31 May 2012

Emily Dickinson, "In a Library"

A precious - mouldering pleasure - 'tis- 
To meet an Antique Book - 
In just the Dress his Century wore - 
A privilege - I think - 

His venerable Hand to take - 
And warming in our own - 
A passage back - or two - to make - 
To Times when he - was young -

His quaint opinions - to inspect - 
His thought to ascertain
On Themes concern our mutual mind - 
The Literature of Man -

Holy People Reading: Fulton J. Sheen

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen reads.

30 May 2012

Africa E-Books Project

It's a busy week here (made more interesting by another installment of adventures in public transit), but I thought I'd share this plug that's been circulating around the Catholic blogosphere lately. The Africa eBook Project aims to provide seminarians in Africa with quality Catholic reading materials that are otherwise scarce:
In Cameroon, Africa, books are rare-especially the good ones. My friend Linus is studying at one of the seminaries, and he says the situation is even worse there. The seminaries are bursting at the seams with young men, yet most lack solid Catholic materials. The libraries are meager and while most of the seminaries have computers, internet is spotty at best.
 Among theses scarce books are texts that we generally consider foundational for theological study, such as the Summa Theologiae, The Bible, and writings of the Church Fathers. I think Brandon has started a fantastic project, and I'm happy to see that it has already far surpassed its original fundraising goal. Sadly, many seminaries right here in the U.S. seem to also be experiencing a dearth of such books, more due to neglect than lack of resources. If only a project like this were to succeed with seminaries here! Watch the video below for more info about the project.

There have long been projects like this aimed at getting more books oversees-case in point: Books for Africa. But with the Africa eBook Project, you know that the seminarians are receiving some intellectual food that will directly impact evangelization as well as education.


Thin Veil's Original Post


27 May 2012

Sunday Snippets-A Catholic Carnival

This week I'm joining Sunday Snippets, hosted over at This That and The Other Thing. A few days ago, I collected some thoughts on 'authentic librarianship', and featured a great little lecture on books by Fr. James V. Schall, SJ.

You can also check out what Paul VI has to say about archives.


25 May 2012

Pope Paul VI on Archives

"Our pieces of paper are echoes and vestiges...of the passage of Our Lord Jesus in the world. And then, by reflection, having the cult of these papers, of the documents, of the archives, means having the cult of Christ, having the sense of the Church, giving to ourselves and to those who will come in the future the history of the transitus Domini in the world."

-Pope Paul VI, 1963

What is Authentic Librarianship?

Recently Rick Anderson authored a couple columns in Library Journal that touched on the idea of "authentic librarianship." As he suggests, this is slightly tricky to define. There are several core principles that all librarians generally strive to employ in our professional practice. Anderson offers some examples in his first column. Unsurprisingly they are mostly rooted in promoting critical thinking and improving the lives of individual patrons and the community. All librarians, I think, can agree on the good of these basic principles.

Included on his list was the goal "To improve character and ennoble the 'whole person,'" a natural priority for any good librarian, especially those that work with students. This is a pretty straightforward and noble-sounding mission, but as Anderson notes, different librarians have very different ideas about the nuts and bolts of accomplishing this end. Ultimately, he suggests, taking an aggressively proactive approach to fulfilling the goals of patron service may ironically lead us to serving our own motivations over the good of the patron. As in all occupations, it is good for us to remain humble in our quest for professional authenticity.

So, what is "authentic librarianship"?

Anderson suggests that 'authenticity' consists of the desire to put the patron's needs before our desire to fulfill 'our own agendas.' As he puts it, authentic librarianship is motivated by:
-Concern for the success of the library's patrons in their particular tasks
-Concern for the long-term intellectual welfare of the library's patrons
-Desire to further the goals of the library's sponsoring institution
So for Anderson, authenticity is largely rooted in motivations. But everyone, him included, knows that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, so authenticity cannot stop there:

Holy People Reading: St. Bede the Venerable

St. Bede the Venerable reads (when not writing).
Happy Feast Day!

22 May 2012

Fr. James V. Schall: "A Kindle is not a book-it is an image of a book."

I've been meaning to put together a few thoughts about some recent LJ  columns for a while, but the business of work and my move have gotten in my way. In the meantime, I discovered a sweet little lecture given recently by Fr. James V. Schall at Dartmouth College, entitled "What is a book?" In his talk, Schall considers the role of books and reading in the modern age in relation to those of ages past.  Some highlights, with my comments:

On reading from desire: 
[Quoting from Boswell's Life of Johnson] "Dr. Johnson advised me today to have as many books about me as I could, that I might read upon any subject upon which I desire for instruction at the time. 'What you read then,' said he, 'you will remember, but if you have not a book immediately ready, and the subject mulls in the your mind, it is a chance if again you have a desire to study it...If a man never has an eager desire for instruction, he should proscribe a task for himself, but it is better when a man reads from immediate inclination."
I find a lot of truth in Boswell's advice. I used to be very rigid and particular about following my reading lists in order, not starting another book until I finished the last. Then I realized that my entire education consisted of reading dozens of books at once, and I concluded that it was silly to retain this attitude. Disciplined reading definitely has its virtues, but some of the most fruitful reading I have done has come from impulse.

