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

Comments

  1. Dennis
    Tue 08th May 2012 at 6:40 am

    While my collection is not as large nor as complete or valuable as yours I’ve mulled over the same thing. My son may want a few of my books on Pittsburgh sports teams, but the vast majority mean little if anything to our kids.

    My best solution so far is to give them to a community based store that operates like Goodwill. Whatever they sell the books for will benefit local people.

    I realize this is completely contrary to your desires but it will suffice for me. Best of luck in finding a solution to a difficult problem.

    Regards,
    Dennis

  2. Tue 08th May 2012 at 6:51 am

    I feel your pain. Before moving to Boston I sold somewhere around 500 books to a local bookstore. I made next to nothing, but it was better than packing them up and paying to have them shipped.

    I faced the same issue in dealing with my library of philosophy books. While I studied it as a graduate student and even taught the subject for a few years my interests have obviously evolved over the past decade. I decided to give it to a young graduate student who simply could not afford to purchase the books on his own. This could be a possibility for you. I felt really good about it because I knew they would go to good use. This may also be the best chance to keep your library together.

    Libraries are reducing space for printed books and the technology is steadily pushing us toward e-books. That’s the reality and it is unfortunate for those of us who are caught somewhere in the middle.

  3. Tue 08th May 2012 at 7:41 am

    I’m in a simpler situation since I have two kids, and a number of younger friends who share my ACW interest. If either of my kids wants to keep the library, they can have it. If not, I’ll let my friends pick through it and then sell the rest for the benefit of my estate. It won’t keep it together, but I don’t see that as an issue.

    FDU may have built more library space by the time you make the final journey, so that option may not be closed.

    I had a similar issue w/ my math books, which I really don’t need anymore as I am not a prof. I kept some of particular interest, and offered the rest for sale to folks in the UM Math Department. A couple of post-docs cleaned me out, and I made a small pile of cash on it.

  4. Mary Ann Hall
    Tue 08th May 2012 at 8:34 am

    I find myself in a potentially similar situation, although on the receiving end. Perhaps the article below will help. The E. C. Rowell Memorial Library in Webster, FL, has a Civil War archive. The contact information at the end of the article is outdated. The current phone number is 352-569-1533.

    http://www.ocala.com/article/20060501/NEWS/205010335?p=1&tc=pg

    Hope this helps,
    Mary Ann

  5. Tue 08th May 2012 at 9:31 am

    It’s too bad that Dickinson College could not accommodate your desire to keep the collection together. I love that idea. Perhaps you could float that idea out to another college or university library. The Special Libraries Association (SLA.org) might also be a good place to continue your search for a proper home for your impressive collection.

    Whatever you decide to do, I would NOT recommend auctioning your collection. Bad things can happen…

    http://posterityproject.blogspot.com/2012/05/breaking-up-is-easy-to-do.html

  6. JE
    Tue 08th May 2012 at 10:27 am

    At 28 years of age I’m now somewhere between 600-800 volumes specifically on the Civil War. What should happen to my library is a constant discussion I have with my wife. I always make sure to point out my first edition regimentals or rare books and hope that she’ll remember where they are if anything should ever happen to me. She knows that I’d really like to see my collection donated somewhere as a whole but if times got tough I wouldn’t be above her selling some off. Family is more important than some books, even if I do consider them my babies… =)

    Last year I completed my Masters of Library & Information Science and in addition to my career as a professional archivist I do some volunteer work with a local library. The library has a dedicated section of more than 2,000 Civil War books and is constantly adding to the collection. They do accept donations of book collections and those that they do not add to the collection are sold at their annual Civil War book sale. Over the past two years I’ve prepped and priced two very, very nice collections for sale (probably 800 books total). All told I probably purchased 150 books outright from these collections. One of the two collections would absolutely have made a nice addition to an academic library.

    These days libraries are dumping the majority of their books in favor of couches, coffee bars and computers. Many are dropping the name ‘library’ and instead becoming ‘learning centers.’ Books take up a lot of space and space is money. It’s not a bad thing, just another way our learning needs and uses have evolved.

    My suggestion would be for you to seek out a private liberal arts school as a home for your collection. My alma mater (Bethany, WV) houses the Hazlett Civil War collection, approximately 1000 volumes, many of them first edition. Other schools like West Virginia Wesleyan, Lincoln Memorial, etc. have similar collections that they’ve kept together. Some of these private schools may be more receptive to taking on a large collection, especially if it’s likely that the collection will be used by scholars.

