Friday, September 24, 2010

The Library and You

Alternatively titled: The Library and One Excited Bibliophile. Or how I found the most awesome old book ever.

We've all been to the public library in some shape or form, whether out of choice or because of a third grade field trip. Back in the day, the library was a source of information, a repository of knowledge. And that hasn't changed. However, with the introduction of the internet, Google, and Wikipedia, there seems to be less and less reason to visit the public library today. Sad, but true. Everything you could want to know (and much of what you never wanted to) is just a few mouse clicks away. It's easy. It's convenient. Slowly, the shine and excitement of visiting the library is wearing off, becoming something best left to the nostalgic, and old people who used to have to walk to the library -- in the snow, uphill, both ways.

I'd be lying if I said that I hadn't fallen prey to the allure of the I'm Feeling Lucky button, and like everyone else forgotten the majesty of a well-stocked library.

That was rectified today.

Today, I decided to finally investigate my university library. I'd been inside once or twice, but not for any length of time and not to check anything out. This time was different. This time, I was on a mission. Sort of. It sounds more dramatic this way, so let's just go with that. The truth was that I had an hour to kill, some curiosity, and a borderline unhealthy fascination with Polish history. In effect, it was the perfect storm.

A university library, in case you've never been to one, is a creature of another kind. This isn't your friendly neighborhood library. University libraries mean SRS BSNS. You will learn something here, and you will like it.

In any case, after choosing a random aisle and (unsurprisingly) failing to find anything on Polish history, it was obvious that professional help was needed navigating the numerous floors filled with shelves jam-packed with books. My friend, who was kind enough to join me in this venture, and I inquired of the local assistant librarian guy how to go about finding a book on Polish history. He was kind enough to explain the process of looking up the call sign* via the university website. So I busted out my Mac and looked up some books that seemed interesting.

Unfortunately, what he failed to explain, or what I failed to understand, was how said call signs actually worked. This led to my friend and I wandering an aisle full of folklore books. Not necessarily a bad thing if you like dragons, castles, and other folky things -- which I do -- but I couldn't very well check out the whole library and it was very easy to get wooed by the many, many books. Each one crying to be checked out. After more than a few minutes, I finally figured out that it was organized by the first two letters of the call sign and not by author's last name. We were in the wrong aisle, by like twenty or so aisles. Oops.

Even knowing the call sign, though, unable to find anything on Poland, I was finally forced to ask for help a second time.

Me: So, I'm pretty sure you have these books here, and I'm pretty sure that I just don't know what I'm doing.
Librarian Guy: *with a smile* Probably. What class are these books for?
Me: Oh, no class. Just for fun.
Librarian Guy: Ahhh . . .

I guess you don't have many people coming in looking to read history books on Poland for fun. Who knew?

Finally finding the right aisle and the right section, all that was left was to pick out the right book. Which was harder that I anticipated. With so many options, I became indecisive. But in the process of looking for something that would be informational while not turning my brain into goop, I stumbled upon an old book.

Now, when I say this book was old, I mean OLD. Its binding seemed to be made out of aged leather and quite frayed. The pages were thin and crinkly. It had the most fabulous old book smell, ever. More importantly, it was called "History of the Late Polish Revolution" aka the November Uprising and was one of the original copies. This baby was printed and published in 1832, a year after the actual uprising -- a first edition copy, or very near to.

I was holding in my hands a book that was around while Chopin was alive, about the very revolution that happened to be the source of inspiration for his Revolutionary Etude. You can imagine my excitement.

If you can't, here is a .gif to illustrate:

Sadly, I didn't check it out. I could have, but I didn't, on account of already owning a .pdf copy of the same book on my computer that I'd gotten a while back. Even so, it didn't detract from the thrill of the find.

So the moral of this story is that libraries are still awesome, even magical places and you should hang out in them, keep all those long-ignored books company and savor that old book smell.

And now I'd love to hear what sort of delightful experiences you've had in a library, dear readers! Have you ever come across a particularly interesting find? Met someone who shared the same interests as you? Embarrassed yourself by jumping up and down, proclaiming your love for a certain book or books? Or maybe that's just me . . .

P.S. Welcome to my blog! ^^

* I'm pretty sure it was actually called a call number, now that I'm thinking about it, but call sign sounds so much cooler. Like the books are all secret agents, just waiting to be summoned for action!

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