Thursday 24 March 2011

The Dandy Libraryman

I've been out and about all over the place today, back and forth, hither and yon on various un-vintage errands, but this afternoon I stopped off at my local library to pick up a book I had reserved.

This was the biography of 1930s racing driver and land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell (left), Malcolm Campbell: The Man as I Knew Him, which was written by his widow Lady Dorothy Campbell shortly after he died.  It looks to be a fascinating read and if it is anything like the autobiography of his contemporary racing colleague Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin, of which I own a 1935 copy, I'm sure it will be.

While I was there I of course browsed the sale shelves but there seemed to be nothing particularly interesting and I was about to turn to go when I saw, in the corner of the bottom shelf surrounded by audiobooks and large hardback novels, a book entitled Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy.  It looked like the fiction books either side of it but closer inspection revealed it to be a biography of the great man by actor/writer Ian Kelly who played the starring role on stage and in the 2006 B.B.C. adaptation Beau Brummell: This Charming Man, which I'm sorry to say I never saw - so that's something to seek out, once I've read the book!.  It might take me a while though as it's a 500-page life-to-death analysis of the man and the period (which is a little outside my sphere of interest really, but for The Ultimate Dandy I'll make an exception!), but I'm looking forward to it and at the moment I've certainly got the time!

This hefty, almost as-new tome, which was only published in 2005 and would have set you back £20 in a bookshop, was mine for the princely sum of 25p.  Twenty-five pence!  (In fact it should have been 50p, but the librarian made the same mistake as I initially did and thought it was fiction, and I didn't like to correct her!).  BARGAIN!!

This brings me to the real point of my post - here is a book barely 6 years old, which cost a not inconsiderable sum and it ends up in the sale section for next to nothing in next to no time.  What's more, the Campbell biography had to come from one of the main county library's "stack" (library-speak for the storage room, I think).  I've borrowed a couple of books from the same source over the last few years (another being the autobiography of eccentric British Army officer Lt. Col. A.D. Wintle, which only I seem to withdraw these days!) and it always saddens me that such fascinating books rarely see the light of day or are sold off by the library so quickly (although for 25p from £20 I suppose I shouldn't complain about the latter!) without being fully appreciated by the reading public.  Of course I imagine its all a matter of taste and interest (not to mention demographics - books about 18th Century dandies and 1930s racing drivers/army officers probably aren't in much demand in my part of deepest darkest Essex!) as well as the changing (and not always for the better) role of the public library, but it still seems a shame to see what people are missing out on.  When I look at the withdrawal history of the Campbell book, for example, I see that since 1961 it has been borrowed roughly once every 10 years!  I wonder what kind of people took the book home with them, what their interest was and what they took from it.  Ah well, I suppose that as long as these books are in stack I'll know where to find them, and at least I appreciate them.  Plus it frees up my bookshelf for more cut-price books!


  1. Speaking from experience some of these books can be donations, sometimes from the public but more often from publishers. They work on the theory that if the library markets the book well enough people like yourself might go out and buy it. Though at full price and not 25p! (What a bargain! it sounds a fascinating read, I must look it up at work.)
    And yes the Stack or Bookstack to give it it's full name is the place where libraries store books, usually on miles and miles of shelving. I actually work in a copyright library so by law we get 1 copy of every book published in the U.K (about 7 miles of books a year) so imagine how many of those never ever get checked out.....

  2. Interesting post! The why and wherefores of book publishing success, which books become discards, etc. are very mysterious indeed. A great find for you though!

    As an aside, it would be excellent if you put one of those "share" button options that blogger provides at the end of your posts. Many of your articles would be great to share to twitter, for example. (One can always just cut and paste the URL, but the button shortens it if it is a tad long, and also adds the headline.)

    Cheers. Always enjoy your blog enormously.

  3. That's interesting Miss Magpie, think about all those fascinating books stored in the copyright library - a bookworm's delight!

    That Beau Brummell book was definately a good buy and should be a good read too, judging by his reputation!

    My local authority (Gloucestershire)used to hold book sales of all its old libray books years ago (I don't know if they still do) and I brought some childrens books by one of my favoutite authors, Leon Garfield, these were probably the same books that I borrowed in my youth!

  4. I looked up Your Beau Brummell book at work today and you will be pleased to here that it is listed as a 'High Use' item here :-)


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