    Your other option would be a well established historical society….or possibly splitting up the collection between a few deserving institutions.

    I’m confident you can find the right home for your collection. You took a lot of time to build it…now take your time finding it the right home. Good luck!

  7. Tue 08th May 2012 at 11:25 am

    Chesterfield Public Library in Virginia (I think the Central branch; can’t remember which though I’ve been there), has a room dedicated to Civil War books. You have to use them there, no check out. They might be willing to accept your books; not sure what their purchasing policies are.
    http://library.chesterfield.gov/screens/branchCentral.html

    You could also try CW museums, for example, Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia. http://www.moc.org/

    Another: Richmond History Center / Valentine Museum http://www.richmondhistorycenter.com/

    Library of Virginia might be interested, too. http://www.lva.virginia.gov/

    I guess it’s obvious that I’m from Virginia and there may be some self-interest at work here! Kidding aside, I don’t know about other areas, but you could probably find more local institutions that might be interested in the collection.

  8. Tue 08th May 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Eric,

    Great question. It is hard to say…I tend to underline in my books and write notes in the margins…so selling them would be a problem. I think I would give mine to the high school I work at or went to as a reference collection or donate them to my college library. Since the high school libraries are the ones that can least affort the newer history books…they spend it all on Twilight and such…I an leaning to those schools right now since it would update the history book base on the Civil War.

  9. William Houston
    Tue 08th May 2012 at 12:03 pm

    Due to space limitations I periodically donate books to our local university, California State University, Fresno. I check to make sure each book is not already in their collection and seek assurances that the books I donate will be catalogued and put on the shelves. In my case the university lacks many essential items, so they seem to welcome the donations. For example, I gave them their first copy of the SHSP. Whether the library gets rid of books ten or twenty years in the future I can’t control. I will ask my heirs to keep any books they want, have a library official go through the remainder, and take anything leftover to a good used book store.

  10. Tue 08th May 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Hi Eric.

    First of all I am glad NOT to be in your position regarding your books. ;-)

    My wife once tried to get me to get rid of one old book every time I bought a new one. I said OK if she did the same regarding her purchase of shoes and handbags. She never mentioned it again.

    Isnt’ there a Military Base/school/Academy or something like that – which is not scheduled for closing down or a move – in your neighborhood/local region ? Or a local Historical Society ? They often lacks the money to purchase such books and would probably be happy to receive such as a gift. Just an idea.

  11. Tue 08th May 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Well, every time I start to think I have a decent library, I see a post & responses like this that remind me how many book collectors are still out there.

    My opinion on this is that my library is special because it is “mine.” I do have some fine books, including some antique ones, and I want them to last forever, but once I’m gone and out of the equation, I wouldn’t mind donating them to a local historical society or museum and let them keep what they want and sell the rest to raise funds. I know you’re strongly opposed to that and I see your point, but to me the uniqueness of this collection is that it is “mine” and once it can no longer be mine, then I hope these books can benefit as many people as possible, even if they are parceled out. I can see that it would be cool to have them all kept together in some institution, but that is not as important to me as it is to you. It’s interesting to see such varied perspectives on this and that it is something so many have pondered.

  12. Brian Stuart Kesterson
    Tue 08th May 2012 at 8:54 pm

    Eric – Why not give them to the US Army War College at Carlisle? I know that your books dealing with West Virginia would be welcomed at West Virginia University’s Special Collections. Just a thought. Best of wishes…Brian

  13. Phil LeDuc
    Tue 08th May 2012 at 9:55 pm

    This is something I’ve thought about too. I don’t think my daughters will want most of my books, and my line of thought has been something like Kevin’s – maybe talk to a couple of history professors I know and get a recommendation or two for an outstanding graduate student. It would be nice to think that my books could play a role in his or her career.
    I also like JE’s idea of a small liberal arts college that lacks a good core group of Civil War books.

  14. Sir
    Tue 08th May 2012 at 10:55 pm

    Start breeding.

