History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

14 June 2007

Library Jackpot or Crackpot?

By Deeanne Gist

Our local library has book sales twice a year. They categorize books that have been donated or that they are getting rid of. Then they sell them for fifty cents each. I see this as a good thing and a bad thing.

I love it because it is at this sale where I find those diamonds in a haystack. One year I found a textbook written in 1874 on how to ride a bicycle. Another time I found a Sears Roebuck catalog from 1897. One of my favorites is a thick hardback, Approved Etiquette of Today, published in 1896. It includes instructions for things such as when to wear gloves, the art of dress, the proper etiquette for walking, boating, riding and driving with someone of the opposite sex.

The bad thing is when I find what I know to be a diamond, but I have no plans (at the moment) of writing in that time period. For instance, Life in a Medieval Castle or Indian Signals and Sign Language. Wizards and Wampum or Witchcraft in Colonial New England. Yet I buy them anyway ... just in case. I mean, after all, they’re only fifty cents.

Problem is, I’ve been doing this for years and now my book collection is so big I’m having trouble finding shelf space. I have books in the spare room, in my kids’ closets, in drawers, in china cabinets ... everywhere. And shelf space isn’t the only problem. I don’t really know what all I have. I <gulp> need a card catalog!

What about you? Do you rely on libraries and the internet for your research sources or are you a book collector? What challenges do you face?

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Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Oh, I know at least one Hoyden here who has a problem. Maybe three or four.

7:35 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Who, me? A problem you say? Pshaw. It's more of an illness (though I just saw Candice Hern's library and now I don't feel so bad, she has at least 3 times as many books as I do!).

Deeanne, I just ordered all three of your books for my grandmother on Amazon. I like to send her stuff at least every other month and I've run out of the "heroine of the bible" type books to buy (I got her totally addicted to Marek Halter’s books). Here's hoping your books with open a whole new buying vista . . .

8:15 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Although I do extensive internet research, I'm as bad in bookstores as I am in shoestores. I can't stop myself. And nothing can substitute for a real book, which contains vetted research, though we all know that even non-fiction writing academics, or would-be historians can get it wrong sometimes. But if I come across a volume that I need for my current research in a bookstore, unless I'm on such a tight deadline that I need it immediately, I confess that I'll usually order it from Amazon at a discount, and if it's something that will supply more "transient" research, I'll likely order a used copy, since I'll probably only hold onto it for the duration of my current wip.

Picking up treasures for a song that a library is unloading is, indeed, where all bets are off, though. You can't pass those up! Here in NYC, some years ago the performing arts branch of the NY Public Library was selling off some of its stuff, and I thought they were NUTS for unloading (at a very affordable price) a biography of the 19th c. tragedian Ellen Terry that was OWNED by the 20th century actress-manager Eva LeGalliene (with LeGalliene's handwritten margin notes!) Of course that was a must-have purchase, and I was rehearsing the role that Terry was referring to, and which LeGalliene made her handwritten notations!

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love being able to do internet research, but I totally agree there's no substitute for books. Every new book I write leads to more research books (so love Amanda's books and shoes analogy :-), and library sales are particularly dangerous because the books are so affordable I'm incliend to buy things I think I *might* need some day... (I wouldn't have been able to pass up the Ellen Terry/Eva LaGalliene book either--how amazing). Fortunately, I have a lot of book shelves in my house, buc I still have more books than space for books. I'm staring around my desk right now, piled high with various volumes (easier to keep the things I'm most likely to need within easy reach).

8:54 AM  
Blogger Deeanne Gist said...

"I'm as bad in bookstores as I am in shoestores."

LOL, Amanda!! I **LOVE** that! I not only collect real shoes, I collect those teeny-tiny collectible ones. Do you know what I'm talking about? In my guest bathroom, I have a book called "Mad About Shoes" which is nothing but illustrations of FABULOUS shoes. (My female guests spend a looooooong time in my guest bath. Ha!)

And ... a library sale in NYC? Ooooooh. That just might be worth a plane ticket!

9:14 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I think the NYPL got wise to the fact that they were stupidly getting rid of what a normal person, let alone a research/history geek like me, would consider "archival material." Evidently, LeGalliene had upon her demise, donated contents of her personal library to NY's public library and no one at the NYPL bothered to look through the stuff before they put out their sale table. At the same sale (and this was over 10 years ago ... the used to have an annual purge, and people would line up around the block before the performing arts library opened on the day of the sale; but now I think they don't do it at all ...) anyway (God, I'm long-winded today) that same day I picked up a 2-volume biography of Edmund Kean that was published shortly after his death in the 1820s! I think that's where I also picked up the 1820s 2-volume biography of Junius Brutus Booth, the famous actor-manager father of Edwin and John Wilkes Booth. Can you tell I collect contemporaneous bios of famous 19th c. actors?

As for shoes, I pin my passion on this: that, like Lord Byron, I was born with a bilateral club foot (as in both of them), but thanks to modern surgical procedures you'd never know my medical history unless I mention it. So I figure that 200 years ago I would never have been able to WEAR pretty shoes (and I love high heels and peep-toes ... anything that looks like it's from the 1940s), so naturally I count my lucky stars that I can!

Some excuse, huh?

10:23 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Geeeze, Deeanne, me too! I hit the annual library sale, and I haunt used bookstores hunting for the diamonds---which I find are harder and harder to come by.

I've actually got my name on a few antique bookseller's mailing lists, so I can continue to add to my own dusty piles by just picking up the phone. I'm an addict, I admit. ;-)

11:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think we all have a bit of Lisa Simpson/Rory Gilmore in us; the urge to "save" the books. LOL!

11:36 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I'm a total book collector. I have books on my shelves for that someday when I take them down to do research for that Gilded Age Chicago novel I plan to write, or that Restoration historical. I even have a huge collection of books on the Regency, and I have no plans to ever write in that period. Whenever I get over my nerves at writing in a different time period. It's hard for me to walk out of the Strand without buying something. but then again I have a huge collection of history links under my favorites. Sigh, I'm just a history geek.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Deeanne Gist said...

You know what's really embarrassing? I joined Friends of the Library, so I'd be asked to "help" set up the annual library sales.

I think they are on to me, though, because they always ask if I'd like to "set up" the history section! Ha!

3:39 PM  
Blogger SaucySam said...

In my last year of high school they were rebuilding the library so they were getting rid of a lot of old books. They were free to a good home so every day I would take as many as I could carry. I took up a whole bench on the bus with just me and my books.
Not sure if you guys have heard of Librarything.com but from one bibliophile to another it rocks. Its a great way to catalog your books. Quite an epic undertaking to catalog your whole library, but I think you can even buy a barcode scanner with a usb hookup for like $15. I'm quite addicted to it and its really easy to use. Its way cool like a myspace for your library.

9:40 PM  
Blogger Atherley said...

The 'Net has made research more convenient, but virtual research cannot hold a candle to cozying up with the rare books and newspapers at my favorite haunts: Princeton's Firestone Library and the New York Public Library's rare books and maps rooms. Turning the pages of a 300- or 200-year-old publication, and feeling and getting a whiff of musty paper or vellum is a lovely way to connect with the era I'm studying.

I wish I could buy half the old treasures I see at library sales, but I simply haven't the room!

5:21 AM  
Blogger Deeanne Gist said...

Sam! Wow! Thanks so much for telling me about librarything.com! I ordered my bar scanner and can't wait to get started. Woo-hoo!

2:03 PM  

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