Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Bookless in Bytowne

Its one of those scorched earth days. I hope the little AC unit that could keeps chugging away for at least a couple more days. Radio on the TV is playing a song called "Jesus Stole My Girlfriend". I tried to warn you guys about that dude.

Now that my brain is no longer on fire, and I've replenished some vital fluids, I'm just hoping my laptop doesn't blow up.

After the walk home, I am still disoriented, and not just from the mind melting heat. After getting to our National Repository, the reputed Holy Grail of universal knowledge, I ran into the Square Corner. He looked ready for a safari of satisfying discovery. I, on the other hand, had no idea what lay before me. The disappointments, the confusion, the enclosures put upon erudition and enlightenment.

After an hour or so of fruitless file searching, I decided to make the most of my day in this City of Books. I've explored a lot of those, but not so much this Biblopolis. Besides, I took a cab to avoid the heat, it was air conditioned. I've already had my cover blown. What's the hurry? I'm gonna look at some books while I'm here at the National LIBRARY. Yes, I knew all about the file boxes and microforms. But I wanted to find some books. Books that I was actually interested in having a look at. Another hour or so of peeking through a few books in the air conditioned environs. Life today wasn't that bad, I thought.

It started well. I called up some references. It was fun to find my print presence, one microformed, one bound. Shit, that birthdate makes me feel old. But I wanted to find some other books that I hadn't seen for a while, as well as a couple of new ones. Armed with my call numbers I started walking around between the floors. Reference rooms, meeting rooms, empty exhibition rooms, genealogy rooms, microform rooms, file box rooms. Fair enough, but where are the books? Dictionaries, encyclopedias, finding aides, books to help you find books. Great, but where are the books? I kept searching, riding the elevator like an amusement ride at the county fair. I felt like I was caught, as Borges was, in the labyrinthine Library of Babel. Wandering in search of a book. Not a catalogue of catalogues. I didn't know the universal language of this place.

Finally, I sheepishly slid over to one of the ubiquitous "reference" desks before I made a complete fool of myself by climbing back onto the elevator. Too late for that -- at least I got something done today. Yeah ... uh ... I've got my Library of Congress call numbers here, I'm just looking for the book stacks. The what? The books. Where are the books? As Bomber would say, it wasn't very encouraging. Where is the "library" part of Library and Archives Canada? I'm familiar with the archival stuff, where is the National Library? Even the patrons of the reference room raised their heads, interrupting their monastic vigils over the endless boxes of index cards. I felt like a Golden Ass.

"Oh, there is no National Library anymore. The public isn't allowed access to the books. They're in the basement, or in Gatineau. If you want to order a book that is in the basement, you will need to order it. You'll get it in an hour or so".

OK, I realize that you just can't romp through the stacks in the Library of Congress or the British Library. But I wasn't asking for the Vulgate Bible or the Book of Kells. I might as well have been requesting "Tintin in Tibet". And this didn't look or feel like the Library of Congress. It's a depressingly dull five-floor box with arrow-slit windows. It looks and feels more like a military bunker than a National Library.

I suppose in a few years they won't even bother to print and bind books anymore -- "content" will just be published to Kindle.

I gotta get back to building that levee.


  1. Think I've been there. I was leafing through Paul Tillich's Systematic Theology Vol. 3 when I spotted her: Gertrude. One of the "chief" librarians. She was dressed all in purple. She wore her hair in a bun. Oh, and those legs....mercy, mercy me. Muscular calves bulging out under her business skirt. I asked her if she wanted to see the "God beyond God." She didn't get it and went back into the records room.


  2. sadly, no women fitting that description were on duty. Only an old guy who needed a shower, real soon

  3. I found what I was looking for: love, contentment, and a bowl of spicy Asian soup. All on a hot afternoon. Not so bad, I must say.

  4. Great story - the library of no books - another koan for HP.

    All hail Kindle!

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  6. Great post Fish. Keep those shelves bookless and Dalhousie Street hookless.