Revenge of the Microfiche

Over the course of the past two days, I have spent a grand total of 3.5 hours sitting in the library with a microfiche machine scanning a 1963 dissertation to PDF so that I could take a copy home with me and peruse it at my leisure rather than be bound by the in-library usage of a microfilm reader.

If you’ve never scanned microfilm, you can consider yourself a happier person for it.  It entails sitting at a dimly-lit workstation with machines that haven’t been updated in the last fifteen years (and can’t be since the drivers for the microfiche readers are no longer made

My work area at the library today

My work area at the library today

to accommodate updated windows systems… also a microfiche reader will run you somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand dollars and that’s the cheap model… for technology that hasn’t been updated since the eighties and actually can’t be updated anymore).  You line up your shot, click at least three times, then wait twenty seconds for the reader to scan the page.  You hope that the page scans with an appropriate brightness setting and, if it does, you move on to the next page.  Advancing the film is an entirely manual process.  There’s no automating it.

The book that I scanned was 250 pages worth of frames.

So you sit, advance, click click click, wait… sit, advance, click click click, wait… You can perhaps hope to do some bits of work in the interim between clicks (if you have work that you don’t need to think about constantly).  I used the opportunity to catch up on my grade-book keeping… for the first hour at least.  Essentially, once you’re done, you now have a pile of reading to do and your eyes are glazed over from a marathon of fluorescence.

I couldn’t help but think that it would be reason enough to become a rock star academic just so I could have someone else be responsible for this kind of menial task for me.  At the same time, there is something romantic about scanning your own microfilm.

Oh, did I mention that the students behind the reference desk often know nothing about the readers and so, if there’s a problem that you can’t fix yourself, you have to wait for someone from IT to show up?  Because those readers are probably older than the student workers.  I was advised by the circ desk worker that I was the first person he had ever encountered who needed to know where the readers lived.  That’ll give you hope for the researchers of tomorrow.

Living life in twenty second intervals is extremely disorienting.  The day slips by and you haven’t even noticed.  It made me wonder what other things would look like if performed in twenty second clips.

Cooking?  Baking?  The greatest works of literature?  Acting?  Dancing?  Twenty seconds is all you get… then you pause to re-align… then you get another twenty seconds.  Anyway, suffice to say that I got very little done today… and yesterday.  It feels, however, like I accomplished a few mammoth tasks.  And I guess that could be accurate(ish).  I did manage to fit some proof-reading, record-keeping, e-mail writing, twitter feeding, contract-writing, and internet-surfing in between those bits of film.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a dissertation that’s old as sin to get through (this dude’s, not mine… mine is still in its infancy).  I also have two plays to review in two days (both Shakespeare-related – Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppets’ Midsummer Night’s Dream at ArtsEmerson tonight, then Vagabond Theatre Group’s Breaking the Shakespeare Code tomorrow).  If you need me, I’ll be buried under my job for a while.

Christmas won’t be Christmas without Research, Grumbled Dani

So, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, tomorrow is Christmas Eve.

Also, by the way, in case you hadn’t noticed, a lot of places are closed tomorrow and Wednesday.

I mention this only because it completely crept up on me and I had banked on this entire week to get some work done in order to appease the research panic I’m currently working through.  I knew I needed access to a bunch of things but was pretty casual about when I actually got that access.  Except next week I’ll be going to New York to spend some time with my family because apparently Christmas doesn’t happen on Christmas if you’re a member of my family and you thereby need to celebrate it on viable days when archives happen to be open instead of closed.

So that whole week that I thought I had is instead three days.  Unless I was smart and got a bunch of archive stuff done today, Monday, before it closed.  And by “a bunch” I mean I need to page through about thirty years’ worth of material to analyze a couple patterns I’m tracking.  I also needed to pick up a few ILL books that had arrived.  Which basically meant that, unless I got my cute behind to the library today, I was going to be caught in a grinding halt for the entirety of Christmas (you know, whatever time I found in those two days to eke work out).  I time-manage best when I have piles of work I can do, even if I don’t necessarily have the time to get through them.

