The Library and the Tower: not the dirty books
I guess I have realised after some 40 years of library use that I am both the library user from hell, and every librarian's favourite customer. Never mind the social life that I once had in the library (my only social life for a while, let me confess... and don't lets go down what happened in North Front 4) . . .
I am now the much more cerebral person who rejoices every time she comes across a book in the University Library which hasn't had its pages cut. Yippee, I think,this book has never been opened in 50 years.. I am the first person in Cambridge ever to have read this.(The strength of a great research library, let me stress, can be measured by the number of books in it that have never been read, not by the number of books that are always borrowed.)
So give me a paper knife and the Westfalien archaeological reports for 1928.. and I am happy.
Though this post is to celebrate something I have hinted at before, but has moved on a bit since I last wrote. That is what we call here in Cambridge the "Tower Project", just completed. We kids back in the 1970s used to think that the dirty books were kept in the UL Tower. If only... in fact most of the books there were the ephemera: the novels, the text books, the cheap best-sellers which came in via copyright law and never got fully catalogued in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In fact they included some of the very "best bits" (for historians), which might have got thrown away, but for the blessed anal retentiveness of those old fashioned librarians.
Now, thanks to a tranch of generous outside funding, the Tower Books have been fully catalogued and are ready for use. They include everything that counted as a popular book from jigsaw puzzles to school text books. There are some great research topics as well as (I am sure) radio programmes here ... just think of looking at the 1890s through the cheap reading matter that was really bought on railway stations, not just the "modern classics". What did people really read? And there can be no doubt that hugely significant research will emerge over the next few centuries from books here that have been unread for decades. And I mean unread.
Of course, I mean this as a message for the library apparatchiks of the 21st century. Some of the most important books in the history of research remain unloved and un-taken off the shelves for decades or centuries. Dont throw them away; please. They will eventually come into their own and be what research is all about, or some of them will (and wevdont yet know which).
Or to put it more positively: the University Library is my equivalent of the Hadron Collider (part white elephant, part cutting edge techonology)..and, oh, it needs money to keep it up to atomic speed.