Book Saviors to the Rescue

The USC Libraries Shelf Life program pairs special library books with devoted readers.

March 02, 2016 Diane Krieger

Libraries serve double duty in the digital age: They’re pioneers of new ways to store knowledge, but they’re also guardians of the old way — namely, books.

An irreplaceable piece of our heritage, the book is “very, very robust,” says Marje Schuetze-Coburn, head of USC Libraries Special Collections. But even the toughest hide-bound volume needs the occasional spa treatment, a rebacked cover or rehinged spine to counter wear. Thousands of rare books in USC’s collections merit this attention, but the library’s budget can handle perhaps a dozen such projects a year.

This is where USC Shelf Life comes in. The program pairs a book with a devoted reader who wants to conserve it. For as little as $150, anyone can support a treasured work. In addition to meticulous conservation, the chosen book gets its own cloth-lined, marble-papered box inscribed with a commemorative nameplate.

Dozens of book lovers have participated in Shelf Life. Bo and Bano Pozin welcomed their daughter Leila, a freshman, into the Trojan family by conserving the library’s 1677 edition of Thomas Hobbes’ classic Latin translation of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (pictured above). Provost Elizabeth Garrett often conserves rare books to honor faculty on special occasions.

Library assistant Amber Dubeshter enjoys playing matchmaker, connecting a patron with the perfect needy volume. “We have donors who have really close associations with a particular book,” she says. “Some can remember their parents reading it to them as children.”

To conserve a book through USC Shelf Life, contact Hugh McHarg.