That’s usually the question posed to me by someone who visits our home and sees the shelves of books in my library for the first time.
I don’t have an actual count of the number of books on my shelves – but it approaches somewhere near 3,000. One wall, measuring about 14 ft x 8 ft high, has built-in shelves from floor to ceiling. There are 8 shelves on it, completely filled. There are also 2 sets of bookshelves that set the room off from a front room, also completely filled. One more sits beside my computer desk, also filled.
That’s not all, and it usually garners an even wider-eyed reaction from visitors when I open the double folding doors along the back wall and reveal a closet (about 6 ft deep and 20 ft wide) also filled with bookshelves. Most of my original books and reprints are shelved out in the library, and in the closet are binders full of copied books, plus all the copies of manuscripts, letters, etc – all the errata that makes up a researcher’s “stuff.”
When the above question is posed, I usually give a pat “yep.” But honestly, there’s more to the answer. I should actually admit that I’ve read perhaps half of the books cover to cover – many of them I’ve purchased for research only. The latter books, though, I have skimmed through, or did a “speed-reading” in order to look for potentially useful material. When someone pulls one of the books off a shelf, they’ll invariably see a whole bunch of those yellow Post-It notes sticking out of it, with notations written on them. Years ago, I found this practice necessary in order to be able to find something later. I got tired of the old “I know I read that somewhere” feeling – at least with the notes, I cut down the time of a search considerably.
The past few weeks, I’ve been making a considerable effort to organize the many boxes and files of loose papers and internet-printed books I’ve been accumulating. I’m gearing back up for what I call my “writing season” – starting now and going through about October. Probably many other writers here in the wicked-winter northeast take advantage of the cold months to write, but I’m just the opposite. There’s usually so much going on around here during the holidays that I may only write an article over the 4 or 5 months, or devote the time to research and reading. I work, then, just as hard at it, but I find it difficult to write much over the winter.
I thought about bringing this topic up tonite because of a post on a Civil War chat board I’m a member of (Eric Wittenberg’s Civil War Discussion Group or CWDG) that was posed recently. One of the members asked what other folks planned to do with all their books someday, how many they’ve read, and how authors find time to simply read for pleasure. Plus, recent visitors to our home have thrown that headline question at me recently while looking at my shelves, so I guess I have books on the mind tonite.
As to what to do with all this “stuff” once I shake off this mortal coil, I found that an interesting question. One thought is to donate much of it, especially my Cavalry-Gettysburg Campaign material, to the Gettysburg NMP. The new visitor center and research facility promised to be a real wizz-bang, and perhaps someone can benefit from all this stuff one day. Being intimately familiar with what is currently at the Park’s library, especially concerning the cavalry, all this crap would definitely deepen their resources. So that’s one thought. But if one day I had a familiar member or close younger friend who showed as much interest in all this as me, leaving it to them might also be an option. I have seen in several cases where historians have left their resources to various libraries and repositories for the use of other students, and I’ve always admired that.
Ooops… gotta run. Looks like the Girl Scouts are at the door to deliver the cookies we ordered. Hhmm, maybe they’d like to see the library before they go…