Sure.  I thought, No problem.  Archive day Monday then I’ll be good to go for the break.  No.  Big.  Deal.

A couple observations:

Okay; see those four shelves of GIANT GREEN BOOKS in the middle?  Yea.  That was "a day's work".  Hah.

Okay; see those four shelves of GIANT GREEN BOOKS in the middle? Yea. That was “a day’s work”. Hah.

If a publication is a monthly publication, thirty years is a lot of material to look through.  Like… a lot.  Like… an impossible amount.  For one day at least.

Campus is really deserted today.  Like… ghost town.  Kinda creepy deserted.  I have an entire floor of the library to myself.

Which leads me to believe that if I do stay after closing today (five PM because the library apparently operates by normal business hours during intersession rather than the “yea we’re open like all the time forever” hours that I’m used to), nobody would really notice my presence down here in bound periodicals.  I could spend Christmas happily paging through and doing my research by the light of my laptop.

….anyone feel like delivering a Christmas goose to Tisch Library?  If you need me, I’ll be buried under this pile of periodicals.

Perspective

As I have previously mentioned, comps does many things.  Among those things, it gives you perspective.

It gives you perspective about your friends.  Who is really going to be there to cook you dinner at the end of the day when you can barely make eye contact and talking about anything that’s not theatre history is simply out of the question?  Who is going to not be offended that you haven’t called/been to a party/replied to text messages for the last few months because you’ve been swallowed into the oblivion of studying?  Who is going to understand when you just need to sit and stare at the wall/cry/talk out an idea that they have no possible way to contribute to?  Who is going to respond to the rally of “I need to not be in my house tonight, but I don’t have any energy to expend socially”?

It gives you perspective about your life.  Can you ever really say that you’re having a stressful day ever again?  Or a bad day for that matter?

It gives you perspective about what you can and cannot handle and what you can and cannot do.  I, for instance, am never going to say that I don’t have enough time to complete x assignment again without some serious thought about what I managed to do in four-days with my take-home exam.  I have a better idea of my own limits both emotionally and intellectually.

Most pertinent to my everyday life and writing, however, is this: it gives you perspective about books.  I have a brand new notion of how big a “big” book is, or how many books is “a lot” of books.  What this really means is that my perspective is skewed.  I sat down, for instance, to write about how I should be doing some research right now and sorting through the “large pile of books” that I brought home from the library today.  But looking at it?  It’s not that big.

In other news... campus was really pretty today!

In other news… campus was really pretty today!

…it’s really not my fault that, at my peak this summer, I was reading 5-7 books in a day and, thereby, a stack of 8 books no longer looks insurmountable, right?  Somehow, this newfound regard for the amount of research that I am capable of is somewhat dehumanizing.  If I can really pound through that many books in a day, then what does it say on days when I don’t?  Days when I’m working at my usual speed rather than ridiculous comps-speed?

The psychological aftershock of this process is something that I’m going to be dealing with for some time now.  Also; I’m not even really done yet.  I still have orals to get through.

No rest for the weary.

Pumping Iron

Yesterday, in a rush of Hermione-esque academic over-achievement, I completed the first research project of the year.

About a week ago, I was given the syllabus to our class in Popular Entertainment and Iconography.  As such, I was also presented with this assignment.

As an exercise, the professor presented us with a list of 68 quasi-random items.  These items were presented simply as they were without any further explanation; just a list of words.  Upon further examination, it became evident that these items ran the theatrical gamut: some were people, some were phrases, some were theatrical devices, some were plays or the titles of variety acts, etc.  The assignment was simple: find out what each of these things were, their relative cultural importance, and cite a reliable print source for each item.

And so began the great academic scavenger hunt.

