There’s a Goldmine in Town

(Originally published on the Windscape Book Company blog.)

I live in Cut Knife, a small town of about 600 people in west central Saskatchewan. Stand alone bookstores are few, and far between, out here. We do have the occasional retail outlet, within driving distance, that sells books in, and amongst their other offerings, but for a whole variety of reasons, bricks and mortar bookstores all across the country have been on the decline.

So, what’s a bibliophile to do?  Well, the reading part is easy. We travel whatever distance we have to; we buy our books online, or we borrow. Still, that doesn’t replace all the other services a community bookstore will offer – like staff recommendations, or book launches, and author readings, or listings of literary award winners, etc. Fortunately, though, most rural areas have access to the next best thing: The Public Library.

I used my first library card, acquired way back in the 1960s, to borrow books, and books, alone. In fact, the only reason I went to the library was for books, and to access the encyclopedias for class reports. That was it. Today, though, libraries are the hubs of their communities. They’re filled with lending materials like books, and music, and movies, and have online services that include access to newspapers, encyclopedias, music downloads, foreign language and course modules. They also regularly host public events.

Cut Knife Library
Cut Knife Library

Our libraries are now home to holiday celebrations, guest lectures, and writers-in-residence programs; film showings and festivals; open mic nights, and storytelling concerts. They support literacy and ESL services, book clubs, and organize storytimes for children of all ages. So, whether you access your local branch, its regional hub, or every town’s library between the two, be sure to check their monthly calendars. There’s a wealth of regularly scheduled activities happening in most of them.

Photo credit (top): davidpwhelan via

What is POD?

(Originally published on the Windscape Book Company blog.)

Publishing methods have changed dramatically since the days of record keeping on clay tablets in ancient Sumeria. Until the invention of the printing press, and movable type in the 15th century, original manuscripts, and later, copies of them, were written by hand. Materials consisted of papyrus, then, parchment or vellum and, eventually, paper. Their format evolved from scrolls into codices, which provided the basic structure for books as we know them, today.

Print shops began to appear in the 16th century. They sold printed editions of hand written classical and religious texts to the Church and the Aristocracy. By the end of the 19th century, reading materials were also in demand by the middle classes, prompted by public education, and the spread of literacy. The growth of the publishing industry kept pace with the public’s increased desire for books, and the existence of commercial publishers was well established by 1900.

During the 20th century, many smaller publishing houses were bought up by ever-larger ones and, increasingly, by global media empires. Now, profitability, not artistic merit, often determines an editor’s choice of manuscripts. Commercialization has forced publishers to make their decisions based on proven track records, or successful formulas. It’s often difficult for new authors, or fringe topics to find a place in the industry.

But, POD is a way of addressing those issues. Print-on-demand publishing is digital. It begins with a computer, and a digital version of the author’s manuscript. Formatting and graphics are added; copies are laser printed and the book is bound. No expensive printing presses, no publishers, no middlemen. Print runs are on-demand, and affordable; the books are sold by the author online, or at book-selling events.

For authors, a printed work can be the first step to building an audience. For consumers, an independently published book increases our choices, and allows us to access original work that may not fit within the boundaries of commercial literature. That can only be a good thing.

Photo credit (top): dharder via

On the Lighter Side

(Originally published on the Windscape Book Company blog.)

Just for the fun of it, I’m posting two links to highlight the innovative side of bookselling.

This first video boggles my mind.  I can’t even begin to guess the amount of time it would have taken to sort and stack these books once this video had been filmed.  Even if it was shot in pieces over an extended period of time, can you imagine how much effort and care was involved in setting up each scene?  And, then, what if a second or, even, a third take was needed?  As much as I get a kick out of the video and appreciate the idea, I sure wouldn’t want to be on the crew.

Here’s Bookmans Does Book Dominoes:

This next video, The Joy of Books, is another amazing display of creativity.  Be sure to click on the Show More button under it to count the number of volunteers used to ‘move the books’ and don’t forget to listen to the original score:

Youtube is a breeding ground for the bizarre as well as the truly inspired.  It’s also a heck of a lot of fun.

