Saturday, October 07, 2017


IT has been pouring in this city for days. Not just rain but middle-of-the-term, over-panic’s-edge succession of class requirements.

When it rained, we stayed indoors and read. That childhood rule makes sense except library research means tracking down a book in networks connecting a system of libraries or existing informally among colleagues connected to other systems.

No one I know orders online. Given the labyrinthine process of shipping, an online habit only adds another layer of torture beyond human endurance and government book stipends.

Photocopying—a settlement with intellectual property preferred by Third World academics—often saves the day, or at least deliverance from a deadline.

Yet, our age is so cosseted by the availability of information. Our fingers simply “walk” around a digital system, and we enter the 18th-century circumlocutions of a dead German to confuse our 21st-century sensibilities.

Bibliography is an academic discipline, with multiple specializations in library science, languages, and a particular branch of learning to create the perfect bloodhounds to track and trace all and recent information published in any niche of knowledge.

Did libraries ever shun, instead of usher in, searchers?

In the “Tower of Babel,” Jorge Luis Borges tells a story of generations of librarians driven mad by the search of a room containing just four book shelves hidden in the labyrinth of a library containing twaddle. In another essay, Borges theorized that half a dozen monkeys provided with typewriters can produce all the books that the British Museum can contain.

How does one recognise true from fake knowledge? Borge’s tongue-in-cheek reply is monkey mumbo jumbo: it must have the “25 basic characters (22 letters, the period, the comma, and the space)”.

In the fictional 14th-century library of the Aedificium (“structure” in Latin) at the centre of Umberto Eco’s “The Name of the Rose,” murderous intent is coupled with information glut to keep searchers from ever returning and finding a book.

Eco’s monks are driven actually mad by the belief that the mission handed down to their order by God is all about “preserving, repeating, and defending the treasure of wisdom”.

When martial law was declared on Sept. 21, 1972, the sound of incriminating documents torn and flushed down toilets echoed around the nation (the memory was narrated by Randy David; the exaggeration is mine).

Only to one library did dissidents entrust their papers before many of them disappeared or were made to. Which library hid and later revealed its radical heart?

Reader, the labyrinth opens next week.

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s October 8, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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