This assignment has easily been the most useful thing that I’ve been asked to do in my entire graduate career.  It required me to acquaint myself with library resources (some of which I knew we had available, some of which I did not); it demanded that I utilize lateral thinking to uncover what I didn’t know about a topic from what I knew (“I know this has something to do with popular theatre, likely vaudeville or circuses, maybe in the late eighteenth century… why is it on this list?”); and it prompted me to really think about how I research and how to research most efficiently (where would be the easiest place to look for this information?  What will yield the best answer in the least amount of time?).

The word “exercise” has also become important in this enterprise. To call something an “exercise” implies a repeated action which makes you stronger.  It implies that you’re going to sweat, struggle, and do things that scare you.  It implies that you will do these things until they come more easily.  You’re working out a muscle and, by doing so, making that muscle stronger.  Thinking of this assignment in that way made the assignment not only make sense, but also hold a great degree of import.  Doing things like this will, in the long run, improve me and my work.  This notion also positions my professor as a sort of coach; shouting at me to do one more set of pushups even though I don’t think I can get through the set I’m currently on, assigning me new creative ways to do things which will improve my game, and always always making me hurt so that so that I will emerge stronger.

Research methodologies are something one develops throughout one’s career and, often, not something that can be taught.  Certainly I can be shown where to find databases via my library’s website, or what archives may be useful to me, but how I document and catalogue the information I find is a system which is extremely personal to me, and one that I have cultivated through my years within academia.  Research is also rather personal; while we may talk about the things that we’re actually researching, we don’t tend to talk about the ways in which we process these things.  Often times, the processing portion is unable to be articulated.  How do you deal with information?  How do you change raw data into something that is useful to your project and presentable to a reader?

The research process is one that is rapidly changing.  When I was first introduced to a

the view from my chair in the library last night.

library, I was told to write every fact down on an index card with a citation on the back of each card.  In this way, my research was portable, traceable, and easily manipulated.  Now, I just take my netbook to the library (on the rare occasion when I need to even set foot in the library) and work almost exclusively out of word documents.  My iPad is also a valuable resource since, once I compile my information into a large word document, I can then keep my outline available while I’m writing.  Because of these changes in technology, research becomes both easier and more difficult.  While information is more readily available at my fingertips 24/7, it also means that I’m expected to know more and go deeper with this research.  Anyone can do a Wikipedia search; it takes a researcher to understand where the wiki article is wrong and why it’s not credible.

I’m not going to say that this weight-lifting session wasn’t stressful.  It was extremely time-consuming and, being the slightly obsessive creature that I am, that meant that it was life-consuming.  I had a moment of weakness in which, after I had pulled out every trick in the book to try and uncover a credible source for the origin of the word/concept of “pastie” (that would be the burlesque accoutrement, not the yummy snack) and still came up empty, I began to devolve into an unraveled ball of perceived academic failure.  How could I call myself a scholar if I couldn’t even uncover this simple fact?  What was I doing with my life?  Why were pasties eluding me?

And it was at that moment when I had to lean back in my chair, and laugh.  I was stressed out over pasties.  I couldn’t measure my success in my career by a set of nipple shields.  It was time for a break.

Valuable lesson here: zoom in close enough and everything becomes daunting.  When this happens, take a few steps back, walk away from the computer for a couple hours, and remember why you’re doing this and what you’re gaining from it.  If that doesn’t work, make yourself some tea and hit the gym for a while.  If that doesn’t work, it may be quitting time for the day.

So here I am, my efforts boiled down to 15 pages of notes to myself and a list of citations as long as my forearm, and I can’t be more proud of my efforts.  I did it.  I conquered it.  There were only a few minor freak-outs along the way, and I even managed to have fun during the process.

This exercise has gotten me pumped for the semester.  Research, especially target and stalk research, is like a treasure hunt.  Each successful finding was a new chance to feel accomplished, a new chance to learn something, and a new chance to feel like, despite any misgivings that may crop into the recesses of my mind, I can accomplish.

