About two months ago we put up a post concerning The New NewLights Press Library Policy, stating, essentially, that if a public and/or academic library buys a NewLights book for their Special Collections, we will give them another book (perhaps the same one, perhaps a different one) that they can put into general circulation.
I wanted to describe here, briefly, the experience(s) that motivated that idea and decision. When I was a graduate student at Arizona State University, I had, for the first time in my life, full and privileged (I was teaching so could check out books for months) access to a great library with an enormous collection. I could get my hands on just about any book that I wanted. They had some real treasures in their Special Collections, including a book printed by Nicholas Jensen, the Frenchman, (the inventor of the Roman typeface for books) in Venice in 1475. That book was one of my favorite to look at and handle (it is in Latin, which I cannot read), to contemplate the strange connections to history that all of us have.
But another important part of the experience of that history, of that library, the part that really informs the new library policy, is the experience of browsing the shelves, the circulating stacks, and the random finds of treasures that I was able to check out, take home, and spend real time with.
I rarely went to the library without a particular book in mind. And I would find it relatively quickly, and then wander around that book, seeing what else was near it, grouped into the same subject, arranged by their author’s names and the haphazard vertical structuring of the shelves. I would often walk away with several more books than what I came for, and those books opened new doors—doors that I couldn’t conceive of before I got my hands into those books.
And sometimes there were actual important (at least to me) historical works in the stacks. The poetry stacks had a bunch of small press editions, made by presses that I look up to, of the work of writers that have influenced me. And there they were, on the shelf, waiting to be checked out and taken home (Note: most of them had been placed inside an outer hardcover for protection, with the original cover still intact inside). I got to take home a copy of Jack Spicer’s Book of Magazine Verse and a pirate copy (the Jolly Roger Press) of his Holy Grail, to name just a few.
And after I felt that I had communed with them thoroughly I took them back, to wait for the next amazed person to find them, to read them, and to continue their work.