Yesterday I twittered about the new hand sanitizers at the British Library, and when I saw it being RT’d I decided that I should clarify my 140 characters because the tweet makes things sound worse than they really are.
The library installed sanitizer gel dispensers during the swine flu crisis a few weeks ago, and in the current email reader bulletin they note that the gel can cause damage to collection items if you don’t wait 30 seconds for it to dry. They did put up signs by each dispenser explaining the need to wait before touching anything, and it would undoubtedly take more than thirty seconds just to get back to your desk from the bathroom anyway. Basically, I just found the email amusing as a tug-of-war between our society’s panic over disease and the continuous, low-level panic of managing library collections.
What really annoys me about the hand sanitizers is this:
A) You should be washing your hands! The gel isn’t, as far as I know, going to get rid of dirt, grease, or cupcake icing, and the BL regulations have always asked patrons to wash their hand thoroughly before handling collection materials. So then if you’ve washed your hands, why do you need the sanitizer? Might it not encourage people to forgo proper washing?
B) Washing your hands correctly is still the best way to prevent the spread of the flu. Hand sanitizers should be reserved for times when this is difficult or impossible, not for regular use. Installing permanent dispensers sends the message that washing your hands isn’t enough. Everybody panic more!
C) It panders to the lowest common denominators of ignorance and fear. Our culture is already full of scary and misleading messages about germs, some spread by rumors, others created by ad agencies to guilt and frighten people into buying more of their cleaning products. Basic precautions such as washing your hands are fine. We don’t need another product to be safer, certainly not installed in a bathroom full of sinks and soap.
I don’t normally condone the materialistic celebration of Valentine’s Day, but if you’re looking for a gift for a bibliophile the Penguin Great Loves set may be a good place to start. I saw them on display at the bookshop this afternoon and might have left with a handful if I’d had a few spare moments. They’re extremely inviting in person—lovely covers and just the right size. Though you might want to think carefully before presenting your girlfriend with a volume of Freud.
For the philanthropically inclined there’s also the British Library’s Adopt A Book program, which supports important conservation work. Lots of romantic titles to choose from! I quite like Courtship by Post.
I planned today to do some reading at the British Library on, among other things, printing during the Italian Renaissance. At circulation I was handed three books instead of the expected two, but, as I’d ordered several other items that were supposed to take longer, I just assumed that one had arrived early. But right after I sat down the librarian came over and told me she had just realized that one book was special material and that I’d have to use it at a different desk. I was a little surprised, because I didn’t think I’d ordered anything unusual, but I told her she could take it back and I’d change desks later that afternoon.
So a few hours later I get the book, sit down, make myself comfortable at the special desk, and open it up to discover that the title is actually Courtesans of the Italian Renaissance. While this sounds like a fascinating subject, all I really have time for at the moment is the printing press and the Renaissance! Not, um, Sex & the Renaissance. I took it back to the circulation desk and we determined that someone else with the same last name and first initial, but a different reader number, was using the rare book reading room. To learn about the Italian Renaissance. Who are you???
Thanks to a discussion on the SHARP mailing list I’ve finally been able to see the lovely Stephen Fry Gutenberg documentary, which was uploaded to YouTube recently. Though I did quibble with some oversimplified pronouncements (historians: it’s just what we do), I really enjoyed it, especially Fry’s infectious joy while cutting a type punch or handcrafting paper. The show is available in 6 ten-minute segments and looks pretty good in full-screen. Here’s the first bit, which takes place in the British Library!
Farhad Hakimzadeh, an Iranian academic who has pleaded guilty to stealing pages from early printed books in the British Library and the Bodleian Library, is being sentenced today in London. The British Library has discovered about 150 books that were likely damaged by Hakimzadeh between 1998 and 2005, primarily works from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, and not all the missing pages have been recovered. The whole thing is quite shocking, not only because Hakimzadeh should have known better, but because he was committing the thefts in a very public place full of other readers, librarians, security staff, and CCTV, and he got away with it for so long. I’m not sure how much the security has changed at the BL since 2005, but from my near daily reading there over the last two months I can guarantee that to pull off this type of theft you would have to be extremely motivated and plan quite carefully (in addition to being a complete ass, of course.) Hopefully he’ll get slammed in the sentencing and in the civil case, as well.
I just received an email about an upcoming BBC program and an associated presentation at the British Library. It looks pretty interesting, and it would be great if the show aired in the States at some point.
Johann Gutenberg’s printing press, which brought about the dawn of mass communication is of barely equalled significance in the development of human culture. His achievement reached its pinnacle with the printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455.
A new documentary The Machine That Made Us, presented by Stephen Fry, is screened on BBC4 in Spring 2008 [April 14 at 9pm, according to the email], and excerpts will feature in tonights event. For the programme, and in order to unravel mysteries of Gutenberg’s technique, a team of experts built a unique copy of his press: watch it action at the event, alongside discussion of the remarkable story behind its invention.
Speakers include Alan May (printing expert and press builder), Martin Andrews (University of Reading) and Patrick McGrady (Wavelength Films).
Event time: 18.30 – 20.00 Location: Conference Centre, British Library Price: £6 (concessions £4)
I’m wondering how they went about reconstructing the Gutenberg Press, as so little is known about it. Hopefully the historical debates about its creation and construction will feature in the show.
I also got a laugh out of the whole thing when one of my Gmail sponsored adds popped up with a promise to help me “find a Gutenberg printing press.” See, you don’t need to build one, silly researchers.