Monday, December 10, 2007

A Match Made in Heaven

Barbara Polk Riley and part of the collection she donated
(Photo taken by Andrew Miller, staff photographer for the Courier News)

I love this story because it came along on a day when I could really use a "feel good" story with which to end my day.

Have you, as a book collector and amateur librarian, ever wondered what will happen to your collection when it comes time for you to let it go either as a result of your death or because you can't keep the books with you any longer? I wonder about that from time to time and my hope is that my granddaughter, who is only 8 years old right now, will be able to give them a loving home someday. At this point, she seems to have the closest thing to my own love for books in my immediate family and I look forward to "educating" her about what's own the shelves of my study so that she will not do something foolish with them when they become hers.

One woman, Barbara Polk Riley, of Plainfield, New Jersey, has come up with a beautiful answer as regards the collection started by her father and which she has nursed over the years. The Courier News tells her story:
One librarian had a lifetime collection of books reflecting African-American life and culture. Another librarian was in charge of a secure, temperature-controlled archive room in a city that values diversity highly.

Once the two met and began talking, the outcome was clear.

"I'm just happy they found a home," Barbara Polk Riley said as she formally signed over the 1,881 volumes Wednesday to the Plainfield Public Library.

"People are already coming in to do research," said Jessica Myers, head of the library's Local History and Special Collections Department.
Myers and Polk Riley began talking at a February 2005 exhibit at the library featuring photos from Plainfield resident Ethel Washington's book, "Union County Black Americans." A childhood photo of Polk Riley with her three sisters and her mother appears on the cover.

"Barbara walked in and started talking my language about collecting," Myers said.

But when Polk Riley mentioned a collection of 200, Myers said, "She meant 200 boxes, not 200 books."

Still, Myers found the collection easy to examine, because, she said, as a good librarian, Polk Riley had everything "immaculately in order." Even so, it took three days to go over every one before an appraiser came in to advise the library on the collection. It originally was more than 2,000 items, but Polk Riley took some back, and others, such as the emancipation documents -- "freedom papers" -- of family ancestors from Virginia, went to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.
Please see the rest of the article to learn how all of these wonderful books were acquired and housed over the years. It really puts a smile on my face to know that someone's passion for books, and a collection that was started in the 1920s, will live on in a formal setting to keep alive the spirit of both the man who started the collection and the daughter who carried it on in his tradition.


  1. Now that's heart warming.

    I'd always assumed the bookscouts would descend on my house like the plague in the event of my demise.

  2. And like the scavengers they are known to be, they will gladly rip off your loved ones if given half the chance. That's why I really look forward to "educating" my granddaughter.

  3. It really is a nice story, isn't it, Maggie? She looks very proud and happy in that photo. :-)