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The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 2, January 11, 2009, Article 28


Bill Eckberg writes:
À propos of your piece on cursed manhandlers of books, I offer the following quote translated from a page at the Monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona:

For Him That Stealeth a book from this library, let it change into a serpent in his hand and rend Him. Let Him be struck with Palsy & all his members blasted. Let him Languish in Pain, crying aloud for Mercy, & let there be no surcease to his Agony until he sink to Dissolution. Let Bookworms gnaw his Entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not, & when he goeth to his final Punishment, let the flames of Hell consume him for ever & aye.

I don't know about you, but I'd certainly have given the book back after reading that. I didn't know monks were supposed to get that angry!

How could I not reprint a quote like that? Gotta love it - I told Bill I wouldn't mind printing that on parchment and framing it for my library wall. He told me he already has it on a woodcut on handmade Chinese paper.

I was intrigued and did a little online research looking for more information on the quote. It's been reprinted widely, but alas, it appears to be fiction.

It first appeared a hundred years ago, in a 1909 publication titled "Philobiblos - The Old Librarian's Almanack: A very rare pamphlet first published in New Haven Connecticut in 1773. The book purported to be a reprint, but was in fact authored by Edmund Lester Pearson (1880-1937), a professional librarian.

There's even a book about the book, a 1979 publication by Wayne A. Wiegand, The History of a Hoax: Edmund Lester Pearson, John Cotton Dana, and 'The Old Librarian's Almanack' Pearson's book sounds like a marvelous satire on the profession. Here's another take on the book along with a couple other quotes. -Editor

Pearson's "Old Librarian" views library patrons as insufferable nuisances distracting librarians from their true vocation (personal reading), when not an actual danger to precious books they itch to steal or damage. Patrons certainly had no useful suggestions to make on what books to acquire. No librarian in 1909 would admit to sharing the "Old Librarian"s attitudes, but some of the satire could apply to bureaucracies in general.

"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 unreasoning 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 be 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.

To read the complete article, see: Edmund Lester Pearson's Old Librarian's Almanack (

Wayne Homren, Editor

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