Tuesday, September 21, 2010

You Can't Take Them with You When You Go

One thing many of us have in common is the time, effort, and money we've invested in building our own home libraries.  We build them, we enjoy them, and then we leave this world without taking any of those wonderful books with us.  Have you ever wondered what will happen to your collection one day?  Is there anyone in your family that cares about books the way you care?  Will anyone in the family even have the space needed to keep all your books together.

Here's a cautionary tale from The Columbus Dispatch:
Walker Lowman's beloved collection of 6,500 books - about the same number that Congress purchased from the third president in 1815 - is being scattered all over town.


"He would probably not be very happy right now that his collection is being broken up," said daughter Karen West, 57.


While helping appraiser Jeff Baker organize the contents of Lowman's Upper Arlington home in advance of an estate sale starting today, the Northwest Side resident shared reminiscences this week about her father - who died in January at age 85.
[...]
The siblings did what they could to keep things intact, dividing about 1,000 books among them. The rest were offered to the OSU Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, which selected about 200 - many of them first editions signed by their authors.


"Nobody in the family had room for 6,000 books in their home," West said of the decision to donate and sell the remainder.
Mr. Lowman's children are doing everything possible to do what is right with their father's lifetime collection, but there is only so much anyone can do when faced with the sudden burden of finding a home for more than 6,000 books.

Is this something we, as collectors and book lovers, should take care of before we leave this world for our next gig?  Should we find future homes for our books and leave written instructions for those left with the task of cleaning up behind us?  It's certainly something to think about and I might just start placing little name tags inside the books I want to see kept in the family - as a start to easing the burden on my own family.  Another thing I need to do is to prepare a list of which of my books have some extra value so that they don't get lost in the shuffle.  Just what I need...another bookish project.

15 comments:

  1. It is always proper to good estate planning. Barring any other instructions, my intention when my husband's parents die is to call Salvation Army to take everything in their house. Everything. Including the bag of newspapers sitting in the guest closet that they moved to Florida from Pennsylvania seven years ago. Just random newspapers.

    And including the ceramic frog collection. And yes, including the books, of which the retired English prof has many. If they won't clean up their house and catalogue their stuff, why should I?

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  2. A few dozen of my hundreds of books mean enough to me that I would definitely leave special instructions for their disposition after I'm gone.

    As for that article, I doubt the deceased would have been at all surprised to see his collection broken up. I certainly don't expect my library to be kept intact - my tastes are idiosyncratic enough that there's probably no one in the world that would truly appreciate every book I own. And I would think he'd be greatly honored to see 200 of his books ending up in the OSU rare books collection.

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  3. THIS is a wakeup call for me and if it is true that people can look down afterlife, I will send a lightening bolt to get those who will do the same to my collection. After reading this, I am going to write down every item to go to the nice people in my life and trust me, that isnt many. Sam is one.

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  4. I've often thought about this. It's nice to think my book collection would remain intact, and give pleasure to another reader, but as my tastes are kind of odd and I don't acquire valuable copies (most of them used or even ex-library) I doubt anyone will make that kind of effort. They'll probably just scatter to the wind...

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  5. Ooops. Proper to have good estate planning.

    Incidentally, even if my husband's dad wanted us to keep his books, I would give them all to the library. We don't have the room and I wouldn't want them even if we did. We have enough of our own (= my husband the collector's) junk. We don't need someone else's.

    PS I would, however, sell anything valuable. I am not a fool.

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  6. I hope I am not related co classfactotum..RIBOT, RIBOT,,(FROG YELL as they cart them away)

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  7. I hear you, Ms. Factotum. That's exactly why I think its up to us to leave explicit information behind about our favorite or most valuable books. I've cleaned up two households of left behind stuff already and I know first hand that its one hell of a chore. I'm a "keeper" myself, and that meant it took me a long time to sort things out because I was so afraid to throw out some family history.

    It paid off beautifully in one case. I found a letter that my wife's great grandmother wrote to my wife's grandmother on the day the older lady died very suddenly - leaving my wife's grandmother behind to raise a family of three boys for her dad. Her grandmother was 13 years old at the time, the eldest child in the family. I figure her mother would have been no older than 30 when she died. To my wife, the letter is priceless - and she never knew it existed before I plucked it from a bunch of junk and saved it.

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  8. Pete, I agree with you. There are only a few dozen of my books that I am really all that concerned about. I could probably take the most valuable 20 books in my collection and find that they are worth more than the other 1300 books, combined.

    But I have some sentimental favorites, too...like a set of Dickens published in the 1880s. One of my favorites, in fact, is worthless. It's the paperback I smuggled into the barracks in 1968 during my Basic Training at Ft. Campbell, KY. How that thing survived in my duffel bag through several moves - and through all these later years - is beyond me. But I would really hate to see it get tossed into a can after I'm gone. I'll place a note about its history inside and hope that someone notices it when the day comes to weed the garden.

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  9. Mark, it is definitely something to think about. I think I mentioned to you once about the fantastic 1960s New York Yankee memorabilia collection that I saw get destroyed by relatives of a friend of mine who died very suddenly in her mid-40s. They managed to ruin items worth tens of thousands of dollars before they bothered to wonder if they had any value. I could have cried.

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  10. Jeane, I do imagine that most of us have too big a collection to realistically expect that it will not be broken into many pieces at our deaths. I'm fine with that except for my "special" books. Luckily, I have an 11-year-old granddaughter who has been bitten by the book bug. I'm showing her which books are special and/or valuable and hoping that she will still be interested in them when the time comes.

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  11. My daughter is only five but very much becoming a book-lover herself. Of course I hope then when I reach that point she'll want to keep many of my favorites for her own library but that's so far off I don't have to think of it much yet.

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  12. I have thought about this and plan to donate my library to my local library. I will probably bequeath a few books that mean the most to me to my son.

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  13. Keep her motivated, Jeane, and you'll be fine. :-)

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  14. I thought about that option, too, Kathleen. Thing is, I doubt that the library will want my older books and they would probably just sell all the other for a buck at a Friends of the Library sale, so I decided that wasn't a way to go for me.

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  15. Mark Shapiro, if you were related to my husband and had read my comment, my husband would already have gotten a very angry phone call about me. But it's OK - we're getting used to them. I don't eat bacon right, I didn't offer oatmeal to my husband's dad (even though he was already eating cornflakes), I don't want to watch football with them, etc, etc, etc.

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