Monday, March 7, 2011


Our university library
A library is the most magical place in the world. Even simply walking through a library always inspires me and makes me realize that the world is beautiful.

The first time in my life when I realized that libraries were supposed to be about free access to books was after I moved to Canada. In my country, the only way to get a book from a library was the following:

a) you needed to know the last name of the author and the title of the book you wanted to get. Browsing through books on your own was not an option. You could only get books that you were already aware of;

b) you had to go through a card catalogue and locate the call number for your book;

c) you had to fill out a long and confusing form and submit it;

d) then you had to hang around for several hours waiting for the book to be delivered. At no point would you be allowed to go into the stacks. Believe it or not, a compulsive reader that I am, I had never been in the library stacks until I moved to Canada. I didn't even know what the library stacks looked like;

e) then, if the librarian had not stolen the book or given it to friends and relatives against all regulations, you'd get the book. Of course, you couldn't take it anywhere. You had to sit right there at the library, read the book, and return it before leaving. 

I don't know if this Soviet system is still in place in the former USSR countries (in all probability it is) but you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that in Canada libraries were a lot easier to use. I kept torturing the poor librarian at McGill University's library because I just couldn't get over this news.

"So you are saying that I can just walk in and take out books? Several books? As many as 100 books? You are joking, right? I can go into the stacks? On my own? And get anything I need? And I can take the books home? And keep them there? For six months? Just like that?" I kept bugging the kind librarian.

If you are now wondering how students in my country managed to write their papers and do any research when the access to libraries was so limited, I will tell you that story in a later post.


Jim said...

A thousand years ago I had a job in a Chinese restaurant while I was studying Chinese. My boss treated me like a son. She was forma very posh background in Shanghai, and like every one, had a long story behind all that. One evening in a slack moment she mentioned that to her a library was the best place on earth; she could live in one.

At the time I couldn't hardly take it in. I could barely get make any sense of the card catalog in our Chinese library and the idea of finding anything with ease, of enjoying the place instead of dragging myself through it, just boggled my mind.

I have since learned not to trust my initial reading of what someone says so totally.

Pagan Topologist said...

I think the Library of Congress in Washington D. C. is operated on the same basis as libraries you describe in your childhood hometown, except that they probably no longer have a card catalogue. I have never been there, but there are a few books I would wait for in the manner you describe.