Old Librarian’s Almanac 1774

by Edmund Lester Pearson  (Excerpts)

Job Description

The Librarian may be justly compar’d with him who keep an Armoury of Weapons; for as the Keeper doth neither forge the implements of War, nor employ them on the field of Battle so neither doth the Librarian compose the learn’d Works which are under his charge, not use their wisdom in his own especial interest.

But like that other Keeper, it is his Duty to see that his Armoury (which is the Library) be well stock’d with the fittest Weapons, and that they be put into the hands of such as can use them at the proper time.

The Metaphor need not stop at this, for neither, for even as the Weapons of the Armoury are unfitted for the hands of all, so do the Books (the Weapons over which the Librarian is Custodian) are ofttimes dangerous & harmful if they come to the hands of persons ill-fitted to peruse them.

Mr. Pope (an able poet, tho’ a Papist) warns us that:
A little learning is a dangerous thing!
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

The wisdom of such advice, & the folly of not observing it may be seen now-a-days, when Demagogues and other of shallow intellect seek to stir up sedition & revolt. Whence it appears that is as Custos Librorum (as the Ancients call’d him) or Guardian of the Books, that the Librarian exercises his true function.


…what qualities should be possess’d by him who stands thus as Guardian of the Books. These may think … that it matters little what the character of the Librarian be.

Such as these cannot too soon become aware of their error. For how can it be possible that a man can act as Warder of the accumulated record of the world’s wisdom, piety, learning, & experience, and hold the same in necessary reverence, if he be not a person of sober Godly life, learn’d, virtuous, chaste, moral, frugal and temperate?

Book Selection

You shall chuse your Books with care and Circumspection. When you have determin’d that it is Prudent to purchase a certain Work do so cautiously and make a Shrewd Bargain with the Vendor. It will then be your Duty to Peruse the Volume, even if (as doubtless with be the Fact) you have scan’d it before Buying.

Do not let the Importunities of Persons who come to the Library hasten you in the Performance of this Task. They should be Content to wait for the Book until you have Satisfied yourself of its Contents.

Technical Services

There will then remain the Necessity of recording its Acquisition in your Ledgers of Record. As for the Entry of its Style and Title in the Catalogue, many counsel that this is not needful, since you may be expected to remember that the Book has been Purchas’d for the Library. It may, however, occupy your leisure moments. Some would advise that if it be a Volume of Sermons it be placed on the Shelves with others of its like; or if it be a work of Natural Philosophy it stand near the Volumes of that class. This is a waste of Labour.

Assign it a Number which shall correspond to its Position on the Shelf, and shall be the next in Sequence from the latest Book which you have added, and so let them stand in the Order in which they are Receiv’d. For, surely, if you desire to find a number of volumes of Sermons, it will be an easy matter for you, recalling when they were Purchas’d, to pluck them from their several resting-places.


Keep your Books behind stout Gratings, and in no wise let any Person come at them to take them from the Shelf except yourself. … t were better that no Person enter the Library (save the Librarian Himself) and that the Books be kept in Safety, than that one Book be lost, or others Misplac’d. Guard well your Books, – this is always your foremost Duty.

Toward the Persons who frequent your Library maintain a courteous Demeanour, but the utmost Vigilance. For as it is your duty to guard well the Books which are the Riches of your Treasury, so you cannot afford to relax those Restrictions which may save you from Despoilment and the most grievous Loss. The Biblioklept or Thief of Books is your eternal Foe.


How far beyond mere Gold or Silver is the worth of a Book; & how Filthy & Base the Act of one who steals a Book! But there be sneeking unutterable Villains who will enter a Library, and in their furtive & Detestable fashion carry from it one of its Treasures!

And what Condemnation shall befit the accurst Wretch (for he cannot justly claim the title of Man) who pilfers and purloins for his own selfish ends such a precious article as a Book?) I am minded of the Warning display’d in the Library of the Popish Monastery of San Pedro at Barcelona. This is the version English’d by Sir Matthew Mahan, who saw it writ in Latin in the Monastery, as he himself describes in his learn’d Book. “Travels in Spanish Countries, 1712”.

The Warning reads thus: “For him that stealeth a Book from this Library, let it change to a serpent in his hand and rend him. Let him be struck with Palsy, and all his Members blasted. Let him languish in Pain, crying aloud for Mercy and let there be no surcease to his Agony till he sink to Dissolution. Let Book-worms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, and when at last he goeth to his final Punishment let the Flames of Hell consume him for ever and aye”.

