Bill Sniffin: The Dustbin Of History, A Visit To My Personal Private Library

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Most folks of my generation aspire to have their own private libraries.

Seems that journalists, business folks, retired teachers or professors or just those well-read folks love the concept of having hundreds or thousands of favorite books at immediate disposal.

I was a newspaper editor for  decades and collected five huge shelve-sets full of books.  Besides those shelves, which were once located in three different locations (my office, my home office, and some shelf-sets prominently displayed in our house), we also have scores of books in boxes scattered around the basement and in some old warehouse spaces.

I shut down my last “office” library about 2014.

Recently, I stumbled upon that library. It is stashed out of sight in in an old storage building on our property. 

It was with a warm feeling of familiarity that I greeted my old books. The experience is like that when you meet an old friend.  As I leafed through some of the books two things happened: 

• Dust and lint sailed into the air from years of obscurity. 

• I actually felt a little guilt for not visiting with my old friends for so long.

Could it be that I could now get along without these sources of knowledge, which had been so indispensable to me?

The answer, unfortunately, is a resounding yes!

When I chatted with Jim Hicks up in Buffalo, he complained about the same problem. “I often wonder why I can’t toss old textbooks from college,” he lamented. “Makes me feel like a traitor.”

Tucker Fagan of Cheyenne said he shares the same problem, most of which is caused by what is considered progress.

“You and I are facing a time in our lives when we realize that the yellow pad and pencil we thought all we needed has been replaced by digital everything.  We are like our grandparents who were amazed that a plane could fly, then a jet and now space satellites and travel.   

“ Hopefully we have not impeded this tidal wave – we are mere sand crabs.”

Retired History Prof. Steve Thulin of Northwest Community College of Powell once offered another thought: “When you revisited your old friends, you experienced something that you and I once experienced in libraries — the blessings of serendipity. 

 “Wandering through stacks of real books, you are drawn to a volume out of mere curiosity on a subject you had not targeted on your expedition.  And hours later you had read scores of pages about something you had not imagined — accidental growth! 

“It can happen even in your own home library when you haul down a book unvisited for years and you read it with different eyes.  And you don’t know why you decided to grab that book, that day.

“You don’t get that serendipity from the highly-targeted process that so rapidly delivers a specific title via Google or Amazon on your computer.”

Good points.

Andy Gramlich, who is a mere youngster compared to me, says: “Gee, if you put all those old books against an outer wall they can serve as insulation. You can also sit on them to make you taller. The options are endless. Just don’t burn them.”

Three things have caused me to not need this library any longer.  First was the advent of computers, which can store gigantic amounts of information.  Second, is the Internet, where I can go and access anything that was on those shelves.  Third, is my Kindle, an effective little e-reader from Amazon, which has 22 books stored on it.  Plus, I love Audible and listen to most of my books these days.  

Then again, reading an actual real book is still such a pleasure. I need to mention that, too.

Best home library ever was by Dave and May Raynolds of Lander. They owned a house which was lined with shelf after shelf of books.  I was always envious.  The Dartmouth-educated Raynolds even had a ladder installed like in a library so he could access every volume. They died a few years ago and I wonder what happened to that library. Their children shipped me a big box full of historical newspaper books. Those books were heavy in both content and in weight. I was thankful to get them. 

Dr. Dale and Jen Peterson of Lander built a beautiful new house some years ago and it also has a library, of which they are very proud.

And finally, my wife Nancy has been nagging me to create a larger library space in our house.  “We have so many great books.  They should be where we can get to them,” she argues.

Not surprising, I have been resisting. 

Despite my ego, I just think these books will become dust catchers going forward into the future.  Someday our kids and grandkids will have to lug all these books to some terrible place (like the dump?).

No, we have enough shelves.  Will I win this argument?

No, I am not going to dismantle my office library. It will continue to exist a little while longer in that warehouse.  Or at least until I rent out that space.

But I intend to visit my old friends more often.

In the meantime, my phone  will continue to store more data than was contained in that entire library. 

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