I have spent a lifetime building a library. I have more than 1500 Civil War books. I have probably another close to 1000 books of other categories, most of which are history books. Many of them are first editions, quite a number of them are signed, there are a fair number of antique books, and a number of unique ones. My library is my prized possession, and is something that I am quite proud of. Some photos of the Civil War portion of my library can be found here. I have added some new books since those were taken last August. The collection grows constantly; I purchased three more over the weekend.
I also have no children, so there is no prodigal son to inherit it. I have no brothers and sisters. None of my nieces or nephews share my interest in military history. In short, there is nobody within the family for me to bequeath my library to when the time comes for me to shuffle off this mortal coil.
That raises an important question. And it’s one that I have discussed with some others who are in the same position, including J. D. Petruzzi, who faces the same issues that I face. We all end up in the same place: we don’t know what to do with our libraries.
I can tell you what I DON’T want to happen to my library: I don’t want to donate it to a larger library where it will be broken up and only some of the volumes would be put on the shelves while others are disposed of. That is the very last thing that I want to happen to the library that I have so lovingly constructed over the course of my lifetime. Whatever happens to it, I want it kept together. I don’t want it pieced and parceled out. That’s completely unacceptable to me and is not an option under any circumstances.
I thought I had come up with the perfect solution. My alma mater, Dickinson College, is the beneficiary of the largesse of the Pohanka family, which endowed the Brian C. Pohanka Chair of Civil War History in Brian’s honor. Knowing that, and in keeping with Brian’s legacy, I thought it would be a perfect solution for me to bequeath my library to the history department at my alma mater, to be used in conjunction with the Civil War classes being taught there. It would be the perfect solution: I could honor Brian, my beloved Dickinson College could directly benefit, and my collection would be kept together as a cohesive unit. I even discussed this possibility with Bud Hall, who faces the same dilemma, and who was interested in paying tribute to Brian also. Perfect solution, right? Wrong. The College has no physical space in the building where the history department is located to house my library, meaning that it could not promise me that it would not end up being parceled and pieced out into the main college library, which, as pointed out above, is not an acceptable solution.
The other idea that I entertained for years was to leave it to the Brandy Station Foundation, but that was before the BSF stopped being a battlefield preservation organization and became the Joe McKinney appeasement society. And, after what the BSF did to Bud Hall, I would rather burn my books than see them end up there. There is less than a zero percent chance now that I would ever donate anything to that organization.
Finally, I could, of course, consign the whole thing to a book vendor and sell it. However, I doubt very much that I would recoup anything close to what I have invested in building it over the course of a lifetime, and it also means that it would be broken up and sold, like so many others. I have a book in my collection that was owned by Prof. Edwin B. Coddington, who wrote the “bible” on the Gettysburg Campaign. Obviously, his library was broken up and sold off piecemeal, and I don’t want to see that happen to mine.
This brings me back full circle: I have no idea what to do with this library of mine when the time comes. And so, I throw it open to you for suggestions. You know what my parameters are from the discussion above. No, I’m not going to donate it to one of you as an individual, so please don’t even suggest it. That will annoy me, and I don’t want to be annoyed. At the same time, I welcome legitimate, good faith suggestions, and promise to seriously consider all of them.
What are the rest of you with large collections of Civil War books planning to do with your libraries when that inevitable time comes?Scridb filter