Ethnopholes’ library: volume one

Libraries are awesome. I’ve always really liked them, possibly more than is healthy. But here’s the great thing about a library, it’ll most likely have a book in it somewhere that tells me the exact amount of love I can give it before requiring treatment. Sure, you could get that information online, but it just doesn’t have the same vibe. I feel smarter just being in a library.

It’s as if all the knowledge and cool stories on the shelves raise my IQ by one-hundred percent, if only temporarily. (I am yet to find the book that (A): transforms the smart feeling into actually being smarter, and (B): makes it permanent. That book is in there though, I can sense it.) I like bookshops for similar reasons, although bookshops also make me feel more financially challenged than libraries do, mostly on account of my poverty and inability to pay for books. Nope, for overall feelings of intellectual empowerment, the library is the way to go.

But that would just be the ‘working area’; the part where I read, take notes, generally think deeply about the world, and forget all my great insights to write something for the internet. It would also have deliciously labyrinthine recesses like those shown here:


Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In other words, my library would, in many ways, be similar to that from Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose. Well, there would be a key difference between mine and Umberto Eco’s. I’d avoid having all the mysterious and dangerous things that go on in Eco’s fictional library happening in mine. Stuff like [content redacted due to spoilers] could never possibly be allowed to take place in my library. Still, The Name of the Rose is a great book, and I recommend you read it if you find yourself with some leisure time. Or, you could just see the movie with Sean Connery in it.

Alas, my dreams of private ‘librarydom’ are very far from being realized. I don’t even own a bookshelf. What I have in its stead is an old closet, and this is where the books I do have are forced to live. I have done the best I can, I do control the closet for humidity. This is achieved – rather ingeniously, I think – by placing a lot of white blackboard chalk in amongst my various tomes.

I’m afraid that my quest for a ‘working area’ hasn’t fared any better. I regret to say all my deep thinking, note taking, and reading tends to take place in my kitchen. Although, this does have the advantage of being very close to the tea making equipment I seem to need quite often. That is, whenever I have to write something, or think a particularly deep thought.

I do know someone with a really excellent private library, however. Well, not know in the fullest sense. Which is to say, not in the way that most people know and have authentic and long lasting connections with their friends on social networks. It is more like a passing acquaintance, really. Her name, in case you are wondering, is Alterity Ethnopholes, and she is Professor and head of department of Interstitial Studies at the University of Arts, Crafts, Social, and other Sciences.

Ethnopholes’ library is a very grand affair indeed, consisting of  a ground floor, two mezzanine levels, and some exquisite neo gothic vaulting. The ground floor is very spacious, and has two outlandishly large medieval fireplaces at each end. Alterity never uses these fireplaces – because, you know, global warming – but has converted them into work spaces for her post-doctoral fellows. Alterity’s own desk is a large affair, situated underneath an imposing stained glass window. I find the theme of this window a little unsettling, depicting, as it does, an hermaphrodite saint wrestling a large crocodile eating an apple. But then, I’m a bit of a peasant when it comes to all things artistic.

The mezzanine levels are where most of the books are kept, housed snugly in ceiling high shelves that traverse all four walls. Each shelf  has a ladder, one of those really cool ones that move around on rails attached to the top. Illumination on these floors is facilitated by gargoyle heads, placed in optimum positions, and which emit light from open mouths. If I was a little more artistically inclined, I’d almost say these light fixtures positively ‘vomited’ the floors with light. I guess it’s lucky I’m not artistic.

But the library is not solely a place of quiet scholarship, it is also a space for lively debate, the advancement of career, and production of knowledge more generally. Which is why Alterity regularly invites visiting academics, interested students, and occasional bloggers to ‘really have at each other’ on the library’s impressive ground floor. This is how I got to know Alterity, and how I first saw her library. And this shall be the subject of volume two of this story.


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