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Book Beg

November 1, 2002

If you saw the book “Life, letters, and Epicurean philosophy of Ninon de Lenclos” at the library’s fall book sale, would you have bought it?

Did you buy it?

If so, we would like to beg it back. It wasn’t ours to sell. It belongs to Pittsburgh State University in Pittsburgh, Kansas. It is a relatively rare English translation of a book that’s more easily had in French and German. It’s a hundred years old. And it’s disappearance is haunting me.

The loss of any Interlibrary Loan book is troubling, and an old and rare book much worse. The prospect of it being buried in the landfill … well, we won’t even think about it.

This has been a series of unfortunate events.

The misfortune began when the book was returned to us but evidently without any of its identifying paperwork. A staff member must have thought it was a donation. This is not unreasonable; we get book donations almost every day.

However, we have to be extra careful because of this. Across the circulation desk come: (i) our own books, (ii) donated books, (iii) ILL (Interlibrary Loan) books from other libraries, (iv) books from the local schools mistakenly returned to us, and (v) CLC (Colorado Library Card) books which have been checked out by our cardholders at other libraries.

Often, the books are left, either at the desk or in the book return box, without comment. So we have to sort things out. Many libraries send ILL books with paper tags or covers to identify them. These wraps usually tear and disappear by the time the books come back to us.

But the misfortune continues. I believe I saw the missing book on a shelf at the book sale. When Becky described the book to me a few days later, I was heartsick.

Slim volume; reddish covers; “epicurean philosophy” had caught me eye. I can almost picture a stamp inside saying “Pittsburgh …” but I may be delirious now. However, we see markings like that all the time on old, donated books.

To think that I held it. Why I put it back on the shelf, I don’t know. It’s the kind of book I would have been thrilled to find at a used book sale.

There’s more: the person who had been taking our leftover books didn’t show up this year; her phone was disconnected. So we took the unsold books to the dump. We’ve done it before. We don’t like it, but we ran out of options.

But there’s still more: It turns out another non-profit enterprise here would have taken them. But they understood that we had arrangements and didn ‘t bring it up again.

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

OK, so that was Thomas Wolfe, but nevertheless this book now haunts me … and not just because I missed my chance with a 17th century French woman of beauty and wit who was determined to live an unmarried life of pleasure; and who befriended the likes of Moliere, Voltaire, and Racine; and who died in her 80s a rich woman.

The final twist is that our volunteers who packed up the book sale remainders, and who are rather keen-eyed, do not recall the book.

So, hope remains that someone in the area did buy the book and saved it from oblivion. Please let it be you … you are our only hope.

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