The relational nature of books:
"A book at first sight is an artifact, something ultimately made by being with the mind and the hand. Remember that Aristotle defines the human being as that being in the universe and the only being in the universe with a mind and a hand...if you only have a mind, you can't make anything, and if you only have hands, there is nothing to be made...A book does not grow on trees...thought in a sense we can call it a living thing-as intelligible, it only exists when it is being known by a writer or a reader." 
 On e-readers:
"Paper books of various sizes, shapes, and durability are still, thank goodness, with us. They may still be preferred in this solid form by many of us as the way to read and keep our knowledge...I do not look forward to the day, already here in principle, when the only way I can make inexpensively available the  10-12 books I usually assign a semester class would be to put it on Kindle, where they exist not as my physical tangible book, but as a right to read an image. [A] Kindle is not a book-it is an image of a book."
On cell phones and memory:
"These instruments [cell phones] isolate people as much as they expand their scope, I think...Now every statistic about the 1937 World Series game is in the Baseball Almanac, which is now online. Indeed I presume today that online somewhere you can actually find a video version of every game of any World Series in recent years...What does this availability of all facts in non-book, immediately accessible form mean?...The online world takes the place of books, or it is another form of a book...in a sense, it also, to recall Book X of Augustine's Confessions, takes the place of memory itself. Why remember what you can look up, usually with a more accurate answer?...The things are in our memories, and not just on a machine, means that they are immediately related to all else that we know. Our memory, as Augustine says, and Aristotle too, is the necessary foundation of your intelligence...I presume that the visible medium that a man uses-book or electronic device-does not matter. The matter is the same. Education cannot mean teaching ourselves just to use a computer so that we can look up facts quickly and deftly. The essential thing is the immediate inclination. And this inclination can be none other than the desire to know and retain the truth of things, of what is." 
On what to read:
"I have spent a good deal of my life recommending books to read. In several of my books, I include lists of books to read-books to keep sane by, and books to keep awake by, and books to stand outside of yourself by...I do not consider myself to be a voracious reader, thought I have somehow had in my days, considerable time in which to read...What has interested me more, is what to read...Not all the important books to read are difficult. What are called 'Great Books' are not the only ones worth reading. And indeed as Leo Strauss pointed out, the Greak Books often contradict themselves and tempt us unnecessarily to skepticism."
'What to read?' is really the eternal question. My personal approach is rooted in the conviction that my time on earth is finite, and as such there is only a very small portion of written human civilization that I can consume and study, so I ought to use my time  reading the 'best of the best.' This attitude is often the animating flame for proponents of Great Books curricula, but it can easily lead to reading snobbery. I've been plenty guilty of entertaining elitist attitudes towards book selection in the past. As Schall points out, not all the important books are difficult, and they need not be a member of the definitive Western Canon either. Great Books' lists are still wonderful foundations for a nutritious literary diets. The world would be a better place if readers replaced some of their James Patterson and Jodi Picoult with Dante and St. Augustine.

Books can change the world:
"Changes in the world first take place in the souls of men. What causes us to be good or evil will happen to us at a given time in a given place. The factors that brought the changes about will look from the outside to be accidental-and they are in a sense. The world was changed when the young Augustine decided to become a philosopher...So again-what is a book? A book is something that can change the world, because it records the ideas of men. Ideas that can be tested for coherence or incoherence, truth or falsity, because of the order of things." 
[Quoting from The Haunted Bookstore, by Christopher Morley:]"Living in a bookstore is like living in a warehouse of explosives. Those shelves are ranked with the most furious combustibles in the world-the brains of men." 
You can watch the whole thing here:

16 May 2012

From Awesome People Reading...

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads.
H/T to Happy Catholic
(Still waiting for Awesome People Reading to have at least one papal reading photo for every 50 of Marilyn Monroe).

12 May 2012

Swinburne on Books

 "The half-brained creature to whom books are other than living things may see with the eyes of a bat and draw with the fingers of a mole his dullards' distinction between books and life: those who live the fuller life of a higher animal than he know that books are to poets as much part of that life as pictures are to painters or as music is to musicians, dead matter though they may be to the spiritually still-born children of dirt and dullness who find it possible and natural to live while dead in heart and brain."

-Algernon Charles Swinburne

11 May 2012

Ave atque Vale!: Libraries, Virtue, and the Sacred

"There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after."
-J.R.R. Tolkien 

After a more chaotic than expected finals week, and completing the last of my MLS coursework, I can now call myself a bona fide librarian! As much as graduations merit at least a little reflection, they are almost always, in my experience, occasions more for chaos than ceremony, and so, after a couple weeks of being whisked along by the momentum of final projects, last days at work, bidding final farewells to friends, paperwork, packing, and moving, I finally have found a few spare moments in which to write. I cannot say that mind all the distraction this time around. My relationship with Bloomington has not, on average, been far from adversarial. I will, however, miss the excellent public library, the huge selection of good Eurasian restaurants, the year-round farmer's market, the university's vast library system, and the walkability of the town. While my home for the past couple years is not my heart's paradise, I cannot say that my time here was time wasted, for my understanding of, and capacity for humility and detachment have grown immensely in this place.

A large state school is, for me, particularly well-suited to purging self-importance, pride, and attachment to success and spiritual comfort. These conditions seem, to me, to mirror the opportunities for humility and detachment provided by libraries and librarianship itself. The immensely diverse and compassionately wrought backgrounds and philosophies of my colleagues is a constant source of humility, gratitude, and challenge. I am very grateful for this, among other things, in my profession. This simple truth, however, would hardly be appreciated in a library school application essay, or in public declarations of the value of librarianship.

In my fledgling career, I have had the luck and privilege to work at some of this country's most prized institutions, if only as a humble page and intern. Their collections, steeped in tradition, history, notoriety, and appraised at astonishing monetary value, are cause for wonder, especially to those setting their eyes on them for the first time. Libraries, for this reason (among others), remain one of the only universally recognized sacred spaces. I still remember vividly the adrenaline-ridden gravitas of my first encounters with ancient Greek papyri and a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio, and that rapturous first visit to the British Library's Treasure Room. In my childish delight and awe, I truly felt that these were portals to other worlds and times, and my student-imagination romantically imbued the handling (and viewing) of these items with a sense of sacred ritual.