The Buck Stops Here: Karmic Traces


J. Edgar Hoover, Mao Tse-tsung, Casanova, Pope Pius and Golda Meir worked in libraries.

At one time, the strongest man in the world, a Belgian, was a librarian.

Machiavelli would take off his dirty underwear before he read classical texts.

Herman Melville begins Moby Dick with extracts and quotes about whales that he titles, “Supplied by a Sub Sub Librarian.”

As German troops were retreating from Prague during World War II, Vladimir Nabokov’s sister chased after officers to get them to return overdue library books before they left.

According to Section 215 of The Patriot Act, libraries cannot let anyone know the FBI has searched his records.

Public libraries know that on below zero days the homeless have a passion for reading newspapers.

Playboy once did a spread on librarians.

I met my wife at the Madison Branch of the Lakewood Public Library, when the book on jazz I wanted had been checked out of the Main Branch.

“If there is a counterpart to the confusion of a library, it is the order of its catalogue.” -- Walter Benjamin.

“The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite, number of hexagonal galleries, with enormous ventilation shafts in the middle, encircled by very low buildings.” --Jorge Luis Borges.

Antonio Panizzi, who had come to England in 1823 to escape death during Italy’s unification struggles, formulates his philosophy of the library in 1836: “I want a poor student to have the same means of indulging his learned curiosity, of following his rational pursuits, of consulting the same authorities, fathoming the most intricate enquiry as the richest man in the kingdom.” The library he envisioned opened as the British Museum in 1857. For 30 years Karl Marx held a reader’s ticket. 

Leon Trotsky saw librarians to be soldiers of the revolution. “Since our reader cannot find his book,” he writes, “our book must find its reader. This is a librarian’s task.” He proposed putting up ‘reading huts’ in every community.

Ortega y Gasset thought too many books were too like too many cars. They would clog the information highway and prevent you from getting from A to B.

In Birkenau concentration camp, adults would recite stories they remembered to groups of children. Each time they repeated the stories to other groups of children, they called this, “exchanging books in the library.”

In the mountains of Colombia, donkeys would take books in large green bags to villagers. Villagers would return practical agricultural books, but hung on to Homer’s Iliad. “They feel,” Alberto Manguel writes, “it tells their own story.”

“My sense of the meaning of a library had been determined to a great extent by hours spent working in the Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library. Sitting at a table there, surrounded by people who regularly pulled out of their pockets bundled slips of paper, held together by rubber bands, on which they were painstakingly piecing together private theories of the world – the Joe Gould kind of thing – I came to recognize that much of what was to be found in books had very little to do with coursework. As my fellow readers there made clear in the urgency of their investigations, the matters they treated in the pages they were turning were matters of life and death.” -- Stephen Donadio.

“The public library looms as community’s most dignified haven for labor unfit for the rigors of the businessworld, the preferred workplace, that is, for the eccentric brother, the infirm spouse, the shy daughter. Quietly, in so idiosyncratic a context, the public library struggles to sustain a vision of the public good as free exchange between private and public ways of knowing, going against the grain of economic interests seeking to convert all knowledge into commodities.” – Kenneth Warren.

“The glory of libraries is that on the streets the whores work someone may unexpectedly put you up against the wall.” As Bob Dylan said, I said that.

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Volume 4, Issue 13, Posted 12:02 PM, 05.29.2008