Old Books

By Eric E. Ungar
Acentech, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts

Pasted to the inside front pages of my technical books is an ex libris with the following excerpt from Chaucer:

For out of olde feldes, as men seith
Cometh all this newe corn from yeer to yere;
And out of olde bokes, in good faith
Cometh all this newe science that men lere.

Here is my translation—which, unfortunately, does not rhyme:

As out of old fields, as man sows
Comes all this new grain from year to year,
So out of old books, in good faith
Comes all this new science that man learns.

Full disclosure: I developed affection for Chaucer in English literature class, where the teacher mentioned that our textbook omitted the bawdy portions of The Canterbury Tales. As a result, I borrowed the complete Tales from the library, read them from end to end, and went on to delve deeper into Middle English.

I expect that many of you are in the same boat with me in that you have a warm feeling for some of your old books—books you studied and books you used in your work—books that you would like to see put to good use after you no longer have any need for them.

Clearly, some books are at most of historical interest; I dare say, for example, that no one is seriously studying vacuum-tube circuits any more. In contrast, my old physics text, which says almost nothing about nuclear physics, contains much instructive basic information that clearly is still applicable today. The same is true of texts dealing with the fundamentals of mathematics, mechanics, heat transfer, stress analysis, and so on. Handbooks that address many diverse topics also contain much useful information in addition to some obsolete data.

I am facing a dilemma that undoubtedly is common to many of us who no longer are technically active: How can I get my still-useful books into the hands of people who would benefit from them? I would dearly love to find a good home for these old friends—a home where they would be appreciated and put to good use.

I’d appreciate any constructive suggestions or advice.