So take that, semester.  I’m onto your tricks.  You had best watch your back.

Happy Tuesday

Good friends and gentle readers,

Hello from finals panic!  Things are progressing apace here in Dani-land and I’m steeped in the inevitable mountain of reading, research, work to do, not enough hours in which to do it, library books, and yenning for my social life that comes with the end of the semester.

As such, here’s a completely random list of things that have crossed my mind/desk this week.  I don’t have a single sustained coherent thought to share, but maybe this will serve as a brief entertainment while I struggle to not get run over by the homework truck.

1)    Tea is great and wonderful and everyone should own a French press.  I get most of my tea from adagio, and have even tried my hand at blending my own.  My blends can be found here.

2)    Good god, if I need to explain to another undergrad at the library that no, I don’t want to just leave my returned books in a stack by the door, I want to watch you return them for me while I stand here checking them off my list because I have a giant mountain at home and I really can’t be financially responsible for a lost book, I’m going to beat someone with a bad Hamlet quarto.  I understand that it is possible to leave one’s books by the door.  There’s a giant sign there that tells me so.  I also understand that you’re busy checking your facebook or e-mail or whatever.  I also understand that you’re being paid to sit at this desk, so please just scan these books for me and don’t roll your eyes at me.  In my day, we had to walk uphill both ways to the library in ten feet of snow without shoes on!  You don’t know how lucky you have it!  Harumph.

3)    Knowing that I’m stressed, and knowing that I’m having a hard week, my

Charles and Mary Lamb.... also not particularly attractive individuals...

best friend brought me a copy of Lamb’s Tales From Shakespeare.  I cannot think of a better finals gift.  What says “I love you and I am here to make sure you don’t drive yourself crazy with schoolwork” like a well-loved copy of early nineteenth century moralized children’s stories based upon Shakespeare’s originals written by a matricidal kook and her quasi-incesty brother? (…no… I’m serious.  The Lambs were effed up.  Also: I love it).

4)    I got interviewed as an expert for GSAS’ blog post about academic conferencing!  It went live today; you can check it out here.  I love feeling legitimate!

5)    My tweet has made it to the final round of voting for the Tufts GSAS Tweet of the Semester competition.  I managed to win this last semester, and I’m hoping for another win this time.  I’ll let you know when voting for the finals opens up.  The winner receives a gift certificate to the school bookstore (which, for a graduate student, is THE BEST THING EVER).  Go team Dani!

6)    I sat down the other day to begin the pile of research that’s on my desk and, in the first book I cracked, came across an essay by my mentor over at Rutgers.  It made me smile to see his name in print first thing in the morning and, while not entirely surprising since he IS an authority on Johnson and the book WAS about Shakespeare and Johnson, still somehow felt serendipitous.  Also: right or wrong, it gave me a cosmic sense of hope.

Since I can't think of anything else to put here, here's an adorable baby sloth.

 7)    Tally of total library books checked out this semester: 68 and counting.  Books currently checked out: 31.  Books currently unread on my desk: 8.  Days until last final is due: 34.  Number of projects that still require completing in that time period: 7.  Number of projects which require completing in the next seven days: 3 (not counting the one I finished yesterday).

8)    …and miles to go before I sleep.

Running Errands

The other day, I managed to pull some downright miracles out of thin air.

One of the problems with the Tufts campus is that it is built upon a hill.  Legend has it that

Tufts circa 1853

Tufts’ founder Hosea Ballou II had the campus built upon Walnut Hill (one of the highest hills in the Boston area) so that Tufts folk could (literally) look down upon Harvard.  The first building on campus was completed in 1854, entitled at the time “College Hall” (since renamed “Ballou Hall”).  Today, this building is the central nexus of all things Tufts.  The university has grown around the building and, as a result, around the hill.

