Thursday, March 31, 2005

And rich people wear copies of their fine jewelry

I went to the Free Library to get an E. Nesbit book that I had never read. Actually, I had never read any E. Nesbit books, which was why I wanted one. Apparently, E. Nesbit was a prolific writer of children’s books who had somehow escaped my attention when I was growing up, and I felt like I was missing out. Plus, I like reading children’s books. Even though I’m a grown up.

So I went down to get it, but I couldn’t find any E. Nesbit books in the stacks. Which seemed odd, because this was the main library of a major city, and, as I mentioned, E. Nesbit was a prolific writer of children’s books. But it was doubly odd, because the book I wanted was listed in the electronic catalog as being in the stacks. So I went to ask at the desk.

“Do you have The Railway Children by E. Nesbit? I can’t find it in the stacks anywhere,” I said. The librarian went to her computer and typed a few keys.

“Oh,” she said. “Here’s the problem. It’s in the rare book room. You can’t check it out. In fact, no one is even allowed to go in there.”

“No one?” I said, surprised. “No one can look at these books?”

“No, no one,” she replied.

“But someone must be allowed to look at them,” I said. “You must be able to get permission somehow. I mean, I understand that no one is allowed to check them out, but why would you keep them if no one can look at them?” But the librarian was insistent that no one was ever allowed to go into the rare book room. Not scholars, not historians, not anyone.

I gave up trying to understand this, although I still think she was wrong. Perhaps she thought I myself was trying to get permission to go in there. I was not. I just wanted to get her to admit that having a collection of books that no one is allowed to even look at, never mind read, is completely insane. They must let someone look at them. Otherwise, they may as well burn them and just tell people they have them. Same thing.

It reminded me of how, in college, when people were lucky enough to get a really good parking space in front of the dorm instead of way up the hill behind the dorm, they tended to never drive anywhere ever again. Because if they drove into town, they would lose their sweet spot close to the door. The one that minimized the walking distance from the dorm to the car. So instead, they walked into town.

Anyway, on the way home from the library, I stopped at a tiny children’s bookstore and picked up a paperback copy of the exceedingly rare The Railway Children for about $4. There are only millions of copies left in print, so I was lucky to get such a deal.

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