Late yesterday as I shelved returned books shortly before closing time, I overheard a conversation meant to be private.
I'm not nosy. I generally mind my own business, and I'm not inclined to eavesdrop on others. But there's nothing wrong with my hearing and you can't fault me for overhearing something I wasn't supposed to hear.
I'm Emma Sharp. I'm not going to tell you how old I am, except to say I'm what some refer to as a senior citizen these days. I've been at the Masonville Public Library longer than anyone else and if that alone doesn't qualify me to be head librarian I'd have less cause to complain. Experience should count more than any fancy degree like that cast in my face by Miss Fancy Pants McClure. Some might say I'm jealous because the board saw fit to give her the post rather than me. In my defense, I do what I'm paid for and don't make a habit of complaining—which usually doesn't change things anyway.
Fancy Pants McClure and a man were conversing in whispers behind the Science & Physics stacks, a section which doesn't get as much traffic as it should in my opinion. I recognized her voice right away. She has a slight lisp and—despite college and her best efforts—is unable to disguise her Pennsylvania Dutch accent when excited. I knew it was her, but couldn't place the man's voice.
Now it's not my business and I don't care if she wants to have a tete-a-tete with a man in the stacks. It was what they were discussing caught my attention.
"… big bucks," she said. "Lucky I was the one sorting these books. Usually donated books are junk we dispose of for pennies in our sales. But this is a gem, a rare first edition."
"So how does it help us?" the man asked. "Aren't these donations recorded? If we just take it, someone is bound to notice. Like that busybody who thought she had your job in the bag." This last comment got my goat and inclined me to keep listening when I might otherwise have moved on. There was nothing distinctive about his voice, nothing to set him apart from a dozen other men who are in and out of the library on a regular basis.
She giggled. "I've got it all figured out. Later editions, which aren't worth the same money as this one, come with the same dust jacket. The publisher even retained this cover for the book club edition, which isn't worth a dime. I want you to take a photo of the book with your phone and find us one of those cheap editions. Then we'll just swap books and no one will ever know the difference."
"Where am I supposed to find this worthless substitute?"
I heard an audible hiss. Then she said, "That used book shop down the street is bound to have a copy or two. Shouldn't cost more than a buck or two."
"And we'll be rolling in bigger bucks."
And they both giggled.
In the past I'd usually been the one to sort donated volumes. This time she'd had a look at the box before me and said she'd save me the bother and do the sorting. I didn't care since it's usually an onerous, unrewarding task. Now I wondered, what rare book had she stumbled upon? There was a list, but just seeing the title might not give me a clue. I had to see the books for myself.
People who aren't obsessed with collecting probably wouldn't be able to tell the difference between a real first printing and a tomato. Even if it reads First Edition on the copyright page that doesn't necessarily mean it's worth anything or even that it is, in fact, the first printing of a book. Publishers vary in their methods of signifying a first printing and some don't remove the wording in all subsequent printings. I've actually seen the misleading term in some of those book club editions. Sometimes you have to go by number codes rather than words to know you have the real article.
And even when a book is a genuine first, there are other factors determining whether it's worth any money—little things like condition and rarity.
It galled me to think Miss High-And-Mighty McClure would actually consider stealing a book and depriving the library of a chance to profit by a donation. We're a small institution and there's never enough money to do the things we'd like to do for our community.
Her attitude prompted me to want to stop her felonious undertaking and, maybe, have an opportunity to throw sand in her face. Wouldn't the board have a change of heart if I showed her up as a thief?