Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Libraries, Librarians, Frustration

I just returned to Rabat from a trip to Tetouan, where I attempted to get some still-incomplete field research done. I planned on going to the city's public library and archives to continue working on a seventeenth-century manuscript that's there (that I've managed to read, oh, a couple of pages of and I don't actually know if it will be useful for my dissertation), and to look up some references, and generally bother the librarian for the things that I want (that, say, I've found in the library catalog) but that don't actually exist at the library (altogether too often the case in Tetouan.)

The library, however, was closed. Indefinitely.

Last time I had been in Tetouan, the library had just closed for emergency water main repairs. That was in mid-2006.

The sign that announced the library's closed-ness this time was from October of 2006, though, so not only was it re-closed after having been open, presumably, for a short amount of time between when I went before and this visit, but it's already been closed for a while.

The doors looked very open, though; the door attendant told me that the library was closed to the public, but that I could return to talk to the archivist the next morning, which I did.

I was allowed into the library to speak to the archivist.

It turns out that all of the employees are still working: the circulation desk staff is manning a dust-covered desk, the main reading room desk attendant is there. There are just no patrons! And many of the books aren't there! And everything's covered with dust! And the lights are off. Weird.

Anyhow, the archivist was nice and, while I wasn't able to find anything else for my project other than the one manuscript I'm already working on (which, apparently, is being digitized), he seemed excited by Josie's project, and I ended up with a list of manuscript references for her.

Then today, I had another negative library experience. This one was at the Hassaniyya (the Royal library in Rabat.) I had taken my notes from last year, so that I could ask for the manuscripts that I had, at some point in my catalog browsing, decided had something to do with Rabat, Tetouan, the seventeenth century, and possibly moriscos.

I asked for the manuscript number that I had noted, and eventually got the requested manuscript. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what on earth it had to do with the what I was expecting to receive, and eventually decided that I should go back to the catalog. In the catalog, I didn't find the title, and I didn't find the reference number in the catalog (I had used an older catalog.) So I asked the librarian.

He came up with a reference number for the mss. that I wanted, but refused to explain where or how he had gotten that number. I really wanted to know so that I could replicate the results. He wouldn't give up the knowledge, though, even when the front desk staff asked him (after I had asked him and he wouldn't tell me.)

Aren't librarians supposed to be enablers? Isn't that why librarianism is (along with city planning) the current chosen hipster profession par excellence? Isn't the beauty of enabling people to do research well without actually doing the research the joy of librarianship? Not for the guy at the Hassaniyya it's not, apparently.

Coincidentally, there's an article about academic librarians in the Chronicle of Higher Education today; it's really written with academic librarians as an audience, but as an active user of the reference desk, I was interested.


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