Death of the Library as I knew it

By: | Post date: April 26, 2009 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Information Technology

Extended radio silence, dear readers, has been in part because I was putting some work into my Greek linguistics blog, including finally getting round to typing in the various redactions of the Greek verses of Rumi and Sultan Walad.

In part, it was because I spent some library time with theologians (unrelated to the preceding post!) As many of you know, I’ve spent the past, oh, six years lemmatising Greek on the side, and the easy way to improve my stats was to go through all the Indices Nominum of the editions of texts in the library, and add their proper names in to the lexicon. (Lexicographers overall avoid proper names, as way too open-ended. There are dictionaries of Greek proper names out there, but there are reasons why adding names this way makes more sense.)

(Pape-Benseler is online now too? You know, this keeps up, the Internet may end up becoming useful or something…)

After this much time working at two universities, I thought I’d exhausted the available editions, but I’d skipped the Theology section of the B Collection at Melbuni library. (On the web page, that’s the “Open-access and multi-disciplinary Research Collection” incidentally mentioned in a dot point.) So I spent a couple of evenings with Eusebius and Sozomen—or rather, with their indexes. Lots and lots of Egyptian monks. The real catch is trapping minor variations of proper names between authors, so I can avoid entering them as unrelated names; and I’m grateful for the few editors that do this.

It’s a melancholy business, walking into the library these days. Libraries are no longer in the book business; indeed, my day job deals with repositories, which helps libraries not be in the book business (and put Pape-Benseler online). Books get moved out to make room for student lounges. The B collection was already the overflow from the main library collection (all the cool antique stuff); now it’s being broken up further. The Bernhardy Suda (not online) has already been banished to the Old Quad, and thence may well end up in permanent offsite storage—

—where it would join the entire Modern Greek collection of the library: a substantial collection, easily in the thousands, which was taking valuable space up from computers—and which, once Modern Greek was no longer taught at the university, had no advocate. The library has th same books it did 15 years ago; but I’m not convinced I could write now the PhD I did, with all the resources I was able to browse on the shelf available only on piecemeal request.

I know, I know, τὰ πάντα ῥεῖ, campus real estate can’t afford to monumentalise what the university used to be about, my fault for working on Greek outside of Greece, the Greek community’s fault for assimilating, anything worthwhile should already be online anyway (*sigh*). I know that grousing about books making way for computers is not a productive critique of the changing role of the library, the way say Peter Murray-Rust has done. Still, something has died here, to make room for student lounges. And I will not cheer its death.

There’s still books left in the B Collection, glory be; I got the proper names I was looking for.

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