Friday, September 30, 2016


The Library

Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer (1901-1991), The Farm in the Green Mountains, tr. Ida H. Washington and Carol E. Washington (Sherburne: New England Press, 1987), p. 177 (on Dartmouth College's Fisher Ames Baker Memorial Library):
Here is then the library: my rock, my refuge, my cloister. When I sit in my cell, no goat bleats, no chicken cackles, no pig grunts, no duck quacks, no goose honks, no rooster crows.

It has the good smells of leather and dust. It is cool, isolated, and completely quiet.

I am speaking of my own cell on the tenth floor. It takes three keys to get to it. The first key unlocks the elevator that takes me to the ninth floor. This is the place where all religions are brought together. Here the popes stand in long rows, and not far from them is Martin Luther in a splendid edition. Calvin and Zwingli are here, the Mormons and the Shakers. Here also are the church fathers and Buddha, Confucius, the Jews, the saints, and Mohammed. The dogmatists and the heretics are here, the peacemakers and the fighters, the saints and the devils.

Sometimes, when I hurry out through the half darkened corridors of this floor as the closing bell is ringing, it seems to me that they are all trapped in their books by a spell and condemned to frustrated silence.
Id., pp. 185-186:
Finding books is not difficult after you master the system. But then comes the best part — the book you are looking for is surrounded by books you didn't know about, or have forgotten, or that you perhaps knew once and now find again.

Sometimes, when I had worked in my room on the tenth level for eight or nine hours and was tired, I went down and wandered through the avenues and alleyways of books, stopped where I wanted to, drew out a book, leafed through it, and laid it on one of the tables so that I could look into it again when I pleased.

Books that have been taken from the shelves should be piled up on tables so that they can be replaced correctly by trained hands and not exposed to the danger of accidental misplacing. Every morning a staff of young people is busy putting books back in the places where they belong so that they can be found again.

So I go through the stacks, look at the books, taste many, and sometimes find a new friend. And as I go through the rows of hundreds of thousands of books, I think these are all mine to use. These belong to me, to the students, to the professors, and to the visitors who come to the library. It is this feeling of common property, or of the possession of the unusual by the common people, that underlies the fact that hardly anyone wants to take anything away and keep it. Theft is not a problem in the library and does not have to be taken into consideration. In my rounds I go down to the third and fourth stacks, where the alleyways are lit by bluish fluorescent lights on the ceilings.

Here are the Greeks and Romans, the old geographers that reported about the Island of Thule and the Amazons. Here stagecoach travelers tell about the Alps, rickshaw travelers about China, and flyers about the South Pole. Here is the fall of Rome and the rise of Christianity. Here are the biographies, from Alexander the Great to Bernard Shaw and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Here are the Russians in their anarchist and religious, Christian and terrorist, pacifist and revolutionary writers, represented up to the recent Soviet comedies and plays. Here is Shakespeare in old and new editions, in all interpretations, appearing in all his different characters. Here are the English, from Beowulf to Priestley.

Here are the Germans, from the Ulfilas Bible through the editions of classical and romantic writers to Barlach's "Blauer Boll." No stop is made with the modern writers. They stream in, newer and newer, without end or censorship.

In the fall of 1945, Nazi books arrived: novels, magazines, schoolbooks, poetry. They were sorted and set out. A small display of them was put together in the glass cases in the entrance hall. There were no propagandists among them, no goose-step display. They were legitimate books like Mein Kampf, a Rosenberg, a Ludendorf, poems by Schirach, photographs of the Führer, German magazine pictures of the war. The aggressive titles, the ugly Führer, the poor-quality printing all drew amazed comments and derision from the students. In another case were pictures from German magazines, mostly nature shots, and they called forth admiration.

The books are all here, the Americans, the French, the Scandinavians, the Dutch, and the Italians, the Russians, the Indians, the Chinese, and the Spanish. Here are the masses of people of all eras in their literature and their history. Here are religion, law, music, folklore, the sciences, agriculture, fishing and hunting, sports, technology, detective stories. Everything is arranged, but not abridged and not selected. The students to whom this library has been given are to search, choose, and decide for themselves what they want to do with it. The older generation does not want to rule the younger, and the young people do not fear their elders.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

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