I was saddened to hear the news of the death of Anne McCaffrey. She’s one of the authors I grew up with, and last night (no doubt along with many others) I reached for ‘Dragonflight’ to begin a memorial re-read.
I did the same earlier this year, following the death of Diana Wynne Jones. I re-read many favourites, and discovered some of her books for the first time. As part of this, I read ‘Archer’s Goon’ for (what I thought was) the first time.
It wasn’t the first time. I’d forgotten almost everything about the book, but the names prompted some stirrings in the back of my memory, little snippets of deja-lu. The line ‘Dillian farms law and order’ hit me like a punch to the gut. Of course she did. She couldn’t possibly do anything else. I knew this; I’d always known it.
I’ve re-read many half (or totally) forgotten books before, but I’d never had such a visceral, physical reaction. The whole book was like a series of body-blows. It was exhausting and exhilerating, and all the while things hung at the back of my mind, emerging fully-formed a page or two before the denouement in the text.
So I searched my shelves, expecting to find a battered old copy tucked away. I found it quite odd that I could remember nothing about the physicality of the book – no memory of cover art, or spine on my neatly alphabetised shelves. It must have been a library book.
But how will I know? I envy the current and future generations of library users. They can electronically access their borrowing record. They can see (or will be able to see) what they were reading when they were 7, 8, 9, 19, 29. They can jog their memory, or escape into the past.
Catalogue permitting, anyway… I’ve just checked my borrowing history on the Manchester Libraries catalogue. After all, they’ve been online for a while – surely I can go back a few years down memory lane, at least? Not so! I can go back a year at most, and there’s only a list of loans and reservations. No loan dates. Manchester Uni is much better – I can see my loans going right back to when my card was issued in 2006, and see issue and return dates for all items. So why not for Manchester Libraries? They must have the data – why aren’t they letting me use it? It’s my data.
We talk about making the most of the data that we have, but we also have to remember to allow users to make the most of it, too. For nearly three years, I’ve been recording every book I read (I predict 2 reactions to this: ‘that’s so sad!’ and ‘hey, I’ve been doing that for years!’), and I’d love to use my library data to help me go back further, and fill in some of the gaps. I want my library to help me record and celebrate my love of reading.
And boy, do I love reading. There’s that phrase which chases us around the libinfosphere, a variant on:
‘You don’t become a librarian because you like books.’
Well, actually, many of us do. Let’s be more accurate:
‘You don’t become a good librarian because you just like books.’
You become -and stay – a good librarian by liking other things, too. You like people; computers; metadata; gin. You have a passion for teaching or research. You see the void which exists between a person and the information they need, and you have to fill it.
Sometimes, that void is filled by books. Sometimes it’s filled by information about books. Don’t put barriers in the way of either of them. Don’t make future generations crawl around in the electronic equivalent of a dusty old storage room, hunting through obsolete data formats. Don’t make them have to put in a request.
I have a vision, my friends. A vision of a future in which no-one will have to wonder when they first read ‘Archer’s Goon’. And we can make it happen.