LEWISTON — “Salem Witchcraft” by Charles Upham is almost 150 years old, its spine covered in thick green tape, pages sepia with age. It’s detailed and scholarly, and Volume 1 — 460-plus pages — sets the scene for the Salem witchcraft hysteria of 1692, which is chronicled in Volume 2:
“The men of the day and scene we are now to contemplate, however deluded, to whatever extremities carried, were controlled by fixed, absolute, sharply defined, and, in themselves, great ideas. They believed in God. They also believed in the Devil.”
The book is 2 feet from the decidedly less academic “The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead” with fanged-out Kiefer Sutherland on the cover.
Both are too hot for general circulation at Lewiston Public Library.
So is “Tarot for Beginners,” “Teen Witch,” “Astrological Secrets for the New Millennium,” “Angels A to Z,” and “High Voltage Tattoo” by TV tattooess Kat Von D.
A 3-foot stretch of shelves behind the reference desk, available only when patrons ask, is where Lewiston keeps the books that grow legs.
It used to be that the library would get two copies, sending one straight to reference and leaving one to fend for itself on the shelf.
“Some of these, we don’t even do that anymore. It’s just a guarantee they’re going to go,” said Ellen Gilliam, deputy director and reference librarian. “It’s hard for me to imagine what motivates people to steal books,” she said, pausing to answer her own question:
“They want it and we have it.”
She said she couldn’t be sure how many are simply coveted and how many are never returned by “people who disapprove that a public library would have such things.”
With roughly 150,000 titles to stay on top of, Director Rick Speer said the library is diligent about recouping overdue stock.
“Anyone who has a stable lifestyle, they’re not moving a lot, we send the police knocking to retrieve the books,” he said. But, for whatever reason, people drawn to these particular topics — and making off with them — “they’re more transient in nature.”
Lisa Neal-Shaw, secretary of the Maine Library Association's executive council, said to her knowledge, most-stolen isn’t something her members have been polled on.
“That’s one of those things that comes up in casual conversation, the books that walk out," said Neal-Shaw who works at the Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle. "It’s like you know as soon as you order them; it’s almost like you have a betting pool. Anything to do with Wicca, witchcraft, supernatural, things like that. Especially the spells.”
At her library, those books seem to bolt before they’re checked out, taken directly off the shelves. The library simply reorders every once in a while. Increased use of eBooks will help, she said — there’s nothing physical to lose.
Her best guess on why it happens?
“You know, I think there probably is just a little bit of fear that somebody’s going to judge. ‘They’re going to think I’m into something weird,’” Neal-Shaw said. “It’s almost like they’re trying to hide it from themselves; they haven’t come out of the Wicca closet.”
Weird, Wicked Weird is a monthly feature on the strange, unexplained and intriguing in Maine. Send ideas, photos and things that lurk in closets to firstname.lastname@example.org.