  15. Ken Noe
    Wed 09th May 2012 at 9:50 am

    It’s true, libraries don’t keep donated collections together anymore unless you donate a few million dollars in addition. The larger the library, the more duplicates they’ll already have. In academia, there’s an old tradition of letting grad students take them, which is both how I built my collection and what I’ll do with mine eventually. If you want to keep them together, it would make a heck of an award to some struggling historian of cavalry.

  16. Wed 09th May 2012 at 10:26 am

    I’ll echo what others have said – find a non-profit museum or historical society, local or otherwise. A newer or start-up organization would probably be the best bet, as going with a larger and/or more established one they would likely already have a good number of the titles and be inclined to sell off the duplicates.

  17. Ian
    Wed 09th May 2012 at 5:15 pm

    I agree with Charlie’s suggestion. I have a library of fly fishing books (150+ titles) that I am dividing between two fly fishing museums; one here in the west and the other back in Vermont. Both museums make their libraries available to the public.

  18. Thu 10th May 2012 at 7:45 am

    You may want to consider the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago. The staff is great, the library is well-funded, the books will get a lot of use, they’re in a great and easily-accessible location (Michigan Ave., across from Millennium Park), and they just moved into a new facility where your books would be well-taken care of.

    Plus, I would get to use them. :)

    Seriously, I think they would be very grateful for your collection, and I would think they’d honor any requests you have, including keeping the collection together.

    http://www.pritzkermilitarylibrary.org

    Good luck!

  19. Ross Wichman
    Thu 10th May 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I am an attorney in western Kansas with an addiction to books. I have over 600 civil war and lincoln related books, over 600 books concerning western history, as many about world war II era, and probably 2000 other books (the histories of exploration, natural history, revolutionary war, and miscellaneous non-fiction and works of fiction). I even own a separate house across the street from where I live to hold my books. I have thousands of lps and cds there as well. I am 65 and face a dilemna much the same as yours. Our city library in Hays has a section titled the “Kansas Room” that is dedicated to history books related to the civil war, western history and other Kansas related matters. I’ve thought about willing my library to the Kansas room, but expect a severe culling. My hometown library is in Seneca, Kansas and it was the source of my first love interest in books and reading. I may offer them a share of the books. Ft. Hays State University is here in Hays and may have an interest in some of the books. My alma maters are Kansas State University and the University of Kansas. But, I have no idea of an interest they may have in such matters. I face the probability that no one other than myself and a few enthusiasts spread over the country are really interested in my collection. Maybe someone could establish server list of individuals who desire to be considered for trust, probate or lifetime donations of intact libraries.

  20. David Coles
    Thu 10th May 2012 at 4:41 pm

    Eric:
    Perhaps the new Appomattox branch of the Museum of the Confederacy might be interested. As you know, their main site in Richmond has a large research library, but I’m not sure whether they have a library at their new location. Of course, we’d love to have it here at Longwood University, but like Dickinson we do not have room in the building where the History Department resides. I could speak with our Special Collections librarian about the possibility of keeping it together as a unit in the library.

  21. Thu 10th May 2012 at 10:49 pm

    As I browsed through other author’s notes and photos in the collections at Carlisle, I decided that mine will go there when the time comes – hopefully, no time soon for any of us!

  22. Mike Peters
    Fri 11th May 2012 at 12:05 am

    Eric,

    I feel your pain brother. I had this same conversation with Jamie, Tim and Pete not that long ago.

    I’m hoping that my young grandson becomes a CW bibliophile.

    Mike

  23. Andy Walters
    Fri 11th May 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Eric,

    My library has over 4500 volumes on the Civil war and an additional 2500 on other wars and history in general. With the good work that the Civil War Trust is doing in conjunction with many of the individual battlefield organizations, there appears to be new visitor centers and the need for libraries springing up fairly regularly. I am hoping, when the time comes, to have my heirs donate my library to one of those new battlefield parks.

    Andy

  24. Gary Dombrowski
    Fri 11th May 2012 at 1:25 pm

    Do you think the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College would welcome your library? ~Gary

  25. John Foskett
    Fri 11th May 2012 at 2:21 pm

    A conundrum, to be sure. I think I’m at 1400 right now on the ACW (in addition to smaller, but what i consider to grade, collections for thw AWI and War of 1812). I’ve thought about a dionation to my alma mater in South Bend with conditions -perhaps tied to their William T. Sherman and family archives.

