Friday, January 8, 2010

Biblio-graffito for an Old Library Book

So What Do Seminarians Really Think about Communism?

Now, I'm not usually one for controversy, and I don't intend this posting to be anything of the sort either. But there may be only a whiff of scandal as you kind readers view this shorter-than-usual piece on books today. It was some months ago, when one of the student workers in the library, where I work, summoned me with a request: "Now take a look at this...," he began. You see, our library is in the process of a massive, and I mean massive weeding project. Much of the material being weeded, re-directed, re-distributed, given away, or simply tossed consists of out-dated materials from the first part of the 20th century. Many of these items are old curricular materials for Sunday schools, census records, sociological reports from the 1960s on "retardation," and then such items as this: a chronology of the World Communist Movement, put together by (or for) the use of the Committee on Un-American Activities. Now, giving some pause here, we might consider this relic to be more than just that: something worth keeping, for its historic, as well as historiographic value--perhaps some scholar would be interested in doing a theological study of 1950s and 1960s texts and their relation to narratives within Church bodies. But this is not the usual consideration brought up when doing weeding, especially when a seminary library is under such financial duress and pressure to reduce a collection to its "essential texts" and "needs of patrons." But this is neither "here nor there," as the old saying goes. The point of this exercise is to display one of the finer executions of biblio-graffito, or "book scribbling." And surely, there is much more to say about take a look first (if you haven't already!):

Now it is not clear either "who" did this or "when" it was done. But it is a curious example, perhaps the most curious example (which I've come across) of biblio-graffito. My guess is that this book was "desecrated" in the period between its publication in 1960 and the early 1970s--when seminarians may have been less "liberal" or inclined toward examining the inner workings of communism, or even understanding the varietal forms of Communism (capital "C" or not), confusing the post-Marxian and Lukacsian brands with the intolerable Leninist and Stalinist brews. Still being in the throws of the Cold War surely influenced our global and local thinking. As for this tiny tome, it's hard to say what the real reason for its "imprint" is. It could, alternatively be a revolt against the preparation of such a text for the Committee of Un-American Activities, making my earlier assessment null and void: perhaps the "inscriber" was in fact a very progressive and left-leaning individual, protesting the machine of American witch-hunting during that festive era of tumult. Either way, I'm sure we'll never know. Of course, this book is long gone now. Gone and nigh forgotten. No scholar will ever have the chance to understand or uncover such markings. We won't be able to tell if this was a student, a seminarian, or even a professor (oh, yes!--don't put it past anyone, my friends!) The marginalia of time, even modern, contemporary marginalia tell stories. But many texts of this era in theological and other libraries have found their ends in dumpsters and trash heaps. That's just the way our cultural legacy goes. "Someone else will have it" should be the maxim put over many library doors! Well, in this case it's hard to say. I'm not sure a tome on Un-American Activities will have the same stain in other libraries. But you never know.


  1. Gosh Dang It !!!

    Please don't do too much culling...The book on Un-American activites that was tossed out actually looked interesting and probably should have been saved.

    I once worked in a library where the librarian threw out history books because "they were old."

    I LOVE BOOKS and when they are randomly disposed of it saddens me.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with readers. It is appreciated.

  2. The Library of Congress is now archiving all TWITTER posts.

    Are computer blogs & etc. archived anywhere?

  3. FYI I had to windex off the real thing where I worked!! ugh!!
    It is unbelieveable how reckless / disrespectful some people are of books.

    And now that I am hot under the collar thinking about this... I wish more folks would use book marks instead of dog earing the pages or laying the book flat out ruining the binding.

    Also interesting are some of the things that people place in books.. for instance, I found a pressed flower and a four leaf clover; a Fulton Fish Market promotional card from the 1950's; an obituary and a lovely poem.