A Library vs. a Collection

The difference between a library and a collection is puposeful focus and quality. My uncle decided on the advice of one of his mentors to really become a collector and decided to target the Hanoverian period of British history and only read and collect books that related directly in some way to the book previously read. He also specifically wanted to acquire rare editions and copies with the marginalia of important people from the period for purchase. My uncle also made a habit of going to the best rare and used bookstores (when he visits Illinois, Bookman’s Alley is his faviorite) wherever he happened to be. The uncle has been doing this for at least thirty+ years and has read his way forward to the early 20th century and in recent years, developed an extensive sub-collection dedicated to T.E. Lawrence.

Interestingly enough, none of this has anything remotely to do with his area of academic expertise (he has two doctorates; in a hard science and another in a medical specialty) but he’s made himself into more of an expert on the historiography of this period of British history than are most professional historians.The reason is a tunnel-like focus, which is the primary distinguishing characteristic between a building a general library and building a collection. There’s a comprehensiveness to a collection that becomes an end in itself.


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3 comments on this post.
  1. Greg Linster:

    The anti-library is a great demonstration of epistemic humility.  I also like to remind myself that the quality of my reading matters more than the quantity. Our society seems to look higher upon the quantity an individual reads rather than the what knowledge that individual actually retains. Is information you know you’ve read, but can’t recall, really knowledge?

  2. Dave Schuler:

    "when he visits Illinois, Bookman’s Alley is his faviorite"Is Roger Carlson, the original owner of Bookman’s Alley, still alive?  I haven’t been there in a decade.  Roger and I used to sit around and drink together.  My friends and I used to gather there and sing (Renaissance music) there on Sunday afternoons.  

  3. zen:

    Hi Greg,
    Very true. An old professor of mine called losing information "the inocculation" – because you had it once and are now impervious.
    Hi Dave,
    I myself have never been to Bookman’s though I intend to go this summer and spend a good 2-3 hours there. As far as I know, Roger is alive as my uncle was such a good customer and only came in a few times a year, he let him in early to browse new arrivals in his area of interest and I’d think he would have mentioned Carlson dying. Maybe not though.