Jeanne of the Bookblog of the Bristol Public Library is back today with a deeply personal post on the subject of donating books to the library…
When I was growing up, one of the only acceptable ways of paying respects to the dead was to send flowers to the funeral. One also sent food to the living, attended the wake, and of course the funeral. The standard time between death and the funeral was at least three days, to give enough time to notify relatives and friends, and for them to have the chance to travel to the funeral.
Things have changed quite a bit in the past few decades. For one thing, the wake—also known as “sitting up with the dead” in my region, a reflection of when such things were held in the family parlor—is now largely visitation (“The family will receive friends..”) and since a jumble of relatives don’t usually descend for the week, folks have cut down on the food offerings a bit. Some funerals have taken place within a day of passing or else been held up for weeks as a memorial service has taken the place of a traditional funeral with a body in a casket. Death notices in the newspaper have become less of a given, now that many papers charge for such notices.
Another change is the floral tribute which, I am sure, has been very difficult for the florists. Instead of automatically accepting flowers, many notices carry a list of suitable places to make donations in honor of the deceased. I have to say that is a change I applaud; while I always appreciated seeing the flowers, knowing that one can help defray funeral expenses for the family or contribute to a charity near and dear to the person seems a much more useful way to express one’s sympathy.
For me, that has become donating a book to the library in memory of the person. In fact, twice a year I make a donation to the library back in our home town in honor of my mother, a voracious reader who would have loved having a library at her disposal. When she was growing up, there was no county library; when I was growing up, there was a library at the county seat but not in our town. My mother was on the Regional Library Board and advocated for a library for our town. We did finally get one just about four years before we moved away. It was in the town hall, above the jail, in a room not exactly designed to held thousands of pounds of weight. The floor bowed in several places. One always had the feeling one could go in for a book and end up in a cell.
The library now has a new home on a ground floor and has room for more books, though not the budget. With my donation, I allow the library to do the selection based on the current needs of their readers. After all, there’s little reason to select a book that will just gather dust on the shelves. I do give some broad guidelines. For example, my mother had a love of history and genealogy, so books about our region are good choices. She also loved mysteries and historical sagas, so things in that genre—especially large print, as that was her salvation when she developed macular degeneration—are excellent choices. When the books are selected, a plate goes inside with her name on it. I like to think that some reader picks the book up and takes a moment to be grateful that Negetha G. Powers is remembered in that way.
I know that’s my reaction with the collection here. There are any number of books with memorial plates or “In honor of” plates. If it’s a subject I especially enjoy, I feel a bit of kinship to the person named. A few years back, we lost a wonderful patron who was a devoted knitter, especially of socks. With the donations we bought a number of knitting books, adding greatly to the collection. Not long after a patron came up, looking a bit puzzled. She too is an avid knitter and had been through most of the books in our collection. She pointed to the plate and said, “What does this mean?” I explained, and her face lit up. “Ah, what a nice lady!” she said.
So this is my pitch for the day. It comes about as we have lost a long time staff member, one who was also an omnivorous reader. My choices for her were easy: I just chose the books she had put on reserve but which were not yet published at the time she passed. I know she was itching to read the next Mike Lawson and Lee Child.
At a time when books, authors, and libraries are feeling the pinch, when many readers have had financial setbacks and are living on limited incomes, giving a book to a library pays it forward in so many ways.
The views expressed herein are my own and not those of other person or instititution.