e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the category “Libraries”

National Libraries Day

Today is National Libraries Day and all over the UK there are special library events to celebrate it.N L D logo

Our country has so many libraries – public ones, schools and colleges, public and private institutions, commercial organisations, and all of them are worth celebrating.

While looking up local events and other library related things, I remembered that not all libraries are still around. Wikipedia has a long list of lost book collections. How much knowledge has gone up in smoke or been eaten by termites?

So along with celebration has to go determination to keep all that thought and creativeness safe.

Your Favourite Manuscript: The Results – Medieval manuscripts blog

I’ve never thought of having a favourite manuscript, but apparently a lot of other people have.

It’s interesting to see what others pick out for special mention – I particularly liked the burnt royal manuscript. To me it looks like a ‘found’ work of art.

In some of them the writing looks to me more like decoration – but that is a measure of my ignorance. If I could read it, it would look like writing.

Your Favourite Manuscript: The Results – Medieval manuscripts blog.

Library weeding

weeding manual

On the BBC website today I came across an article titled The Library of Lost Books, about old, discarded library books being turned into works of art. The book collection concerned is curated in Birmingham by artist Susan Kruse, and from 6th to 24th of this month the artists creating the artworks have an exhibition at the Library of Birmingham.

Having read about it I wondered if any other libraries had similar exhibitions or projects, so I googled ‘discarded library books’. I expected to have to try several search terms and to find there wasn’t much. How wrong can you be! Google found over 4 million items. Most of them are probably irrelevant but even the first page gave me lots of things to think about.

There was an article on Why we Weed, several on systems used to do the weeding, and even a ‘how to’ manual (see picture).

The Canberra Times had an article on The Library of Discarded books in which the author complained about so many books being destroyed and the whole activity being ‘done secretly’. I was surprised; in my local libraries there are always shelves of unwanted books for sale and I assumed this was the usual way of getting rid of them. But not so in in Australia apparently. Now I wonder if the books up for sale are just a handful of what is weeded out and, in the dead of night, muffled carts haul loads of unwanted works to landfill.

A google of ‘artworks out of books’ proved a better search for my original question, and again there were a huge number of hits. Perhaps someone could tell the secretive Australian librarians that there is an alternative to landfill.

What is paradise like?

I’m indebted to the lovely lady at The Unlikely Bookworm blog for a fascinating quote. She has a list of quotes on her home page and they are all worth considering. The one I’m particularly taken with is from Jorge Luis Borges.

“I have always imagined that paradise will be some kind of library”

I’ve not seen this quote before. I have to admit that such ideas as I have of paradise are pretty conventional: green fields, sunshine, babbling brooks, golden sands, palm trees etc.

Thinking a bit deeper I realise that it wouldn’t be paradise without as many books on as many subjects as I want. But an actual library …

I can’t picture paradise as a building, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t have both an outdoors and an indoors. Or perhaps an outdoor library? Would that work? Having been thoroughly rained on at a number of outdoor theatres, I think probably not – after all, there has to be rain in paradise or there won’t be any flowers.

The speculation is fun, but Borges, like all great writers, suggests ideas beyond simple words. In this case perhaps he’s suggesting that books are a little piece of paradise in the here and now.

A new literary festival

In Hawarden, in a lovely part of North Wales, is Gladstone’s Library. This is an unusual place: a residential library where one can go to study, to write, to use the collections or just to rest.

I stayed there some years ago when studying for an Open University exam.  Most of the other residents at the time were doing the same thing. In coffee and meal breaks we shared exam woe stories and encouraged each other to think positive. In between we found it a great place to really get stuck into the revision, while someone else did the cooking and cleaning.

Over the years it has also become a place for writers and often has a writer in residence.

whats-on-gladfestNow the staff are branching out with a literary festival – called Gladfest (a bit of an unfortunate name as there seem to be other festivals with the same one). This year is its first year. It runs from 6th to 8th September and if it’s a success will become an annual event. For a small place like Hawarden it will be a major cultural happening.

Poetry in dark archives

Browsing through the British Library website, as I do from time to time, I came across an entry entitled A Page but not as We Know It and in it was the following wonderful phrase:

Analytical Access to the Domain Dark Archive

To me it sounded like a cross between the title of a fantasy novel and a line of Anglo-Saxon alliterative poetry. It also seems mysterious and enticing – I’d never heard of dark archives and I imagined  librarians creeping between long shelves of ancient books lit only by a guttering candles (too much Harry Potter here, perhaps).

Actually dark archives are, according to Webopedia, data stores not generally accessible. Access is either restricted to a few people or completely denied. Their main purpose is to act as a back up during disaster recovery. A sensible precaution for any organisation. The Analytical Access is a project of the British Library and several other academic organisations.

This common sense description doesn’t reduce their mysteries. I’d love to know how many there are, what’s in them, who has access to them, who created them.

I bet the CIA has a huge one. Ditto other security services. Then there are the digitisation programmes of major libraries. And don’t companies have them?

What will become of them in the long term if only a few people can care for them? Will they float forever in the electronic ether, lit only occasionally by the computer of a visiting historian? Or will they fade slowly into nothing? If their creators die without telling anyone the passwords, will armies of hackers have to work them out?

Or will they just be deleted?

‘The Gulshan Album’ and other Mughal treasures

bllogo100One of the e-newsletters I subscribe to is from the British Library. They remind their readers that there are only a couple of weeks left of their major exhibition on Mughal India.

To go with the exhibition they have a blog, and browsing through it I found this post about a famous album. The album (or at least most of it – apparently it’s been divided) lives in Tehran at the Gulistan Palace Library so I won’t be seeing it anytime soon, but I love the sound of it. Milo C Beach (the blog-post’s author) says:

The Gulshan Album (Muraqqa’-e Gulshan) described as one of the world’s greatest books, was originally assembled for Prince Salim, the future emperor Jahangir (r. 1605-27).

What could be more enticing? I love the idea of assembling rather than writing a book. A bit like blogging where one assembles pictures, videos and links to make a post.

National Libraries Day (UK) on 9th February


Tomorrow is National Libraries Day. A day when we can celebrate those amazing collections that have inspired so much and given so many of us a haven of knowledge.

I love libraries – all of them – from the dark panelled, near silent enclosures where the spirits of past readers brood over me, to the modern, brightly lit, wide open ones where children sing and readers sit for hours in a cafe.

Tomorrow there are a range of special events (I’m going on a ‘backstage’ tour), and maybe someone who has never been in a library before will join in and discover something wonderful.


Friern Barnet Community Library video

A lovely success story about a library carrying on.

Friern Barnet Community Library video.

The books that bind – Jane Austen and Timbuktu

burning book

Yesterday the BBC TV news carried two literary-related items.

Yesterday marked the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Yesterday the French army seized Timbuktu, only to discover that a library of ancient manuscripts had been burned and most of the books destroyed.

What a contrast! The peace of English village life/the violence of war; a book loved/books destroyed; appreciative readers celebrating/an act of childish spite.

The arsonists have achieved nothing but to rob the world of a treasure, and to weaken an age old connection between the local people and their ancestors.

I sometimes think of books as links in a chain joining the past to the future via the present. The chain is anchored in the past when the book was first made and its links uncoil into the future for as long as it’s remembered. Each generation adds a new one.

If the book still exists the links are strong, but once it’s gone the chain depends on human memory to keep forging.

Memories of some of those old scholars who built the library and wrote the books will start to fade. They do not deserve to be forgotten.

Austen however goes from strength to strength and this year will be celebrated all over the world.

Picture from dontstepinthepoop.

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