But not just on one side of the hill, oh no, that would be far too easy.  It has spread and spawned on both hillsides, creating a situation such that to get anywhere on campus you literally do have to walk uphill both ways.  At one foot of the hill is the largest nexus of student parking.  At the hill’s peak various administration buildings.  On the opposite hillside is the library (amongst other things).  At the extreme opposite foot of the hill is Aidekman arts center, where my department is housed, and where all of my classes (and our personal Drama Graduate Lounge) are located.

Due to a series of applications, administrative red tape, and various things that I had to drop off/pick up in various places, I had to be in several locations in a short span of time.

Now.  There is a parking lot directly next to Aidekman.  This is extremely convenient on days when I just have to go to class and make no other stops.  However, when I have to do any amount of printing (in the general graduate lounge), go to the library (to drop off/pick up books), or really do anything else on campus, I opt to park in the WAYFARAWAY lot to ensure that my chores actually get done in the process of going to/coming from my car.

 

A map, for your reference

The other day I had to: stop at the administrative building to drop off a funding application, stop at the library to drop off some books, stop at the experimental college to drop off an application for a class that I’m proposing to teach next semester, go to class, stop at the library on the way back up the hill on the way to my car to pick up some books, then head to my car in time to head home.

To make matters worse, I was in a bit of a time crunch because my dance partner was due to show up at 6 PM.  My classes usually get out around 4:30, leaving me plenty of time to run a few tawdry errands and skid home just before 5.  It takes me about an hour to go from academic chic to ballroom dancer (including a dinner break).

Timing was going to be tight.

To complicate things further, I had to swing by the grocery store on my way home to pick up some bits and bobs for dinner.  And then my class let out twenty minutes late.  And then my dance partner texted that he’d be at my house about a half hour early because the combined forces of traffic and his job had treated him particularly well that day.

Keep calm and carry on?

Someone with a cosmic time-turner must have realized that this simply wasn’t going to work, because as I was trying to sprint up the hill with an armful of books, figure out what I was going to wear that night, and compile my grocery list simultaneously, apparently the streets of Arlington became a veritable parking lot.  I skidded to a halt at home with enough time to spare that I was able to chew my food, and my partner ran late enough that I was actually ready to go when he arrived.

We were on time to the dance (which was a trip in itself, by the by; a ballroomful of sixty and seventy year old couples who could quickstep and tango like pros all dressed in their cocktail best… I felt like I had stepped into some weird Gatsbeian time warp).  I got all my chores done.  Nobody collapsed due to blood sugar issues from not being fed vis a vis time crunch.  And my gluts are none-the-sadder.

Now to figure out how to fit in everything I have on my plate before I leave for the National Gothic Fiction Conference next Thursday…

“It doth forget to do the thing it should”

This week’s been hot for my research.

The buzz of being onto something is really incomparable.  There’s a nervousness compounded with an anticipation and a rush of adrenaline when you realize that you’ve found some topic that other people don’t seem to be talking about.  Then there’s this fear that well, maybe they’re not talking about it because it’s SO OBVIOUSLY OBVIOUS and EVERYBODY knows that and you’re a complete idiot for even thinking that there may be some unanswered question as to what you’re working on.

I’m stuck right now in a valley of no return.  I can’t go back because, well, I’m walking an (as far as I can tell) unforged path, but at the same time I’m wondering how very far I’ll be able to leapfrog down this path and where it may take me.  I have some vague notions, some of them more exciting than others, but in my experience with research (as with life) you never really know until you get there.

This week I was trying to articulate said feeling to a colleague of mine.  We were having the

oh hello, Hogwarts, I didn't realize that you were in Boston! (courtyard at the BPL)

inevitable “where are you with your projects?” moot during a trip to the Boston Public Library (BEAUTIFUL and WONDERFUL by the by, and totally worth checking out if you like books or pretty architecture or reading books while surrounded by pretty architecture).  I mentioned that I had found something… something that I wasn’t quite sure what to make of.  Something that no one else seems to have worked on yet.  Something that I was getting somewhere with.

