Thursday, September 30, 2010
What a disorderly library disguises
I like disorderly libraries. But this liking is a new-found one. Earlier, I used to be as complaining as anybody else about the chaotic state of the libraries I was using. And all of them, I must point out, were disorganized – so disorganized that A K Ramanujan, my favourite poet, had to be looked for in the mathematics section, and P G Wodehouse, an old favourite, on the architecture rack!
But if you try to discern a method in this madness, as I once did, it will lead you nowhere. I'll tell you why. Going by the pattern behind the classification of Ramanujan and Wodehouse, I once spent a half hour searching for Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice in the commerce section. The section had titles on merchandising and merchant banking. There was even a funny little book about a con merchant, the opposite of the merchant I was looking for – a book which ought to have been in the fiction section. But the unshrewd merchant who had given his bloodthirsty creditor the right to a pound of his own flesh was nowhere to be seen. On my way out of the library, I took a fleeting look at the Shakespeare rack. There he was, that blockhead of a merchant, as snug as a bug in a rug, ensconced as he was between a fat volume of the complete works of the Bard and a fatter one by the latter's critic, Dover Wilson!
But what applied to The Merchant didn't apply to Measure for Measure: after searching for it in vain in the Shakespeare section, I found it at last on a small rack in an obscure corner carrying books on statistics. It was an ecstatic moment, after a half hour of unhearable imprecations accompanied by the gnashing of teeth.
All this anguish and agony that accompanied my visits to libraries had continued only until I started visiting websites. Websites are so well-organized that they provide instant access to the information you seek. It doesn't involve any search as such. If at all, the search is within a web ring.
This instant access to information is certainly a blessing. But it would rob you of an advantage you were gaining earlier, if you confined your information source to the Internet. In a disorganized library (it is almost axiomatic that all libraries in use are disorganized!), in the course of your long search for the book you want, you come across several other rare books which tempt you to read – a temptation you can hardly resist, if you are an unregenerate reader like me. If I hadn't searched for Bacon in the zoology section, I might never have had the opportunity to read that wonderful book on aesthetics, The Elephant and the Lotus, by VS Naravane. I wonder where that book is now: it is neither in the elephant (zoology) section nor in the lotus (botany) section. Cyrano de Bergerac, The Thorn Birds, The Second Sex, and Innumeracy are just a few of the many books I have read by accident rather than by design. There's another thing: the Internet robs you of a sense of discovery (Shakespeare amid a series of volumes on quantitative analysis!) which only a disorganized library can give you.
Robert Herrick spoke about how "a sweet disorder in the dress" delighted him. I'd say that about a chaotic library now. And I owe this realization to the Internet revolution.