, rather than the ones on the shelves, as I like rummaging.

Goulds is very similar to a library, you can stay in there for as long as you like, and, although it is a shop, it feels like a place for the public, a kind of book graveyard where you could find anything and anything if you looked for long enough. The last time I was there I looked for ex-library books in particular, as there are many in Goulds, often so old and obscure and outdated I can’t imagine anyone buying them. Many I looked at were from the John Fairfax library, which Goulds must have bought the entire collection of at some point. Would anyone have really consulted “The Total Look” to decorate their house, I wonder?

Other ex-library books were from seminary libraries, and I liked imaging pious students reading about psychology in Toongabbie:

Others were cast offs from the public library system, the kind it is easy to pick up at library book sales:

There is something in particular about ex-library books that makes me consider them as objects more than I would generally consider a secondhand book. Unless there is something in particular that makes me consider a book’s previous owner (a loving dedication in the front, a relic from a relationship that must have soured, for example), I don’t tend to do it. But with ex-library books, I imagine the librarian covered it in plastic, or rebinding it, in the case of the Psychology book above, to make it more durable. I think of all the places the book must have been, now to end up in the labyrinth of Goulds, with the hope of rising to the surface, and interesting someone enough for them to buy it.



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