And he asked me the dreaded question which sent me into a Southward tailspin.  “Is it important?”

I blinked at him a few times, taken aback by the question.  It is important?  Oh the implications of this!  First off, I couldn’t understand how I had gotten so far stuck down the hole of research that I had lost track of the outside world.  How could I lose sight of some bigger picture?  How could I be so focused on such small details that I failed to see the whole?  Of course no one’s written about it, it just may not be all that important!

Then I found myself in this semantic existential crisis questioning everything I knew.  What

Is this the end of zombie Shakespeare?

was “important”?  How do you define “important”?  I mean, forchrisakes, we spend our days reading and writing about theatre.  Theatre never made dinner.  Theatre doesn’t even really make money.  And what’s worse, most of us spend more of our time talking about theatre rather than making theatre these days.  We’re intellectual hacks.  In the eventuality of zombie holocaust, we’re pretty much the top of the list of “zombie bait” because we have nothing to add to the post-apocalyptic human existence and we don’t even have any practical skills.  So really, “important”?  How can anything we do (or fail to do) really and truly be “important”?

Then I began to come up with excuses to justify my research.  It has to do with Shakespeare and Shakespeare is obviously important!  Everyone knows Shakespeare!  Everyone loves Shakespeare!  He’s the most-quoted creator of literature the world-over!  Just about every nation has appropriated him as their own!  Without Shakespeare, the English language wouldn’t exist as we know it today, so clearly what I’m doing as a small subset of this gigantic whole is obviously extremely important.

Then I wondered why it even mattered.  This is a seminar paper for a research methodologies course.  More important than what I find is how I managed to find it.  How did I solve my problems along the way?  What tactics did I use to solve these problems?  If I make a breakthrough and manage to produce something landmark, that’s frosting on the cake (what’s a cake without frosting?  Maybe I should be making a landmark breakthrough… everyone will be disappointed if there’s a cake with no frosting…. Wait, hang on, maybe it’s angel food cake which does not require frosting to be good… I can live with that).

though apparently my man Will can handle the zombies for me.

So I answered the only way I knew how.  “I don’t know.”  It was truth.  Pure and simple.  At this stage of the game, my research could be anything.  The important thing is that it’s interesting, it’s engaging, it keeps me busy, and I’m not chasing my tail as I grind grind grind away.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the archive to do some more digging.  Maybe in a few

weeks I’ll get back to this question of importance.  For now, I’m glad to have had the reality check and I’m super glad that there are no zombies at my window.

Skynet

One of the things about being a graduate student that they don’t really warn you about is a tendency to accumulate library books.  Seriously.  These things breed like rabbits.  I’m thinking of investing in little book-prophylactics to see if it doesn’t alleviate the problem.  Just the other day, my desk was clear and devoid of books.  Today?  Oh, today.

I woke up this morning and there they are, staring at me.  I don’t really know how they got

lurking on my desk right now...

there.  I don’t remember taking that many home.  Maybe they followed me?  I’d like to think that I don’t look like that much of a sucker… that I don’t look like the kind of girl who would open her home to strange drifters… but maybe I’m wrong about myself.  It wouldn’t be the first time.

Past experience has dictated to me that once they start, you simply can’t stop them.  They continue to pile up, continue to build, continue to wait for their moment.  And it’s nearly futile to resist.  You go to return one or two and realize no, you need those books, you require those books, those books are your new friends.

And that is how they infiltrate their way into your life, your home, your family.  That is the insidious workings of their minds.  That is how they ingratiate themselves into your research, indoctrinating themselves into your way of life.

And soon, you can’t do without them.  The more you try, the more you realize that you are utterly dependent upon them.  They have you in the palm of their hand and you just don’t know if there’s any way to escape.  They’re so dependable, so trustworthy.  Always waiting obediently by your desk, always willing to provide some tidbit of information vital to what you are doing.  And if you got rid of them, you would need that tid bit sure as an actor needs work.

