|Browsing the book exchange shelf|
What is a book exchange shelf. Put simply, it’s a shelf which holds books for exchange. You bring a book and you leave a book.
Of course, that’s seldom how it actually works. Sometimes scrupulous students will come to the desk, asking if they need to have a book on hand, to replace the book they fancy. I reassure them that we are not so literal-minded, that the requirement to leave a book is more open-ended. Most people seem to understand this intuitively.
Despite that, the shelf seems to have a steady supply of new material, and not only bulk donations from the library. Part of its excitement (yes, excitement) is the fact that anything can turn up there, from an issue of the Yeats Journal of Korea (there really is such a thing, and it really did turn up) to the works of Barbara Taylor Bradford.²
Books of all sorts on the book exchange shelf
Indeed, it’s not only books that turn up. DVDs and CDs regularly appear, and sometimes more miscellaneous items. Once a giraffe made of glass beads turned up on top of it. I took a fancy to the thing, and brought it up to my office. My office-mate, who was not a fan of the style, told me that, as soon as he saw it on the book exchange shelf, he knew that I was going to acquire it. We had some animated debates on the merit of folk art (or faux folk art). Eventually I came round to his point of view and it made its way back out to the shelf.
|Books of every kind on the book exchange shelf|
As well as this, there is something of a social element to a book exchange. Immediately outside the library is a popular meeting point (a little bit too popular, given the noise implications) and very often one will see somebody who is waiting for somebody else browsing the book exchange shelf. When their friend arrives, there is often a conversation about the book they were browsing, or the books on display in general. Sometimes complete strangers will even pass a remark on the contents of the shelf, while one is browsing it.
In the world of romantic comedies, of course, it would be the ideal locale for soulmates to encounter each other for the first time, perhaps reaching for the same book of poetry simultaneously. As we all know, such things don’t happen in real life. But it’s not impossible…
On the subject of chance encounters, I’ve had plenty of these through the book exchange shelf. I’ve made the acquaintance of many books which otherwise would never have come into my life. Teen horror novels are the prime example. They are not the sort of book I would buy, or even seek out for myself. But when they appear on a shelf, just there for the taking, why be backward?
|The World Book, an ornament to any bookshelf|
My experiences as a donor have been as interesting as my experiences as a beneficiary. I left a copy of a trilogy by Arthur Halley (a mega-selling author some thirty years ago) on the shelf.³ It remained there for literally months. Another time, I left some books about my own favourite author, G.K. Chesterton. (You can have too much of a good thing.) I was pleased that they disappeared overnight.
Tomorrow morning, who knows what jewel might be awaiting? Oh, the joys of a book exchange shelf!
¹ UCD Library Website, 10 April 2013
² The Yeats Journal of Korea website
³ Dennis Barker, “Arthur Hailey” (obituary), The Guardian, 27 November 2004