Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Beginner's Guide to the Library. From a 3rd Year English Degree Student.

It's appalling, I know. It's not like it's a recent development either, it's been building up over the past few years. I didn't mean for it to get like this. It just happened, you know? Please don't think any less of me.

My name is Eilidh Stewart. I am studying English at university. And today I checked a book out of my university's library for the first time.

You can sarcastically slow applaud if you want, it's completely warranted.

It seems silly, even to me, but up until this point I've managed to find whatever I was looking for on the internet or in the notes that we're given for our lectures. But now that I'm in 3rd year, I decided that secondary reading might actually be quite important, and without doing it probably, essay marks could go down the tubes.

So I started my search. I looked up the books I needed, on a website that the university has telling you exactly where to find them in the library. At first this sounds extraordinarily helpful - barely any leg work involved, brilliant!

But then the shelf locations looked like this: D820.7-3 (DIC).

Look at that again and tell me that you don't feel intimidated.

Not even a little bit?

Well I was more than a little bit, and realised I couldn't possibly embark on this mission alone. I had six books on my list. 

It might sound cliche, but the man who came over to help me just seemed to have been born to be a librarian. He was late 20's, which a closely clipped and well kept beard, little glasses that perched on his nose and a voice that was naturally quiet and raspy. His tie was perfectly knotted and his trousers were pulled up just a little too high, showing his socks.

I presented my problem to him and it was like pressing the button of a long, elaborate machine built for a need you didn't even know you needed filled - like the great big inventions in Willy Wonka's factory.

He got so enthusiastic about the system they have in place to organise the books and it was so nice to see. He explained in depth about every section and the best way to navigate the labyrinth of referencing material, children's literature and general lending books. I was told the minute importance of every bracket, dash and dot in the shelf locations I'd looked up. He even gave me tips on how to remember them (note how bracket, dash and dot are in alphabetical order).

We eventually reached the section on Charles Dickens. One of my classes this semester is Victorian literature, which I got talking to him about for a good while. I was overwhelmed by his library know-how and he was keen to hear more about what I was studying - a refreshing change from "Oh, you're doing English? Ooft... Good luck!", normally followed by a laugh and a slap on the shoulder.

Before today, I hadn't used a library since the one they had in my high school which we only really used for the computers or to find books to read in English. Before that it was the mobile library that came round to our primary school. When I left in Primary 7, the school only had 30 pupils - it couldn't really justify having its' own library...

I'd forgotten that it is actually a little fun to lose yourself in books that you'd never even heard of before, on subjects you didn't know existed. Being in a library is one of the rare moments when I enjoy being so short. It makes the bookshelves seem so tall that it would be possible to just hide in there for days.

So to all library staff who I have previously undervalued up until this point - thank you. You may have started a process of change in which I stop hoarding so many books in my house that I never read.

Then again, maybe not.