Requirements for Obtaining a Library Card

So far as your Authority will permit of it, exercise great Discrimination as to which Persons shall be admitted to the use of the Library. For the Treasure House of Literature is no more to be thrown open to the ravages of the reasoning Mob, than is a fair Garden to be laid unprotected at the Mercy of a Swarm of Beasts.

Question each Applicant closely. See that he is a Person of good Reputation, scholarly Habits, sober and courteous Demeanour. Any mere Trifler, a Person that would Dally with Books, or seek in them shallow Amusement, may be Dismiss’d without delay.

No Person younger than 20 years (save if he be a Student, of more than 18 years, and vouched by his Tutor) is on any pretext to enter the Library. Be suspicious of Women. They are given to the Reading of frivolous Romances, and at all events, their presence in a Library adds little to (if it does not indeed, detract from) that aspect of Gravity, Seriousness and Learning which is its greatest Glory. You will make no error in excluding them altogether, even though by that Act it befall that you should prohibit from entering some one of those Excellent Females who are distinguished by their Wit and Learning. There is little Chance that You or I, Sir, will ever see such a One.

Let no Politician be in your Library, nor no man who Talks overmuch. It will be difficult for him to observe Silence, and he is objectionable otherwise, as well. No Astrologer, Necromancer, Charlatan, Quack, nor Humbug: no Vendor of Nostrums, nor Teacher of false Knowledge, no fantastic Preacher nor Refugee. Admit no one of loose or evil Life: prohibit the Gamester, the Gypsey, the Vagrant. Allow none who suffers from an infectious Disease; and none whose Apparel is so Gaudy or Eccentrick as to attract the Eye. Keep out the Light-witted, the Shallow, the Base and Obscure. See to it that none enter who are Senile, and none who are immature in their Minds, even tho’ they have reach’d the requir’d Age.


About this Time prepare for the Annual Examination. Close your Library not later than August. I, having given due Notice that all Books must be returned under Pain of Expulsion. See that every Book the Library owns is in its proper place on the Shelf by the first Day of the Month. It will perchance be necessary for you to seek some of them Yourself, taking care, at the same time to administer a Reproof to the delinquent Ones.

Covers should be examined and all those worm and tatters should be replaced. Never let a Book leave the Library without a stout paper cover to protect it against the Abuses of the careless.

Paste is to be preferred to Glue in affixing these. To one cupful of Flour add nine spoonfuls of water, and a little Vinegar. A half-ounce of Oil of Spearmint will be found an admirable Preservative.


Look to it that each Book is numbered in accordance with its corresponding place on the shelf. During the six Weeks that the Library remains closed to all but Yourself there is an excellent Opportunity to compile your Catalogue.

…worthy Master Enoch Sneed deems it better not to compile a Catalogue, both as an unavailing Bother and moreover as the absence of it makes you more Secure in your Office) then, in this case, you have a goodly season for the Relishment of your Books.


Examine your Books with great care to see that none have crept in which have an immoral or debasing Character, or which contain Pernicious and unsound Theology. A few Books of Moral tendency may be included for the Young. Their Elders will choose these, for surely children are not to be permitted in the Library themselves, to the disturbance of all others.

Cast out and destroy any Book which is merely frivolous and empty of all serious meaning, for the true object of Literature is to instil Wisdom and to lead to Habits of grave Meditation, and there always are those whose vapid Minds will feed, if it be allowed, on nothing but that which amuses for the Moment. Such must not be abetted.

Make the most of every Moment during the period of the Annual Examination, for you can then be assured that the Books are safe and well cared for, rather than spread abroad and distributed Hither and Thither.

Your Library is now closed, and so it will remain for six Weeks, or perchance two Months. These be Halcyon Days. The Annoyances to which you are subjected throughout all the Year vanish away, and there is naught to Disturb you.

Master Enoch Sneed (for whom I am ever ready to Testify my Reverence) has written: I am so be-pestered and bothered by persons insinuating themselves into the Library to get Books that frequently I am near to my Wit’s end. There have been days when I was scarce able to read for two Hours consecutive without some Donkey breaking in upon my Peace. Only the thought of the Annual Examination sustains me. Then forsooth, I can defy them all and read in some Security.

The necessary Tasks of the Examination (which I described last month) are easily preformed in a Week, or less. Indeed, if you omit the preparation of the Catalogue (and worthy Master Enoch Sneed deems it better not to compile a Catalogue, both as an unavailing Bother and moreover as the absence of it makes you more Secure in your Office) then, in this case, you have a goodly season for the Relishment of your Books.