  26. DLC
    Sat 12th May 2012 at 5:45 pm

    How about the Guide Room at Gettysburg. As an Associate LBG, the newsletter always talks about books being not returned to the guide’s room. Would they take the books? I hope to interest one of my nephews on the ACW. Plant a seek in some nice young person and water it with your books when you pass. I am also childless.

  27. Ben
    Sun 13th May 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Set up a “scholarship” in which you award the entire library to a deserving young ACW scholar who can demonstrate (a) potential for putting the works to good use, (b) the financial need for such books, and (c) the ability to store the books appropriately.

  28. Jerry
    Sun 13th May 2012 at 7:49 pm

    First suggestion: The Civil War Institute at Shenadoah University located in Winchester, VA. It is fairly new and probably wouldn’t break up your collection.

    Second suggestion: Donate them to Civil War preservation groups for auctions to acquire new property or improve existing landholdings.

  29. Denny
    Wed 16th May 2012 at 10:25 am

    Eric, It’s amazing how many people have the same problem. I have two grown children, four almost grown grandchildren, and soon to be 4 great grandchildren. My only hope is to have one of the “greats” grow up with a love of history and books. I have around 3600 books, mostly on Lincoln, the civil war, military history and American History.

    I would have to agree with some of the other comments. I am a LBG Associate, also, so the guide room would be one of my suggestions, along with the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College.

    Since you are from Pennsylvania, do you lean toward a certain area of the country?

    Would a Presidential Library, such as Hayes’ at Spiegel Grove be a possibility with his civil war connection?

    It was nice talking with you at Mansfield. Take care!

  30. Nick Fry
    Wed 16th May 2012 at 12:33 pm

    I work in a railroad library that started with one man’s collection of 10,000 volumes. Whatever you do, set up an endowment to help cover the costs of managing your collection. That is one of the biggest incentives for a university or special library to take on your collection. In my case, the library was donated in bulk by the gentleman’s heirs to the St. Louis Mercantile Library. The heirs set-up an endowment, got the fundraising started and now there’s an endowed position for a curator and additional funds for book acquisition and collection development.

  31. Don
    Wed 16th May 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Eric,

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking post. It’s not something I want to think about (for my library or yours), but the topic does merit some attention. Hopefully my 5 year old will get infected with the bug, had him at Brandy, Trevilion and Fredericksburg last summer. If he doesn’t, I can see a lot of merit in the CWT donation for auction idea. I doubt any of the CO libraries would have the space to house a large ACW collection.

    There are some great ideas above. The LBG room would fit somewhat with your areas of expertise. I’ll try to stick with new ideas. The name escapes me, but what about the place in Harrisburg? The U.S. Cavalry Museum, the library at West Point or perhaps the one at Fort Leavenworth might be possibilities. It would seem to me Carlisle would have most of them, so their elimination of duplicates wouldn’t meet your intent for the collection. As much as it pains me to say it, West Point may be the best option, or a large university library.

  32. Frank
    Wed 16th May 2012 at 11:49 pm

    You have to get over the fact that you can control your personal property after you die. We are only caretakers of our possessions in this world. Even your own family will sell-off books piecemeal if that’s what it will take to get rid of them. If you feel so strongly about maintaining control, then sell them now, using the money for battlefield preservation or anything else. In this way you can witness the result now while you are alive. I face the same dilemma with my collection of Civil War books. As I face my mortality I look at them and say that I probably read them only once or twice. And how long do I have to re-read them all again before I depart? They will only become a vestige of my existence on earth and in the total scope of things, a very small part. So don’t fret over it.

  33. Tom Gilbert
    Thu 17th May 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Eric, I greatly enjoyed your recent PCN interview. I was clicking through and found it, was able to see most of it. I hope they air it again sometime and that I catch the whole program. Anyway, I too have a large collection. When I was doing my graduate studies a few years ago, the school did a survey asking how many ACW books I had in my library. I was amazed at the number, and I certainly haven’t slowed down on my acquisitions. I’m thinking of someday giving my collection to a friend who is head of a local college library, and he is also a reenactor and teaches (as I do) adult education courses on ACW topics. Note I said “someday” .. still pretty active myself!

  34. Thu 17th May 2012 at 7:24 pm

    Have some type of contest. Give books away as prizes.

