Do you know what heraldry is? As I ask the question I am assuming that, as with most things, some readers will know exactly what it is, some will have a vague idea, and some will have no clue–perhaps have never heard the word. That’s okay. It’s been many centuries since heraldry was very relevant in our lives.
But when I first began working in libraries in the last few decades of the twentieth century, heraldry was still a fairly popular subject of study for a number of hobbyists and history buffs. Libraries had books on the subject and librarians knew where to find information about it. At the History and Genealogy Department of St. Louis Public Library’s Central Library there was one older librarian who was probably the region’s leading expert on heraldry.
These past few weeks I have been weeding our non-fiction collection. I have worked my way into the 900s, which is history in the Dewey Decimal System, and one of our largest collections. What I do when I want to weed out old and unused books from the collection is run what librarians somewhat playfully call a ‘dusty books list.’ It is actually a list of all the books in a specified collection that have not been checked out in a specified time period. I am using five years. I go out and collect all of these books, check to make sure we have other books on the subjects they cover, or that they are not classic works by important authors, and withdraw the ones that do not make a strong case for themselves.
Today I learned that Webster Groves Public Library has six books on heraldry. All six were on the dusty books list. Of course I am not going to withdraw everything in our collection on heraldry, even if it is apparent that nobody reads about heraldry any more. I chose to keep the newer ones and withdraw the older ones.
I am a lover of history. I read many books on a variety of subjects in history every year. It displeases me when I find that books on the Mycenaeans or Louis XIV are not being read. It is a hard decision to get rid of them–but I can’t make people read books they don’t want to read, can I? We have to make room for all the new books that are constantly flooding our shelves, with the ever-present optimism that someone will read them. But when it comes to some subjects, like heraldry, I find myself unable to get rid of them altogether, regardless of how uninterested people may be in them.
I realize that some readers are waiting for me to provide a description or definition of what heraldry is, but I am not going to. For that, you’ll just have to check out one of our remaining books on the subject, and learn for yourselves.