Murder in the library

Today is my third day working in my campus library. It is a bit unusual for a grad student with an extra-campus scholarship to work on campus. Students with the kind of scholarship that I receive are typically not allowed to work. It is assumed that the stipend we receive each month is more than enough. And that working will delay our study. Somehow I managed to get the authorization to work on campus, not outside, at least for this summer.

Unlike working outside campus, working on campus means that we will be paid in accordance with the minimum-wage standard. Well, it is completely fine with me. At least I can earn extra money to pay subscription or membership fees to journals or organizations such as certain political science associations, or to attend conferences. This summer job ensures that my subscription to those journals, as well as my membership to one or two associations, will not be terminated. I can still pay for at least another year…he..he.

Also, being a researcher and a lecturer (in a developing country), I have to persistently find a way to make sure that buying new books is an affordable thing for me to do. I did the same thing when I was studying in Australia a few years ago. I worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant every weekend. If I did not spend hours and hours as a dishwasher in that restaurant, I would not be able to buy books as many as I eventually did…he..he. Books are very expensive in Australia.

My first day working in the library was very interesting. I was asked to watch a movie titled “Murder in the Library”. I watched the movie alone in the video room. It was a short movie, only 15 minutes. It featured the famous ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and his dear-friend ‘Watson’. Sherlock uncovered a very ‘complicated’ case: murder in the library. Sherlock, with Watson, investigated how visitors of a library (as well as those who worked in that library) were actually committing a very serious crime without realizing it: killing books.

The killing took place incrementally, every single day in the library. Many people in the library were never really bother to treat books with a good manner. The killing occurred in many simple forms: not putting a book upright on the shelves, spilling over food or drinks on the reading tables or right on top of books etc. In short, according to Sherlock Holmes, we are killing books in many ways almost on a daily basis. It’s a very entertaining way to provide a job orientation for a new employee in the library like myself. The movie’s message is crystal clear to me: a library should try its best to preserve books, so it can preserve knowledge.

It turns out that I am assigned to the digitization division of the library. It’s the library’s continuing project. In fact, many libraries around the world have been doing the same thing. Libraries are trying to preserve books, including the very old ones. They transferred books into CDs, microforms, or other forms that can be stored online. CSIS library in Jakarta has also started the digitization project two or three years ago. But, of course, our project at CSIS is a lot smaller in scale. Our library at CSIS is in the process of transferring its newspaper-clippings to CDs. The clipping itself was started in 1971, in the early days of CSIS. Soon, selected newspaper-clippings of CSIS’ library can be bought in the CD format.

So, I started scanning a book. It’s an old book, published in 1837 in Chicago. It is almost 175 years old. The book recorded the early settlement and the development of many cities within the state of Illinois in the early 1800s. It reported how many people lived here and there during that time, how they were doing, how they made their living, how they tried to establish lines of communication and transportation from one city to another, and so on.

From that book I learn how people in the past dealt with problems that, I think, we still face today. Also, I can see how the language, American-style English, has been shaping up into its present form over the years. The book I scanned was still written in the British-style, not American, English. An English-linguist might be very interested in this book. I realize now how important such a project of digitalization is. Not only preserving knowledge, it transfers knowledge from the past to our present, and more importantly, to the future. Sherlock Holmes then would not be able to make the accusation that we are committing the two crimes: killing books and knowledge.

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