How agreeable, on these sultry Days, is the Library! The rays of the Sun which descend so fierce outdoors, are tempered inside its walls, and your Footsteps, as you walk hither and yon among the Alcoves, echo loudly. A lonely Sound, say you? Not so, the Lover of Books is not affected by Loneliness when he is encompassed by his Friends. On every Shelf they stand, none missing (I hope truly) and all at your service.

Parents of Children are said to be more delighted in their possession when the offspring are safe in their Beds, than at any other time. Tho’ I trust I may be pardoned for making a seeming Comparison between Books and such a subject as Children, yet it may be said that it is true of Librarian that he is most content when all his Books are in the Library under his protection. For he can be no lover of books if he be at ease when his books are absent from the Library.

Shall a Librarian Marry?

Matrimony, so maintain’d worthy Master Peleg Gudger, is no fit Diversion for the Librarian, and in truth, I commend his Wisdom in the matter, The dissipations of Time, the Emptinesses of Amusement, the general be-pesterment that follows embarkation on this doubtful Sea (doubtful, if not in fact, Perilous) all these concomitants of the Married State so conspire and agree to harass the Librarian and woo him from his legitimate tasks as to behoove him to take a great Oath never to allow himself to be entrapped. Tis the only save course. Otherwise will he find himself badger’d when he desires to read in Peace; led forth to Domestic Duties when he should be marshalling his Books; and at all times Distract’d & Annoy’d, to the detriment of his Profession.

It is true, there be some who hold the Contrary. Dr. Simon Bagley writes: I have not found Wives to be altogether a too heavy Encumbrance. They can dust Books, and at times, they may be trusted to arrange the volumes properly in their places. Beyond this, it would perchance, be rash to go with them. I am far from advising Librarians to marry without weighing the Question soberly, and considering it discreetly, but this I do affirm: that a Wife may be train’d to partake in a Librarian’s labours in such a way as not to altogether to act as a Millstone about his Neck. It is scarce necessary to comment on Dr. Bagley’s words. Truly he impeaches his own Contention, by the apologetick fashion of his phrases. Most willingly do I mention the Opinion of that diligent Librarian, Master Enoch Sneed, with whom on this (as on every point in our Profession) I am rejoiced to own myself at one. Steer a straight course, he says, away from feminine Blandishments. These Females are as Leeches or Bloodsuckers, hardly to be torn off. They would make you take your Victuals at certain fix’d seasons to conform to their rules of Housekeeping, regarding not that you may wish to read at those Hours; while again they will Babble & Complain should it chance that after a hard night’s reading you ask that a hot Supper be served at Daybreak. Shun them as you would the Devil.


Master Caleb Pingree’s Book tells of Dr. Matthew Gully who set out one Day to dust the Books in his Library. But the first Volume which he plucked from the shelf was the works of Herodotus, which he had long desir’d to read yet again, and at leisure, and so enthrall’d did the worthy Dr. Gully become in the writings of the Greek historian, that starting in to peruse the Book, he set it not down till he had read it from Beginning to End.

Thus it happen’d with the next Book, and the next, the excellent Doctor standing before his Book Shelves, holding in one hand the Cloth, wherewith he had purpos’d to wipe off the Dust from the Books, and in the other the Volume which he could not lay aside until he had read it.

So he abode standing, and retun’d each Day to his task, yet each Day reading more of the Books, till at last full eighteen Months had pass’d, and Dr. Gully had read every book in the Library. But at that time the Dust lay as thick on the Books whereat he had commen’d, as ever it had been in the Beginning.

Also there is related an Incident concerning Master Timothy Mason, the same who had his Bed fitted up in the Library, that he might sleep near his Books and thereby not suffer Annoyance when he should be wakeful at Night, and find not the Books at hand.

Difficult Patrons

Master Timothy, being in Charge of the Publick Library, was one day reading diligently when a Member of the Library entered, and presenting his Subscription Ticket begged the Librarian to fetch him a certain Book. Master Timothy being incens’d at this Interruption of his Reading, and Chancing at that Moment to see the Constable passing the Library, did put out his Head from the Window and Bawl loudly for the Constable to come in.

When the latter had enter’d he gave the Member into custody of the Officer, preferring against him a charge of Disturbance of the Peace.

Joys of the Profession of Librarianship
There is none so Felicitous as the Librarian, and none with so small a cause of Ill-Content, Jealousy or Rancour. No other Profession is like his; no other so Happy. Of the Clergy, I speak not, their Calling is sacred and not of this World. The Physician & Lawyer administer to the ills and evils of Mankind. The Merchant’s happiness is conditioned upon his pecuniary Success.

