Saturday, November 09, 2019


The Secret of a Good Librarian

Robert Musil (1880-1942), The Man Without Qualities: A Sort of Introduction and Pseudoreality Prevails, tr. Sophie Wilkins (New York: Vintage International, 1996), p. 503 (from Part II: Pseudoreality Prevails, § 100: General Stumm Invades the State Library and Learns About the World of Books, the Librarians Guarding It, and Intellectual Order):
'General,' he said, 'if you want to know how I know about every book here, I can tell you: Because I never read any of them.'

It was almost too much, I tell you! But when he saw how stunned I was, he explained himself. The secret of a good librarian is that he never reads anything more of the literature in his charge than the titles and the tables of contents. 'Anyone who lets himself go. and starts reading a book is lost as a librarian,' he explained. 'He's bound to lose perspective.'

'So,' I said, trying to catch my breath, 'you never read a single book?'

'Never. Only the catalogs.'

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