Monday, October 16, 2017

Proper Libraries

Marianne has really sparked something off with her post about a digital library. Personally I feel quite sad at the thought. Speaking as someone who went to Mallorca recently for week, taking only seven T-shirts, two pairs of shorts and undies so that I could use the weight allowance for paper books, I'm not prepared to compromise on the quality of my enjoyment.

There is something about a library, whether it's the little local one on the doorstep, the glamorous one in a stately home that comprises yards of beautiful bindings in bookcases with ormolu trellises across the glass, or the huge university ones with undiscovered treasures hidden in the stack rooms below, that holds a promise of true romance.

When I was at Cambridge University I was studying Macbeth and went to do a bit of direct research on Holinshed's Chronicles, which was Shakespeare's source for the story. (He badly distorted it in the play – Macbeth was actually a rather good King of Scotland for fourteen years, imposing law and order and supporting Christianity.)

There in the university library, amazingly enough, I was allowed to consult a copy of Holinshed which was actually the same edition that Shakespeare used. I bet they don't do that now! I was able to take it to a table and turn to the section on Macbeth, just as he would have done. It gave details of the conflict where Duncan was killed but there was no mention of murder, or of a Lady Macbeth.

It didn't take long to read and I browsed on, turning the stiff, heavy pages to see what would catch my eye, just as Shakespeare obviously did. And there was an account of the murder of one King Duff by Donewald, who was spurred on by his wife. Who could resist a scenario like that? Not Shakespeare, certainly – never mind historical accuracy here, we're talking drama.

And because I could physically turn those pages I had the extraordinary privilege of seeing how Shakespeare's mind had worked. The chill of shocked delight I felt stays with me still.

The digital library may offer infinitely more resources than any normal library could. But what about that physical stuff – the feel, the smell, the look of the stacks of books? What about the intimacy of feeling that you are seeing directly what the author saw when he proudly picked up the first copy of his new book?

If you want information, digital is just fine. If you want to read a book – really read a book – I would contend that it isn't, and the research is on my side.

Long live proper libraries!


Sybil Johnson said...

There's nothing like a proper library!

Rick Blechta said...

Heck, I’ll even take an improper library!

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

Wow, Aline! How wonderful that you actually touched and read something that Shakesepeare had. I am so envious. Now, I'm going to fess up, I had not heard of the Holinshed Chronicles, so thanks for sharing that. But how wonderful to feel you could actually follow Shakespeare's thought process ... oh, yes a Lady Macbeth who spurs on her husband is much more interesting than a boring faithful one. I'm getting shivers now thinking about what it must have been like for you. Vive libraries!

Aline Templeton said...

So glad others share my passion!