I overheard an interesting conversation in the Library this evening. Mackenzie was lecturing the Several Annies on the history of private libraries such as ours down the centuries in the British Isles. (He claimed that ours is the oldest known, but that can’t be verified.)
A Several Annie wanted to know if there was a Unified Theory of Libraries, a metanarrative, she said, that connected all the libraries in existence, past and present. I don’t know if she was pulling his leg, but it certainly was an interesting question, one that made me stop and wait for his answer.
He said after a long silence, ‘I have a tale to tell of a Christmastide Ceilidh here in the Great Hall. One of the players, a pretty red-headed fiddler dressed all in green, remarked that the building and its inhabitants formed what she called a ‘tea cup culture’ in that one could learn all one needed to know about what was going on here over a cup of tea and a tatty scone or two while sitting in the kitchen on a winter’s afternoon gossiping with the staff.
‘Couldn’t disagree with her, as I’ve heard more interesting news over a few pints of Little Sir John Ale than bears ‘membering. Some of it is rather mundane — oh, a musician telling another musician that their band which was River Gods is now called Grendel’s Den as they’ve added a carnyx player to the band and the sound is really dark now.
‘Or the concertina player with Nobody’s Wedding Guests was telling the tale of what she called the ‘blood wedding’! where everything went wrong. I’m still not sure the priest could have done that, but Reynard, anti-papist that he is, says anything is possible with a priest. Especially a defrocked one. Maybe that was why it all went wrong!
Librarians exist in a tea cup culture of their own, one connected by letter and telegraph across the civilized world that allowed them to know each other and share gossip and information as need be. If there is a Unified Theory of Libraries, it’s based on the long established fact that any librarian worth his or her salt is curious about everything. Oh, they have their areas of keen interest; e.g., there’s a Norwegian librarian I know who has collected bloody near every printed work on trolls she could find. Justina, our consulting potter, used her as a resource for the Troll Under the Bridge project. I’d not heard of her but a librarian I knew in London knew another librarian who remembered her interest in trolls, as he talked with her while at a conference in Iceland a decade back.
So it’s not really that there’s a Unified Theory of Libraries, but more that they are all interconnected by shared interests and passions that are strengthened by the odd conference, the papers we write, the Internet discussion groups, the busman’s holiday spent visiting other libraries, and the exchanges we do among staff. And all of you who are Several Annies will in turn become part of that tea cup culture as you settle into your careers in libraries and elsewhere.’
I’ll need to think about what he said. Much might be true, but I’m not sure how truly unique that tea cup culture is, as I’d say any profession, such as the musicians he mentioned, form a similar one. Certainly there’s a network of Estate Gardeners who share stories and seeds and gossip as I’m part of it.
Tills nästa gång Gus