I received an email the other day from one of my favorite librarians at one of my favorite libraries. The original cause for writing is unimportant, but on a cold gray day I got a big boost out of something that was mentioned at the end.
The library in question, the Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island, is one of the oldest in North America. Its original collection consisted of 751 titles shipped from London in 1749, plus 126 additional early donations “by Several Gentlemen”. To modern collecting tastes these are not particularly exciting books, but that is also unimportant. They are of interest to me, however, as a demonstration of the fact that books, even run-of-the-mill reprints, are so much more vulnerable and hard to replace than the buildings that shelter and attempt to protect them; because in this case, while the library itself still stands, the collection it originally housed was stolen, destroyed or dispersed within a few decades of its original formation.
The loss, I should add, was quickly perceived. For over two centuries now the successive librarians in charge have been working hard to replace the lost volumes and recreate the collection they started with over 250 years ago. The list of missing volumes has been widely distributed and no sale list or catalogue of 18th century books arrives at the library without close scrutiny. Acquisition funds have been available. Scouts are on the hunt. Two hundred years is a long time to look for a book, and yet over 90 items (out of 877) still elude the empty shelf space that is waiting for them.
Libribot wants a shot at that list. And it is going to get it.
I am curious to see how hard to find those books are actually going to be. I’ll let you know.