Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Latter Days of an Idiosyncratic Library

I think the most fascinating part of Hakozaki Campus is one of its most under-rated: the Humanities and Social Sciences library.

I have been to a lot of libraries in a lot of places, but our little library (one of several on campus) is like none I've seen anywhere else. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. As a person who enjoys wandering aisles of old books looking for inspiration I fell in love with the place at first glance.

And, seeing as how the library rules do not prohibit photography, I thought I would take a walk through its aisles with camera in hand. Hence this post.
If I had to suggest one image that would conjure up the experience of visiting the library in your minds, it would be this one:
That is the closing scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is the giant warehouse where the government puts stuff that it wants to lose. The impression one gets is that by placing the Ark there, the government is assuring it will never be found again. For present purposes we can ignore the fact that the fourth film ruined this image by establishing that it was, in fact, possible to find something that had been placed in this warehouse.

Our library has a certain element of this going for it - it can be very difficult to find things in it even if you are intimately familiar with each of its floors. It also kind of looks like the warehouse a bit, with stacks of boxes of its own:
It is really a lot more than that though. It is a facility that has had to deal with the multiple problems of overcrowding, antiquated facilities and problems unique to the storage of Japanese reading material that is different from problems faced by Western libraries. The valiant efforts of the library staff to overcome these problems lend the place a fascinating charm that no other library I've ever been to can offer.

In a few years, this library along with the rest of campus will be relegated to the dustbins of history. The new Ito campus will absorb the staff and resources of the library, and probably incorporate them in a much more logical, user-friendly way than the current library is even remotely capable of.

This will probably have a lot of benefits for future researchers, who won't be anywhere near as bewildered by the experience of looking for a book as what the current set-up elicits. The sentimental and somewhat irrational side of me, which is responsible for a lot of these types of posts on this blog, will miss this library when it is gone though. When the campus moves, the many idiosyncrasies of today's library brought about by its functional shortcomings will be lost forever. It is to those wonderful bits that this post is dedicated.

The most obvious and least interesting of these to those using the law library is the simple lack of shelf space. This necessitates the use of makeshift "shelves" on the floor:
The law library is actually one of the least interesting parts of the library. It is relatively well-organized and user friendly. The truly fascinating parts of the library are located in the literature section.

The first floor of said section is relatively normal. Just a library like any other. But the further you move in, the more you notice the effects of overcrowding. In some places, this is evidenced by shelves placed insanely close together:
In others, it is illustrated by the use of make-shift means of storage for odd-sized books. The big Chinese-English dictionary for instance is kept on a chair:
Lack of shelf space also leads to the unconventional use of other storage media. Empty orange boxes are to be found everywhere housing the overflow:
Someone must really like oranges.

Other favorites include wicker baskets:
And paper shopping bags:
I have to stress that these are all on library shelves in the regular stacks and not in some inaccessible storage room or anything. This is how things are actually presented to us users of the library.

Anyway, the most interesting part of the literature library is on the top floor, where they store some truly amazing stuff. Shelf upon shelf of invaluable old works:
Different from libraries in North America, older works are sometimes found in scroll form, which are boxed and in a dark, dusty and mysterious section of their own:
A lot of the older works not in scroll form have lovely wooden boxes of their own:
As the above photo attests, these present a problem to libraries which are designed to hold books of a certain dimension. They just don't fit into the shelving system, so they are to be found at random locations on the floor and on tables here and there wherever they could be fit in throughout the library.

There are a few other random, recurring themes in the library. One is the presence of the old card catalogs, which the library hasn't figured out what to do with and has dispersed them to various corners of the stacks out of the way, awaiting whatever fate has in store for them:
Other outdated tools of the library trade are also to be found squirreled away in various nooks and crannies: Bundles of old Korean newspapers are - for whatever reason - also to be found here and there:
As are rotary-dial phones:
And carts pressed into service as make-shift shelves:
A lot of this of course contributes to the difficulty in finding things on occasion. It would be very difficult to devise a cataloging system that could, in alpha-numeric code, convey the fact that the Oregon Historical Quarterly is to be found on the 3rd floor, between two shelves on a pile of boxes, next to an empty box of tape:
Actually, I have to admit that the library is nowhere near as haphazardly organized as these photos make it out. A lot of stuff is logically ordered and properly shelved. But these odd bits really do give it an atmosphere unlike most libraries I've been to. They make it an interesting place to go for a stroll...well, again that is only "interesting" if you are a type like me who finds stuff like this interesting.

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