Musty Books – Eros or Thanatos?

David Lee King recently challenged Stephen Abrams in a smelly contest where Stephen asks of that subtle bookish perfume:

When people are telling us they like the smell of books and libraries is this what is happening? Are they actually recalling the sweet experiences of youth and visits to the library when life was fun and grand?

Then, after suggesting we add smell to e-readers: “Tongue firmly in cheek . . .”

King then quickly asserted his stance in a slightly edgy post:

Have that lovely smell of rotting glue and mold in your library? It means that your stuff isn’t relevant, and it’s been sitting for too long. You have two choices:

  1. pay people to move your stuff around
  2. get better stuff

Which makes some sense, depending on what kind of library you’re in and what your goal is. If the goal is high-use, then yes, musty books are bad. However, if the goal is to provide long-term access to intellectual content that doesn’t require electronic access through a subscription, then having a good musty book is more important than having the wrong new one. Doesn’t how you feel about book smell depend on what library you work in?


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