  35. G. E. Colpitts
    Thu 17th May 2012 at 9:02 pm

    Eric, Friends,
    I think it is essential that each of your libraries be cataloged first. You do want to be sure that the rare books are appraised and then placed somewhere they can be preserved and used. The second thing is to work out your succession plan in advance. Don’t just leave it to a place and let them figure it out. Work with them well beforehand. Nick Fry’s suggestion is excellent; an endowment to maintain the collection would be a great help. I would suggest consulting librarians at different institutions and asking them for suggestions.

  36. Jeff Anderson
    Fri 18th May 2012 at 10:55 pm

    A thought provoking topic, for sure.
    It is wise to have a clear plan that can be followed upon your death. Leaving such a puzzle to your wife would be a cruel burden for her.
    Since you see no good solution now, your survivors will have less time and knowledge to solve this puzzle, and they may well feel they have done poorly and not followed your wishes, even if they make the best possible decision.
    So, don’t leave the problem to your survivors – they will suffer for your delay.
    I did once find a basement flood solved some of my storage problems, and a fire in a storage unit solved more of it. If you were Hindu, perhaps a funeral pyre.

  37. Cooper Wingert
    Sun 20th May 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Eric,

    might I suggest finding a small but dedicated Historical Society who will make your library a key and seperate part of their collection. Look around–there are many; But there are also many historical societies who are more interested in keeping themselves afloat than historical preservation, so on that front beware.

  38. Tue 22nd May 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I agree with Nick Fry. This problem is only solved where the donor dangles an endowment. Good news: you can negotiate the endowment amount downward, hopefully to a level that is reasonable.

    Random thoughts: Touch base with Mark Snell’s George Tyler Moore Center. Let them make suggestions. Ditto for Marszalek’s Grant organization.

    There is the Army museum system:
    http://www.militarymuseum.org/armylinks.html
    – worth a call.

    Meanwhile, future library space is a-building at the The National Museum of the United States Army.
    http://www.armyhistory.org/ahf.aspx?pgID=868

    And then there’s Carlisle Barracks,
    http://www.carlisle.army.mil/

    Good luck. My father has his own collection of unique emigre Russian publications that willgo in the dumpster some day…

  39. Stu Zelman
    Wed 23rd May 2012 at 5:34 am

    I am not sure if this will help, but may I suggest donating your book collection to the New York Public Library Reference Department? They have a large collection on the ACW and would probably welcome new additions and extra copies of books in their catalog.

  40. R. Alex Raines
    Sat 26th May 2012 at 11:16 am

    I think you should consider donating the collection to a military base. I’m assuming they have libraries. In the alternative, maybe a junior college would be more willing to work with you?

  41. Ed Porter
    Wed 28th Nov 2012 at 12:14 pm

    No matter how hard you plan, your book collection some where in time will be broken up and scattered. All I can suggest is to get over your many guidelines, rules, attachments, etc. and face the hard cold reality of life.

    The most important thing to me is my family. I would like to think that my large collection of books was sold off and the money went to take care of my family to keep them healthy.

    When I am dead and gone what happens to my earthly belongings won’t matter to me one way or another. If you really love your family members let them profit from the sale your belongs so that they can make it through life. They might need the money to pay for care in their old age.

    I think my family is much more important to take care of than someone scribbling notes in the margin of one of my old books in a library. They won’t know who Ed Porter was and they would care less if they knew. They would probably twirl their finger around and say big whoop, so what else is new.

    Collections of books and other items go from one generation to another. We are the custodians of these items for just a little while and when we are dead and gone, another generation of Americans get to own and enjoy these items for a while.

    Want to give God a good laugh, tell him what you have planned for your library. In this life we are in charge of nothing! God is in control of everything! When we get to big for our britches and think we control our future is when God can turn our whole world upside down. The loss of a job, sickness, disaster by fire or nature and you can loose everything over night. God gives to us and he sure can take it away real fast if we cut him out of the picture. A lot of Americans have experienced this fact during the last few years. Something to ponder isn’t it?

    Enjoy what you have for a while, thank God for letting you be the custodian and remember that these things belong to Him as we sure can’t take it with us when we die.

    Books are like manuer, you need to spread them around and allow people to read, learn, and grow to be all that they can be.

    I realize that my opinion might not be very popular at the moment, but I try to face reality. Wanting something to happen and getting something to happen are two entirely different things. The lesson is yours to ponder.

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