But the Librarian, so far removed from any of these, ministers to the Wisdom and Delight of Mankind, increases his own Knowledge, lives surrounded by the Noble thoughts of great Minds, and can take no Concern of pecuniary Success, forasmuch as such a thing is not within the boundaries of Possibility.

If any may rival him in good Fortune, it is the Author, who produces some great Work of which the Librarian shall stand as humble Guardian. But even here, again, a little reading suffices to show that Authors have frequently lived in Turmoil or Penury, dying Destitute or wretched, because that Publick Esteem which was necessary to their Contentment had been withheld until long after they had quitted this Earth.

The Librarian, as he cannot hope for Wealth (nor fret his Mind about it), so he cannot expect to achieve Fame. Where is the Monument erected to a Librarian? Great Monarchs and Warriors have theirs; in ancient times it was even a custom thus to honour the Poet. But the Librarian lives and dies unknown to Fame; the durable results of his Labours are not visible to the Eye, and if at all he receiveth Honour it is for his private Character as a Man. His Brother Librarians may know and Esteem him as an Ornament to their Profession, and that is his sufficient Reward.

He lives protected, avaricious neither of Money nor of Worldly Fame, and happy in the goodliest of all Occupations, – the pursuit of wisdom.


First of all matters, ‘tis your greatest need
To read unceasing & unceasing read;
When one Book’s ended, with a mind unvext
Turn then your whole Attention to the Next.
Let naught intrude; to all the World be blind,
And chase each vain allurement from our Mind.
Be also deaf: ‘tis well to turn the Lock,
And let who will the outer portal knock.
Behold in Books your Raiment & your Bread,
So, lacking Books you’re neither warm’d nor fed;
Chuse them with care, repudiate the Chaff,
Or see corruption spoil the better half;
For one base volume spreads the Poison through, –
A single Traitor can a Host undo.
As Books, like Men, go better neatly drest,
Let Pater, Print, & Binding be the Best.
Your Books obtained, behold the Problem rise
How best secure them from unworthy eyes;
Or, graver yet, to guard lest you’re bereft
By Fire, Worms, or (absit omen!) Theft.
Remember this: they’re safe upon the shelf,
When none has access thither but yourself.
As you to guard them best are qualifi’d,
So you to read them, clearly ‘tis impli’d.
Be vigilant our Treasury to keep,
In watchful care know neither rest nor sleep;
All other Readers better far keep out
Than put the safely of your Books in doubt.
And first, or last, this Precept ever heed:
To read unceasing, and unceasing read.

Collection Maintenance

Of the Enemies of Books I especially esteem the Cockroach. That worthy Librarian, Master Enoch Sneed (for whom I profess my reverent Admiration), would have it that the Domestic Mouse, building her Nest, as she will, ’mid the Tatters of our most precious Volumes, more fairly merits the name of Chief Destroyer. But though it be true that the Ravage wrought by the Mouse is compleat, yet she & her Kind may be exterminated, & the Library rid of her Presence with not great Ado.

But the Cockroach, more elusive in his Habits, & not less insidious in his Character, spreads destruction wherever his footsteps may wander, & he is a greater Bother to remove, in view of the Celerity of his Movements, & the amazing Fecundity with which he reproduces his Kind.

Some may question if the Nature of the Destruction wrought by this Pestilential Insect be of serious import, but I do earnestly Assure all such that I have witnessed with my own eyes appalling Injuries inflicted on the most Precious Books in my Custody, & these Injuries, I am convinc’d, were justly chargeable to this hardshelled Rogue who Scuttles about the Book Shelves, & owns no restraint upon his ungovernable Appetite. For the Cockroach will so gnaw & devour the Bindings, so prey upon the leavs of old Books that I have been Moved nearly to an access of Tears when I have gaz’d upon the Ruin which he has left after him. With devilish Cunning he will come at only the rare and costly Volumes, picking them out, it would seem, as by the leadership of Satan, & visiting upon them his own foul Mutilation.

I have found the following Preparation to be highly serviceable: To three minims of distilled Hen-Bane, add four drops of the Tincture of Saffron. Take this Mixture & combine it with a half a gill of the Liquor which comes from boyling a peck of common Tansy. After allowing it to cool, add four great spoonfuls of pure Vinegar, a pinch of powdered Rhubarb, & the juice of a score of Mulberries, heated well. The resulting Compound should be kept in a Jar, tightly seal’d, & sprinkled on the Book Shelves, or wherever the Enemy are seen.