Found: One Sheet of Portrait Photos

(Originally published on the Windscape Book Company blog.)

I’ve been buying used books from secondhand bookstores most of my adult life. Occasionally, I’ll get the books home, then discover an old bookmark tucked inside, overlooked by the store’s purchasing staff. Sometimes, it’s just a receipt or a torn piece of paper; other times it’s a business card but, in most cases, the books are empty of anything belonging to the previous owner.

Now that I’m a bookseller, though, I’m buying much larger quantities of books and buying them much more regularly. I’m also starting to accumulate quite a collection of bookmarks. In addition to the glossy ones with inspirational sayings, there’s been a few from bookstores in other Canadian cities, one from as far away as Yellowknife, N.W.T. I’ve also come across the usual variety of paper scraps including old telephone messages, study notes and grocery lists. I’ve even found a photograph of the Eiffel Tower in autumn.

Photo sheet bookmarkRecently, I was cataloguing a book I’d picked up at the Cut Knife Library Book Sale. Underneath the dust jacket’s rear flap was a sheet of studio portraits. I have no idea how old they may be but, if anyone recognizes this child, please let the family know I have the photos because I’d love to be able to return them.

Just a reminder, folks, before you donate, lend, give away or sell your books, please take a quick peek inside and check for any stray bookmarks. Most of them wouldn’t be missed but, sometimes, there’s something irreplaceable inside.

From Medals to Movies; From Letters to Photos to Jewellery…

(Originally published on the Windscape Book Company blog.)

A few years ago my siblings and I inherited a huge collection of boxes and trunks belonging to our parents. These also included, as we were soon to discover, items passed down from their parents, as well. Each container was full of treasures and, soon, we were leafing through family bibles, sorting through a hundred years worth of photos, untangling medals and service pins, and trying to identify odd pieces of obsolete technology.

Once the final tub had been inspected, we sat back and looked at each other. I can’t remember who spoke first but it was soon apparent we had no idea where to start, or how to go about the huge task of sorting, apportioning, and / or throwing away the family history spread out before of us. In fact, we were so overwhelmed by it all we simply boxed everything back up and packed it away, out of sight, in my attic, where it’s remained for the last five years.

And, I suspect, it would have stayed there indefinitely – well, probably forever – gathering cobwebs if I hadn’t discovered something at our local library: A two volume set entitled Help! I’ve Inherited an Attic Full of History by Althea Douglas. If anyone reading this post ever finds themselves in this same position, needing to sort through someone’s lifetime accumulation of personal possessions, these books are absolutely the first stop to make before tackling the job.

Douglas starts at the very beginning of the process with ideas on how to split the job between family members; how to assess what you’ve just unpacked and then how to evaluate it all. She explains how to determine historical value and where to look to establish a monetary value for collections and collectibles. She provides guidelines for giving items away to archives, historical societies, and libraries but, also reminds us that, sometimes, an item’s value lies more in its sentimental worth to the family. Douglas includes a Chronology for technology that covers cameras, sewing machines, calculators and computers, film, video, and sound equipment. There’s also a Glossary, and a Bibliography along with Notes, and Sources. And, that’s just Volume I. Volume II is all about how to care for, and preserve the things you’ve decided to keep, and contains just as much essential reference material as the first book.

Attic spider websThe first thing I learned was that my attic was the wrong place to store our collection of memorabilia. In fact, these kinds of materials require dry conditions with a constant temperature, which means unheated garages and barns, and cold, damp basements are out of the question, too. So, number one on the agenda, now, is to haul out the almost two dozen boxes tucked away in the crawl space upstairs. Number two, is to call my siblings. Or should it be the other way around?

Help! I’ve Inherited an Attic Full of History, Volume 1: Dating, evaluating and disposing of the accumulation of a lifetime.  Althea Douglas, M.A., D.G.(C) Published in Toronto by The Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998. 92 pp

Help! I’ve Inherited an Attic Full of History, Volume II: Archival conservation in the home environment.  Althea Douglas, M.A., D.G.(C) Published in Toronto by The Ontario Genealogical Society, 1999. 94 pp