Institutions

Who is the catalog for?

Lorcan 1 min read

The current discussion about the catalog and its centrality or otherwise prompt me to repeat a passage from my favorite example of the library in literature. This is from Robert Musil’s The man without qualities.
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Chapter 100 of this novel is General Stumm invades the State Library and learns about the world of books, the librarians guarding it, and intellectual order. From the 1995 translation published by Knopf and translated by Sophie Wilkins and Burton Pike:

My eyes must have been blazing with such a thirst for knowledge that the fellow suddenly took fright, as if I was about to suck him dry altogether. I went on a little longer about needing a kind of timetable that would enable me to make connections among all kinds of ideas in every direction – at which point he turns so polite it’s almost unholy, and offers to take me into the catalog room and let me do my own searching, even though it’s against the rules, because it’s only for the use of the librarians. So I actually found myself inside the holy of holies….

And from the librarian:

The secret of a good librarian is that he never reads anything more of the literature in his care than the titles and the table of contents. ‘Anyone who lets himself go and starts reading a book is lost as a librarian,’ he explained. ‘He’s bound to lose perspective’.

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