Long shelf life

April 5, 1996

So how much has academic library life changed in the past century? Extracts from the Edinburgh University Library archives for 1895-97 printed in the recent 100th issue of the library's news bulletin suggest that the change has not been extensive.

Admittedly, in the age of personal computers, CD-Rom and on-line access, it is unlikely that any university library will ever again complain of "the abstraction of a large number of ink bottles from the New Reading Room Tables".

And there is a quaint, hands-on approach of professors in the revelation that "Attention being called to the state of the busts etc. in the Library it was agreed that before again appealing to the Court an experiment should be made with one bust to be cleaned with soap and water. Professor Eggeling who had experience in the matter undertook to superintend."

But there is something rather timeless in other items: "The Librarian reported that owing to the special circumstances in which he had been placed, he was grievously behind in his preparation for the meeting. The Committee was good enough to allow the minutes of the previous meeting to remain unread."

All users of libraries anywhere will sympathise with complaints about "the absolute untrustworthiness of the clock" and any organisation at any time in human history would recognise the report that "Professor Prothero read several suggestions for improving the management of the library, but consideration of them was deferred."

The extracts also note the serious illness suffered by a junior member of staff, Edmond Muriset, who happily survived to introduce the concept of open access in 1915 when he told a student asking for a book at a busy time to "get the book yourself, laddie".

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