It was a friend who told me about the library. His name was Bryce and he was always interested in things. That was his thing. He was always interested. He was a good guy, and I kind of miss him. He went home, and I don’t see him anymore.
But there was a librarian who kept track of all the bus pamphlets she could find. She obviously couldn’t get every one of them, but her collection was still pretty impressive.
The religious tracts were obviously the main thing. There were thousands and thousands of them. There were threatening ones, that told me I was going to Hell. And there were more persuasive ones, that were still bringing up Hell, but made it clear that it wasn’t too late.
And then there were the overtly racist ones. And some sexist ones. The Jehovah’s Witnesses ones.
While I found the whole thing extremely interesting, I also had to wonder what the point was. There was a huge amount of work involved in collecting the things, and while I thought it was interesting, I still couldn’t really see who could possibly use it. She had developed a huge network of collectors who took the bus and sent her the literature that they found lying around while they were going to work or in the bus stations while they were waiting.
So I tried to be tactful about it, but I asked her why she did it. I didn’t want to be too scathing or dismissive. Though I couldn’t help think that she’d sometimes asked herself the same question. She just sort of grinned at me, shook her head slowly, and then told me.
These things represent someone’s work, she told me. They range from the slightly eccentric to bat-shit crazy. They range from fairly inoffensive to the White Power kinds of pamphlets.
She didn’t know if her library was going to have any value for readers. IN fact, she was fairly certain that it didn’t. There were a few curio seekers like me who came around, but almost no one was really that interested. Though she had had an anthropology student in working on his thesis for a while. The bus tracts had been a large part of what he was wanted to write about. She didn’t know if someone had just talked him out of it, or if he’d decided on his own that it was too much. Either way, he stopped coming around.
What she believed was that her library had value to the writers. “Most of these were simply headed to the garbage. Though sometimes this stuff survives as a bookmark or an important phone number or something.”
“These were somebody’s work. Doesn’t matter what you think of them, they represent effort of some sort. And putting things in a library confers some sort of value on a thing. Even if that thing is just garbage to most people.
“So I’m making people’s work valuable. Maybe I shouldn’t. Some of this stuff is pretty awful, but it’s a slippery slope from crazy to just wrong. And I really don’t want to be in a position to be judging right and wrong. Plus, if I started excluding everything that was kinda nuts, I wouldn’t have much of a collection.”
I said quietly that maybe that would be all right. She heard me, and just smiled again. “I do have a collection, though. And my collection gives this stuff some value.”
I said quietly that I wasn’t sure that was true. I said quietly that it was readers who gave words value.
But I also thanked her for her time, and told her that her collection was very interesting. It was interesting, I wasn’t lying. I really did find it interesting. I was glad that Bryce had told me about it. I could actually have seen Bryce going through it. He’s like that.