Last Friday I got to visit Multnomah County Library’s John Wilson Special Collections, where librarian Jim Carmin presides over a truly amazing collection of rare and special stuff. I was part of a small group of librarians, there on official gawking purposes. Among the things Jim showed us:
- A rejection letter from Charles Dickens to an aspiring writer, a lady whose story didn’t make it into print. Actual Charles Dickens signature! Actual Charles Dickens rejection!
- A letter from Isaac Asimov declining to visit Oregon for some convention or speaker event, stating that he lives a quiet and sedate island life (i.e. Manhattan) and that there is “absolutely no chance of [his] ever being in Oregon at any time.”
- A scribbled postcard from a guy named Allen to a guy named Bill, dated 1965, talking about Allen’s trip up the west coast from California to Seattle, with a stop in Portland to catch a Beatles show.*
I’m a librarian by trade, but every so often libraries still catch me off guard: that we believe in them and fund them, that they live so quietly among us, that they’re such amazing, stuffed-to-the-gills layer cakes of story.
Libraries are like the great-aunt at the family gathering, the one who sits in the corner and doesn’t draw attention to herself, but if you bring her a snifter of Schnapps she’ll tell you every last thing about every single person who has ever had your last name–as well as anyone they’ve ever dated, maligned, mentored, threatened, or struck with a 1973 Citroen outside of the Rambling Scamp pub in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
Libraries are awesome. And so are librarians. Thanks for the tour, Jim!
* See photo. Also, Bill = Bill Burroughs.
ETA: Now with corrections to Jim Carmin AND Charles Dickens’s names…thanks to Kim, who is more awake than I am. Thanks, Kim! When I get things wrong, I like to get them really wrong.