Garden Stories

Dedicated to the one I love

Early last summer I noticed a small row of books, bracketed by nice-looking bookends, on a shelf behind the front desk at the Lenhardt Library. “Those are our dedication books,” explained Leora Siegel, library director. “If visitors or members would like to pay tribute to someone special or mark a special occasion, they can dedicate a book in the library in the same way that they might dedicate a tree or a bench in other Garden areas.”

Later that summer, my mom passed away. As my thoughts eventually turned to a memorial or tribute, I remembered Leora’s words, and asked her to walk me through the process of book dedication. Turns out there are three “levels” to consider for dedication. Here’s how they work:

Level 1General Book Dedication

Each year, approximately 100 newly-purchased books are set aside specifically for the tribute program—that’s the bookended group you’ll find on the shelf. Topics are garden-related, of course, but very diverse—and if you don’t see the topic you’re looking for, the staff will work with you to find the right book.

  • Ask a librarian to share the list of current selections, and page through the books you’re interested in.
  • Choose a title, then fill out a book dedication form, including copy for the bookplate.
  • After the bookplate is printed and mounted, you’ll be notified that it has taken its place on the library shelves.
  • The fee ($50 to $150, depending on the book) helps to fund the tribute program.

Your dedication remains there for the life of the book on our library shelves.

Level 2: Conservation Book Dedication

By dedicating a book in need of conservation—the TLC that mends, rebuilds, and stabilizes it—you not only pay special personal tribute, but also save a badly damaged book for future generations to enjoy. Quite a tribute, indeed.

  • Review the library’s list of books in need of conservation—a truly interesting, unusual, and long list (lots of books need TLC).
  • Make an appointment to view your choice in the Rare Book Room at the library.
  • Discuss the conservation required and appropriate fee (generally $500 to $1,000).
  • Provide text for the special conservation tribute bookplate.

Naturally, every conservation book requires a labor of love—a typical restoration time frame is three months. After conservation work is completed, you’re invited to view the restored volume before it takes its place in the Rare Book area.

Although the cover of the book is plain, inside are intricate watercolors of 57 different orchid varieties.

Level 3: Rare Book Dedication

When I decided to look into book dedication, I had two ideas in mind: first, that a book from 1933 would be a good choice, as that was the year of my mother’s birth; and, second, that a book about orchids would also work, as orchids were my mother’s favorite flowers.

Leora searched the rare book lists and, incredibly, came up with a volume that fit both ideas: Native British Orchidaceae, a beautifully illustrated monograph on orchids that was published in 1933 (at right). The book was originally in the Chicago Horticultural Society library–that’s our parent organization.

The process for a rare book dedication is akin to a conservation book (although without the repair/wait time). Naturally, the fee for a rare book dedication is greater, depending on the rarity of the book (fees available upon discussion and request).

Ultimately, I chose to honor my mother with a dedication in this orchid book, knowing that she would have loved it, and that my donation would go toward other restorations and rare book purchases.

The bookplate for both conservation and rare books is simple and elegant.

And I’ve come to realize that a library is so much more than a place of communal knowledge—it is also a place of communal memory. Now, every time that I open a library book, I peek at the endpages first to see if there’s a bookplate. Who will this book be dedicated to? Perhaps it’s from a group that wants to honor a leader or friend. Or it’s to celebrate a memorable trip, or a fantastic garden, or a new baby born into the family. Or maybe it’s to a mom who loved orchids.