Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Where Marketability Doesn't Matter .... Much

Writers are an anxious bunch, especially when it comes to publishing books. The blog-o-sphere is full of ruminations about the sorry state of publishing, particularly how little support midlist books receive. In today’s cutthroat environment, where 175,000 books are released each year, authors are expected not only to write well, but also to market themselves.

It’s hard to set aside these anxieties. One way is to focus on the places where commercial instincts are tamped down – libraries.

I was in the Bancroft Library on Tuesday, the place where University of California at Berkeley keeps its rare books and manuscripts. As I was waiting to look at some old diaries written by 19th century Los Angeles pioneers, I ran into Paul Hamburg, the librarian for the Judaica collections.

Hamburg took a circuitous route to becoming a librarian, but one that informed his passion for books concerning the life, language and culture of Jews. He was a farmer on a kibbutz in Israel for 17 years, raising cattle and citrus trees. He returned to the United States in 1989 to attend the School of Library Science at UC Berkeley – a program that has since been abolished – and then worked around the country at various libraries, including at the Museum of Tolerance at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, until returning to UC Berkeley two and a half years ago.

A university library is a fine place to wallow in an appreciation of books. It’s as far removed from the best-seller section at a Barnes & Noble as possible, yet the appreciation for fine literature and fiction runs deep. Hamburg told me there are 10 million books in Berkeley’s libraries. Only 4.5 million are stored on the sprawling campus and another 5.5 million are kept in an off-site storage facility.

But the best news was the university’s book-buying habit. Hamburg himself acquires 1,500 books a year for the Hebraic collection, which are books mostly in Hebrew. Other librarians (and there are about 100 of these and 300 other library workers) purchase another 3,500 Jewish-themed books annually. The school accumulates 100,000 new titles a year, Hamburg estimates.

I reveled in that figure. It serves as a testament to what is right in this world. Clearly, academia has its own sort of commercialism, its rigid hierarchy, its own type of bestseller list, but those earthly concerns are temporal. A university library is a monument to books, a place that will outlive us all – and safely carry our words for future generations.

In a more commercial vein …..

Dede Wilsey’s attorney has sent a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Magazine informing them that Penguin Press did not fact check her stepson Sean Wilsey’s book, Oh The Glory of It All. The attorney notified the publications that if they print any defamatory statements they will held legally liable.

Well, I guess that tells us how much Dede likes the book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice reminder of the importance of libraries, Frances. I always learn something from your blog.