Among the many dozens of books I have checked out of the university library is a text that is part of the second series of the Hakluyt Society, which includes printed editions of primary records of voyages and travels by early modern and late medieval European writers. Entitled The Book of the Knowledge of all the Kingdoms, Lands, and Lordships that are in the World, the text was purportedly written by a Spanish Franciscan friar in the mid-fourteenth century, and contains much of the sort of fanciful ignorance that was the late medieval European worldview.
Yet what I found puzzling was that I was the first person to ever check out this book, which probably arrived on the bookshelves of the University of Toledo's Carlson Library in the late 1960s. Nearly forty years have passed since that time, and in that time the book may never have left the library.
Sure, at least a few people picked it up, and maybe a handful of scholars sat down and perused it in the library. It likely moved a few times from floor-to-floor, and might even have made it as far as the circulation desk with a student who did not bring an ID.
But until 2007 this book never entered someone's home.
So I sit with this interesting book, smelling its paper and touching pages that might never have been in contact with human skin before. In a way this book is like an artifact, uncovered after a long period of storage, seeing sunshine after an eternity of being ignored.
I now feel obligated to read this book cover-to-cover, since translators and editors worked so hard to bring it to textual form, and historians and librarians deemed it worthy of purchase as part of the Hakluyt collection. I almost feel that I should be wearing latex gloves before opening the book, desiring to maintain its pristine state.
I hope that another forty years does not pass before someone decides to check this book out of the library.