“THE daily things we do, For money or for fun, Can disappear like dew, Or harden and live on.”
This poem, written by her boss and affectionately slipped on to her desk more than 30 years ago, was taken to heart by Brenda Moon, whose lifelong passion for books and the printed word inspired the great poet Philip Larkin.
Now her passion is to live on with almost her entire collection of the 3,000 books that lined her Edinburgh home being sold to raise thousands of pounds for charity.
Moon, who died last year, became the first female head librarian at the city’s university in 1980 but prior to that was Larkin’s deputy in the Hull library where he ruled the roost for decades and cemented a reputation as arguably one of the finest English poets.
Occasionally, he would dedicate one of his poems to Moon to thank her for the work she did in helping him to modernise their profession.
A year after her death last Easter, her memory is represented in a collection that will sell in the annual Christian Aid book sale, an institution in the capital. The books could raise as much as £10,000 for her favourite charity, in a sale that typically boasts about 100,000 items.
Her collection – which filled the rooms of the retired librarian’s Victorian home in Newington – ran from 17th Century volumes to vintage books representing her passion for botany and alpine walking, and her specialist interest in books and type.
While some of the rarest have gone to libraries of Edinburgh and Hull Universities, the Edinburgh sale includes some priced at up to £400, from an 1872 book on alpine flowers to early editions of Tolkien and Kenneth Grahame.
“She kept them at home and had many, many bookcases,” said her sister Mary. “There were bookshelves in her vestibule, her entrance hall, her dining room, drawing room, study, bedrooms, storage room. She had got her own card catalogue, ordered by subject.” The volumes from her house filled about 120 boxes.
Moon, who played at making libraries with her books as a child, was, alongside Larkin, a pioneer in her work in using digital systems to help readers and researchers navigate collections. “She was very interested in keeping up to date with modern trends, but the feel of books would be so much more important to her emotionally, instinctively,” said Mary
Born in Newcastle, the daughter of a newspaper journalist, and educated at Oxford University, Moon worked as a librarian first in Sheffield and then at Hull University under Larkin. He laid the poem The daily things we do on her desk in 1979 on the 50th anniversary of the library’s founding. He wrote a second, public poem, New eyes each year, about libraries, at her suggestion.
Her will specified that her sister could take what she wanted from her book collection for sentimental reasons, before Hull and Edinburgh Universities took their pick, with the rest going to Christian Aid, where she herself worked on the sale for about a decade.
Edinburgh University took nearly 80 books, with four dating back to the 1600s, including John Lylie’s Anatomy Of Wit from 1636.
Mary said she had kept Larkin works that were signed for her sister. “He inscribed things to her from time to time,” said Mary. “I hasten to add she only knew Philip Larkin professionally, but she thought highly of him as a librarian.”
In 2006, Brenda Moon published the only book she wrote, a biography of Amelia Edwards, the 19th century writer, traveller and Egyptologist.
The Christian Aid book sale at St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, running over a week in mid-May, has become an annual institution in Edinburgh since it began in 1974. Last year it featured an estimated 100,000 items, with books filling about 200 tables in the church and in stalls around it, and ran up sales of £114,000.
“We believe it’s the biggest sale of its kind in Britain,” said Reid Zulager, the American bibliophile and one-time Edinburgh resident who for the past 20 years has flown in from Washington to oversee cataloguing and sales of the rarest items.
“You can come to this sale and see more than if you went to Hay-on-Wye and spent two days,” he said, referring to England’s main book festival.
This year, unusually, the books will include both Moon’s collection and another built up by a former English school teacher.
Books in the Edinburgh sale likely to be valued at several hundred pounds include works such as Alpine Plants, published in 1872 and edited by David Wooster. With the 1911 book, Among The Hills, A Book Of Joy In High Places, by Reginald Farrer, and another work on the Dolomites by the same writer, they represent her passion for mountain and hillwalking.
Several JRR Tolkien books include a 1962 first edition of The Adventures Of Tom Bombadil, and there is speculation that she knew Tolkien at Oxford.
“It’s a very learned library, because she was a specialist in the book world, with a really good eye for what was special and rare,” Zulager said.