If you’re reading this now, there’s a fair chance that you have a reasonable love of books. Maybe you have a sizable collection, perhaps only a few select titles, you might even have gone to the dark side and started building your own digital library on an e-reader (only kidding). Books are a part of our identity, entertaining and educating us in equal measure.
So what happens when a mere interest turns into something of an obsession? Suddenly you can go from being a casual collector to having a whole room dedicated to literature. Well, that’s exactly what appears to have happened in a recent case emanating from the library of Lambeth Palace of all places.
It appears that an employee took quite a shining to a number of the rare, antiquarian books on offer. So much so that they decided to take a few home back in the 1970s. While aware of the theft, the scale and possible perpetrator remained largely unknown – that was until a couple of years ago.
According to the report on the BBC, a former employee sent a letter from their death bed to the library. In it, they confessed to the theft and pinpointed exactly where the books could be found – in their attic. When the police visited the home, it was all there. Well, most of it anyway.
Why the books were stolen may remain a mystery. With some of the titles worth hundreds of thousands of pounds, profiteering may not have been the sole purpose. If they got cold feet, then why not destroy the evidence? Perhaps the love of the books was just too great? Maybe it was an act born out of compulsion, not greed?
Hoarding of course is a serious psychological issue, and not one to be taken lightly. But for real book lovers, having a great collection of titles, particularly rarities or first editions, is a badge of honour. This means generally means that plenty are purchased, while very few are sold, lost or given away. Most of course wouldn’t steal them from the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury, but some can certainly fill a fair few shelves with their books.
Is book ownership enough?
Plenty of us buy books that we never actually read. As strange as that may seem to others, this can either be as a result of prioritisation, forgetfulness or a simple affectation. You may wish to own all the works of Leo Tolstoy for instance, but after War and Peace and Anna Karenina, your attention starts to wander elsewhere – perhaps to something a little lighter.
Then of course, when you get really serious, a mere second hand copy isn’t enough, you want the first editions or books with provenance (including signed versions and those owned by eminent folk). Suddenly you’re looking at multiple versions of the same title and a home that resembles the World of Books warehouse. So while it may appear irrational to some, to others it is an important part of who they are.
People have been creating their own private libraries for centuries. Rather than read a book and move on to the next one, each title is stored away for the future – just in case. Of course these days things are much easier. You can buy or sell books on a whim. Whether used or new, the digital revolution has helped us all to research, find and buy whatever we want and from wherever we choose. Geography is no longer an obstacle and neither is time, the only remaining issues are space and finance – even though e-readers are doing a decent job of eliminating one of these too.
While the chap who stole a collection broke the law, many others achieve similar results through legal methods. Buying books as and when the mood takes us, before ending up with an almost unmanageable assortment of titles many years later. No bad thing of course, after all that’s why World of Books is here.
So over to you, the reader? We want to know where you stand on the creation and curating of personal libraries. Are you a collector of books, and do you own some that you have never read (and have no plans to read)? What is it that makes a collection of books so special? Do you have a cut-off point? Do you buy or borrow, second hand or only new? As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.