Borrowed Time

by Mark Calderwood

Reblogged from Kyla Ward

I am one of the invisible users of Fisher library, the oldest and largest research library at Sydney University and some claim, in the Southern Hemisphere.

I dare say the staff and other users can see me and I should definitely make a blip if I attempted to walk outside without returning some delicious volume to the shelf. But I don’t have a library card: indeed, I never attended Sydney University. For twenty years or so, I have been simply been walking in, finding books on whatever topic I’m currently researching, taking notes and photocopies, then staggering back out into the light.

I do this because I am a writer. A writer who researches. Let’s consider today, for example: first task was to locate a complete copy of The Vampire; Or, the Bride of the Isles, the 1820 play by Charles Robinson Planche. Not a problem, there it was on Level 8. Then it was onto a large, exquisitely illustrated tome about the 5th Dynasty tomb complex at Abusir, Egypt, by the fellow who led the most recent excavations. I found some information that fits nicely into my emerging thesis on the legend of Busiris, which I am currently pursuing for personal reasons. Last, a crash course on the symbology of angels in art. That’s for the current article.

I have researched many articles at least partly at Fisher, including “Tomb Raider”, a real world guide to tomb-robbing published in Dragon #327. I was particularly proud of that one, based as it was on two sites I have personally visited and including my own translations from Maledictions et Violations des Tombes by Andre Parrot, the Paris Oriental Library, 1939. And in the letters column of the next issue, a reader commented that, in the rare event that he actually he wanted to know any of that historical stuff, he’d just get it off the web.

No you won’t, buddy. That information didn’t come from the web. It wasn’t there. And even if it was, there is absolutely no guarantee your search engine would locate it amongst the morass of Lara Croft fan fiction. To be fair, that was back in 2005, but things have not changed in this respect. It’s a consequence of the fact that anyone can put anything up on the web, and no one has to check it. Maybe some people on Wikipedia do, but no one has to, not even the people relying on it for their own articles and essays. And search engines take you to the most popular sites, not the most accurate.

So now the powers that be at Sydney University have decided they don’t need the largest research library in the Southern Hemisphere. Without doubt, their reasoning is that they can save money by downsizing, and they don’t need to keep the hard copy books anyway because it’s all on the web. To them, I address the following two lines: to you, gentle reader, the third.

The internet is not a library.

A search engine is not a catalogue.

Sign the petition now.