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#17: Bibliomania

I’m a bibliophile. There’s no escaping it. I’m a librarian – professionally and as a hobbyist. I’m a collector. It’s something of an affliction; just ask my wife as she navigates the piles of books, hunts for a crevice on a shelf to tidy her latest novel, or threatens divorce proceedings when we move house and she sees all the boxes come out of the attic. Perhaps I should start a group. “My name is Timothy. I’ve been a bibliomaniac for four decades. I last bought a book, well, this afternoon actually.” There’s no doubt there’s something of a compulsion about it: the love of a good bookshop; the haunting of charity shops to get a fix where you just don’t know what you might stumble across; the honeymoon visit to Helsinki University Library.1

Naturally, this carries over into Traveller, where I’m in the very fortunate position of being able to claim an almost exhaustive collection. Built up over the years – much of it bought as it was published – it now fills more than an Ikea bookcase. And that’s before you start to work out ways of measuring the electronic material. It’s difficult to describe the itchlike frustration of those odd things I know exist and haven’t been able to find – mostly Japanese titles. I sometimes say it’s likely to be the biggest collection this side of the Atlantic although I don’t actually know that. The one time I got into a (very good natured) man-to-man “mine is bigger than yours” debate the contender withdrew gracefully after an opening volley of rarities followed by close-quarter quarter yardstick combat.

I said privilege earlier. I recognize how fortunate I’ve been. One of the reasons I’ve spent years flogging away at The Traveller Bibliography (which actually started as a project to list what I had for a friend I was hoping to encourage referee) has been because I hoped it would be useful to other Travellers. The odd bit of feedback I’ve had, particularly in regard to The Periodical Bibliography, would suggest that that’s been successful. I would surmise that most bibliographies are written by those with uncontrollable urges to ‘possess’ books – whether it’s actual ownership or just the satisfaction of knowing an item exists and providing its details.

A quarter of a century working in three different libraries has helped me to learn to ‘let go’ of books – technically: ‘weeding’. But it’s still difficult. (The books I find hardest to weed at work are the bibliographies…). I’ve not yet had to throw away a Traveller book. Long may that be the case!

1. One of the one most beautiful spaces on the planet. My bride sat on the steps of the square outside and missed an experience I’d rank right up there with the British Library Reading Room and Trinity College Dublin’s ‘Long Room’ (memorably used in a Star Wars film), two other spaces I’ve been awed by. I should add that the Helsinki visit was brief… I’m not that stupid.