Friday Fiction: French Pulp Novels

French Pulp Fiction covers  French Pulp Fiction - more covers

Submitter: We are an academic library in a non-North American country where English is an official language. There are some Francophone countries in the region but they are about 750 miles away from us. You can take French as a foreign language here, but only for 4 undergraduate classes (no major or minor and certainly no Master’s/Phd program). We have a small but decent collection of classic novels originally written in French (Dumas, Zola, Proust etc) that you might reasonably expect someone studying French to want to try to read.

So why did our library catalog a bunch of gift paperbacks of French translations of English language pulp/noir novels with somewhat lurid covers by novelists that aren’t really famous in their native tongue? My only guess is that these were added in the 70s when the library was new and we’d accept/catalog ANYTHING just to get our volume count up. These were all classed in PR or PS (British or American lit, for you Dewey folks) , and most of them had never circulated, or had circed once in the late 70’s (probably by a French instructor looking for some mindless pleasure reading). Some poor cataloguer spent several hours (this is before OCLC, remember) describing and assigning call numbers to works of “literature” that have perfume advertisements on their back covers. The poor condition of the covers is because some of the books were literally stuck together because they hadn’t been taken off the shelf in 30+ years.

Holly: These are kind of cool in the right place, but clearly they were not in the right place.  I once worked in a library that accepted just about anything that was donated too.  That’s a bad, bad idea, my friends.  You really need a donation policy in place and a plan for how to handle donations you can’t use.  There just might be another library who really wants your castoffs!


  1. If the submitter is looking to weed, I have some ideas. (memanuel [at]

  2. “Hong-Kong blues” didn’t really get translated, other than the hyphen. And yes, I confirm accepting trash for the sake of volume count is a perversion of both library science AND statistics.

  3. Sell them. I bet you can still make a few bucks off this and keep it as petty cash.

    We are a very small dedicated design library. Sometimes we get books within our donations that are no where close to topic.

    Those can be the most popular books on our for sale cart.

  4. Huh. I would’ve thought someone studying French might actually prefer to try these rather than tackling Dumas and Proust right away!

  5. Robert: We are in a isolated foreign country that doesn’t really have a book collecting/personal library culture, so we don’t have a sale cart. Most of the pleasure-reading books in this country are probably brought in by either expat faculty or tourists, and sometimes they get donated here. Books are very expensive here (a new mass market pbk here would cost a librarian about about an hour and a half’s worth of wages, a hardback can cost up to 3 or 4 times what I make in an hour, and textbook prices are astronomical)

    Holly didn’t included the last paragraph of my post, which tells the fate of these titles:

    The story has a happy ending: one of the Francophone university libraries in our region/consortium has a leisure-reading uncataloged paperback collection (we do too, but only English language titles), and the librarian there is happy to have my noir/sci fi titles for the pleasure-reading needs of her French speaking students and faculty. We’re sending them over in small batches, bundled with our ILL/exchange materials that we’d be sending anyway. I cleared my PR/ PS ranges of valuable shelf space, and these books are going somewhere they might actually be read AND where no one will have to catalog them!

  6. I don’t understand how the books became stuck together. In my library (when I was working — now retired), we took every book off the shelves at some point during the year, to do inventory and dust (!) and make sure no books had gotten pushed back behind the others.

  7. There not all dubious. Robert Silverberg is actually a fairly well respected science fiction author. And Tower of Glass apparently got nominated for a few major awards. Doesn’t make a random French translation, or two, more useful, but still.

    Glad they found a good home.

  8. I know Silverberg is respectable- I think I wrote something about that in my original submission but it was cut for length. Still, nobody here wants to read him in French.

    Books get stuck together here because of humidity. I wish we had the personnel to shelfread and dust once a year, but alas, no. My library is in a developing country and we don’t even have screens on the windows (which are opened daily for ventilation and cross breezes).

  9. >I’m burning with curiosity about what country this library is in.

    I’ll give you a hint: the country name is 4 letters long, the university there hires a fair amount of non-local faculty, and it’s not a country that the US has any diplomatic uneasiness with currently (so you can rule out Iran, Iraq, and Cuba).

  10. Speaks English and has some French language within consortium. Developing country with tropical atmosphere… And four letters long makes it either Fiji or Niue. Since Niue is a dependency and you said “country” I’ve got to go with Fiji.

  11. Chad is Francophone!

    I bet they were donated by a French person who had brought them with him, read the lot and didn’t want to cart them home when he left [Think I’m on safe ground writing ‘he’ and ‘him’ there].

    In Public Libraries in the UK we find that real French people who live in the area don’t want those Classics that we so carefully stocked. Annoyingly enough what they DO want is translations of our worst authors (Dan Brown, Jackie Collins, Jeffrey Archer, etc) into their own language. When we had a German exchange librarian over and took her bookbuying, she did exactly the same for our German-language stock, also buying bad, popular German writers like the Western author Karl May, that we would never have thought of. Our Goethe & Schiller continued to gather dust while the crap flew off the shelves to the delight of German expat readers!

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