Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I Learned to Be a Librarian Collecting Baseball Cards

Notice that I did not say I learned EVERYTHING about being a librarian by collecting baseball cards as a kid, but it really did start me down the path to my vocation.

1. Acquisitions. As a eight year old I began learning how to acquire cards for my collection. I know my first dozen or so cards were a gift (donation). Then I learned how to take pennies, nickels, and dimes to the grocery store (vendor, jobber) and add to the collection. This may sound like I come from an ancient time, but in 1962 you could buy a penny pack with one baseball card and one stick of the world's worst gum. The grocery store also had nickle packs with five cards and a slightly larger stick of gum. Because I had limited funds, I had to budget my acquisitions and stagger my purchases.

2. Selection. Of course, when you bought a pack of baseball cards wrapped in brightly colored paper, you did not know what you were getting. The packs held random cards. Librarians select their books and other materials and usually know what they are getting. The kid collecting baseball cards at that time selected cards on the secondary market - cards from friends' shoe boxes. I used to study the checklists of cards and read Sporting News and Baseball Monthly to chose what player cards to acquire through trades. It was not far different from book selection. It also required some skills in negotiation to actually acquire the cards.

3. Collection maintenance. Once I had several hundred cards, I had to keep them in some order so I could find them again. Topps numbered its cards randomly, but numerical order was not a good choice. Why should Bob Anderson of the Tigers be next to Ernie Banks of the Cubs to be followed by Frank Baumann of the White Sox? Random order did not make retrieval of cards easy. I usually kept my cards in team sets. Even that was sometimes difficult because a card might say a player was an Angel when I knew he had been traded since the card was printed to the Red Sox. Where did I file that card? Where did I put a card showing rookies from two different teams? I was learning the shortcomings of filing schemes.

I did experiment with other arrangements of the cards. I once grouped the players according to the teams that had first signed them to minor league contracts; this was an interesting academic exercise but I was unable to remember where to find most players. I once grouped players by age, and I also tried pitchers with pitchers, catchers with catchers, etc. (I had a lot of time on my hands living on a ranch for a year with no friends handy.) I always went back to team sets.

4. Preservation of materials. I never put a baseball card in the spokes of a bicycle. I never flipped them. I never glued them into scrap albums. I did, however, bind small sets of cards in rubber bands, wearing the edges and corners. I know better now.

5. Reference. I was constantly referring to the statistical tables on the backs of the baseball cards to see how many home runs Jim Wynn hit for the Astros in 1966 or how many seasons Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs won twenty games. I consulted the cards for player ages, home cities, and whether they batted from the right or the left. I also enjoyed reading fun facts that were printed on some cards, such as "Dal Maxwell is called the 'human vacuum cleaner" or "Steve Stone enjoys reading." I was a reference librarian in training, who always wanted a fact verified.

I like to think mine was not a youth misspent. My obsession trained me for my vocation. Call me "The Natural."

1 comment:

David Dodd said...

How great! Me, too!