Sunday 15 August 2010

This Institution

“You know what I miss most about bookshops?”

Behind Master Shakespeare’s back acolytes James and Mary exchanged a look, and a smile. That look that says ‘here we go again’ with the smile that says ‘but this is a welcome distraction’.

In reality, of course, Bill’s digressions were all a part of his meandering didactic style. He raised an eyebrow.

“James. Mary. If you would rather be dusting the stacks than in my lecture that can be arranged.”

The other acolytes smirked. Somehow Master Shakespeare always knew what happened behind his back. He turned to face them.

“Hmmm? Master Dickens is always asking if I can spare any students, there is almost more dust than books these days.”

It wasn’t much of a threat really, more of a running joke. Nobody wanted to be thrown out of Bill’s class, but then, more time in the library itself was every student's dream.

“This great library of ours is a wonder. It is the last stronghold of so much knowledge and vision. It is a bulwark against the descending ignorance the new order is attempting to impose. But as great as it is, it is a glorified warehouse, an information silo.

“In a bookshop you could feel the life in the print. In a bookshop the shelves breathed and stretched as subjects grew in popularity, growing from a single shelf to a whole case or more; in turn, interest would wane and that subject would relax, shrinking back to make room for another. Just through the way the books shifted from month to month you could feel society thinking.

“Now society is only allowed to think, and read, what the new Führer dictates it may; openly at least. And that is what the British Library must stand against. We must preserve choice and freedom of thought. We must protect these works so that people may decide for themselves whether they are worthy and worthwhile.

“They used to say a good writer should show, not tell, and I believe that to be a tenet not only applicable to literature. The value of any idea or person must be demonstrated, it is not enough to just command people to believe in them. In the end, that is what will save us.”

(author's commentary)

For more of the British Library Underground: This Doublespeak

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