Monday, June 25, 2007

Back to the Library

The Parental Units, taking advantage of my annual summertime presence, have taken off on a tour of the western states and the guest bedrooms of various relatives. John too has removed himself from the local scene with the idea of spending yet another week in New York, leaving all his friends here baffled that he has not managed to fully tear himself away from the hated metropolis. (One hopes that he will at least have a productive meeting with his advisor and get a few things done at the library.) Fortunately, Orion and Calypso Spots have not expressed any plans to go further afield than the back yard.
With the house now largely in my possession, I promptly decamped for the library, having spent the weekend making a long, long, long list of things to look for and having put call numbers on a great many of them with the help of the UC Berkeley online catalog.
Once upon a time, the UC Berkeley main library was a closed-stack establishment, which caused me to request special permission to enter the stacks just like all those privileged professors and grad students. In those days it was sort of a warren of verticality, and although a bit claustrophobic, it was very easy to maneuver in.
Somewhat later, the university decided that this wasn't very earthquake-safe or something, and the whole thing was reconstructed as an extensive underground horizontal sort of open-stack facility. While there are many fine things about the new stack area, like the relatively good lighting and the numerous workspaces with electrical outlets, I fear that in many respects I miss the old stacks. In the old days, assuming you got stack access, you did have to climb steps as you went from level to level, but everything seemed relatively compact, and when you got to a bookshelf you could see what was on it.
These days the only compact thing about the library is the rolling shelving. I am unsure what takes up more time, walking from one end of the stacks to the other in search of books, or repeatedly moving the shelving units to get at the books. Often one has to wait for another person to get out of the shelving so as not to crush them, and then laboriously move about 8 shelf units aside before wiggling into a small space more suited to an intrepid spelunker. Today, for instance, the library was fairly empty so I didn't have to wait for anyone to leave the stacks, but I did have a lot of call numbers that were on the same row of PQ shelves, necessitating moving the same set of shelf units about six times. One does all of this only to discover, most of the time, that the book one seeks isn't on the shelf anyway, never mind that it's not alleged to be checked out to someone else.
In past adventures at UCB, I often felt that I spent more time looking for the books than actually using them. Today I was somewhat better prepared, since not only had I written down a vast number of call numbers on my printout and highlighted them, but I had made a list of the basic call letters I would be looking for.
They went like this (which I am not going to put in an html table since it is too much work):
AC B D GV HD N P TR Z
AP BF DB HQ ND PG
AQ BH DD HV NX PN
PQ
PR
PS
From this, the librarians among my readers will quickly divine the general drift of my researches. They will also divine that this selection of call numbers takes a person all over the place. I went at this logically for once and started with A, but realized that most of my A list was not anything I wanted to look at yet, so I moved on to B, where I discovered that almost nothing was on the shelf. D was nowhere near (it was easier to go down a floor to H). A few of my H items were actually on the shelf, but most of them have not been there any time I've looked in the past year. The PQ section was not terribly far, so I spent the afternoon there, mostly looking through a biography of Natalie Barney that I had read long ago and hoped would be of some use. Well... it improved a couple of my footnotes, and of course Natalie Barney is always fun to read about, but I have no evidence that Toyen ever went to her salon. It is hard to know whether Toyen would have wanted to go, or would have found Natalie Barney absurdly old-fashioned and right-wing. Still, Barney knew an awful lot of people and was friends with both Colette and Gertrude Stein, so you never know.
Eventually I decided it was time for coffee, and after that it seemed like time to go home and spend some time on the floor with the Spotted Pair, who after all have no other humans to amuse them just now.

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