So you wait.  And they wait.  And one day you find yourself stepping over towers of them on your way to your desk.  And one day you realize that you can’t work at your desk anymore because they’ve covered every available surface.  And one day you realize that you’ve just got to do something about this because you can’t find anything anyway and what’s the point in having books when you can’t get to the information you needed in the first place?

 

look at them so innocent on those shelves...

So you pack them in a rolling suitcase and you bring them to the library, the whole while feeling sick as you hear their helpless little cries erupt from your trunk.  “But we were so HELPFUL.  Don’t you want us anymore?  Don’t you need us anymore?”

And you drop them off, waving a bittersweet goodbye as you try not to look over your shoulder that last time.  Trying not to care.  Tying to harden yourself against the inevitable.

Because you know. It comes in cycles.  You’ll be back.  Oh yes, you’ll be back.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.  Maybe not for those books, you’ll likely never see them again.  But you can’t escape it.  This is the nature of your job.  This is the nature of your life.

You, the books.  The books, you.  Clung together in a downward spiral.  Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold.

An Endangered Species in its Natural Habitat

Yesterday, I organized my new library.

As academics go, I am a burgeoning book collector (but that’s okay since I’m also a burgeoning academic), but for a normal person I certainly have acquired a great many books.

As I was ripping everything off the shelves and stacking into neat piles sorted by subject, I couldn’t help but wonder if I truly am living on the edge of an era.  With e-publishing and e-readers gaining so much popularity (and I’ll be the first to admit: they are damned convenient), are my proverbial children doomed to live book-free existences?

Some time ago, I was made aware of the following video:

This is most definitely a situation in which I am uncertain whether to laugh or to cry.  Slightly too true to be comfortable, this statement echoes my 1984 vision of a futuristic totalitarian universe in which books are disbanded from the common practice and no longer things that people are familiar with.

The true tragedy is this: books are more than just their contents.  Anyone who has become enraptured with a series or author, anyone who has studied literature, anyone who has depended upon a book for companionship (hush, I was a lonely child) will tell you that books are actually fetish objects.  Yes, a book is a collection of words, but more than that it’s something sturdy to hold onto.  It’s something you can (and do) take with you anywhere to provide solace, comfort, or camaraderie.   As I organized my books, I wasn’t just putting objects on shelves.  There was also a part of me that was re-living the sundry times of my life which these icons represented.  I was remembering the vacation when Harry Potter IV was released and I spent the last two days holed up racing to finish the book before returning to school and my friends (who, obviously, would have done the same).  I was reminiscing about the corner bookstore in Dublin which sold only books in Irish where I acquired my Gaeilga/Béarle dictionary because you can’t really get them in the United States.  I was thinking about the day when I rescued my great-uncle’s complete matched set of Dickens from a slow painful death by mold in my Grandmother’s basement library.

I have mixed feelings about the epub revolution.  While I certainly am going to be grateful that my leap to the iPad will mean far fewer boxes for my next move (I go through trade paperbacks like you wouldn’t believe), the fact that personal (and even public) libraries may have numbered days saddens me. I think my feelings on the matter can best be summed up by Mister Charles Lamb:

“What a place to be in is an old library! It seems as though all the souls of all the writers that have bequeathed their labors to these Bodleians were reposing here, as in some dormitory or middle state. I do not want to handle, to profane the leaves, their winding-sheets. I could as soon dislodge a shade. I seem to inhale learning, walking amid their foliage; and the odor of their old moth-scented coverings is fragrant as the first bloom of those sciential apples which grew amid the happy orchard.”

Borders’ closing really cements the true beginning of the end for people who, like me, get a thrill out of browsing the shelves.  Of course, the bookstore and the library are two very different places, but somehow the permanent destruction of any bastion of oak shelving seems like a coup to the literary world at large.

In any case, I take small comfort in the fact that my library is safe and organized.  It may not have matched oak shelving yet, but it’s not going anywhere.