Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Just to make sure we know how much they love us the university decided to switch our department’s power over to some different system. And have the switchover done on a weekday – all day. No light, no coffee, no electro-toys. Not so good. Not much point in being there – particularly in ground floor office where you need your desk light for comfortable reading on non-sunny days. So I went to the central library and home.

Home is home. But the central library is an odd combination of old and modern, useful and useless, great and crappy. Technically the library is a state library so it’s open for everyone – which I like better than those ‘private’ university libraries they have in other places. And it has been around for some centuries, so they have loads of old stuff, history and experience. From a Gutenberg bible to online journals they have pretty much everything.

In the 1990s they got a new building on the university campus. A shiny glassy hand shaped building which doesn’t look too bad and feels good and light on the inside. But due to bad planning and/or money shortages it couldn’t ever live to its full potential. So you have odd things like all those windows which on sunny days aren’t good at all for the people trying to work behind them or the books close to them. Which means there are shades on those windows giving you the typical up-and-down play you’d expect of such mechanisms on cloudy but sunny days.

As they have so many books (apparently close to four million), not all of them are on display but many are in underground storage. But it is said that they couldn’t afford the staff for getting all the books from down there so one level of underground storage is accessible to punters. Which means you walk into the well-lit wide open library and if the book you want turns out to be in ‘FMAG’ you’ll have to walk all the way to the end of the building, down some narrow non-shiny staircase to come to the under-ground ‘Freihandmagazin’.

The first thing you see there is a huge map indicating which book numbers are stored where. That’s necessary and helpful. You’ll also find a note that books down there are ordered from low numbers at the bottom of the shelves to high numbers at the top – – or the other way round – unlike all the other books in the library, anyways. A fact that isn’t a big problem (and which you can easily discover by just looking at the shelves) but which explains why I sometimes have the impression that I’m not particularly good at finding things down there – I assume you non-consciously get used to one way of ordering.

To make things even more fun, things down there aren’t ordered by subject but by the date of their acquisition. I assume this just saves a load of work and regular re-shelving. While it’s reasonably easy to find books labelled as ‘2005 7384’ say, this means that you really need to use the catalogue and can’t just browse around for related books around the ones you’ve come to get. On the up-side you’ll see completely unrelated books that you’d never come across otherwise. Poetry next to history next to a book in Korean next to maths next to literature studies next to economics. I’m sure I could procrastinate down there for days.

Other cool things they do are the scanning of old journals – giving quite convenient access to stuff you’d otherwise have to track down yourself. While all that must be done by people who actually want to serve the public and make access to written words easier – other members of their staff can be arsed to move their – admittedly overweight – arses to help you. Some of them would rather have you run back and forth a bit instead of moving half a metre or pressing a key on their computer. Good old German service spirit – not so great!

One new thing they have is a kind of media and publishing centre which a friend recommended recently. I had a look at it today and they have all sorts of devices including a scanner that can scan negatives. After I was abit unhappy with the index prints for my self-developed negatives recently I’ve considered to just scan the negatives myself to be able to evaluate them before going to a photo lab. As I’m not scanning too many of those and the affordable scanners with a negative option probably aren’t all that good it may turn out to be a good option to just use a good scanner at the library.


When walking around the library, I really wanted to take photos. It might be time to get a tiny camera.

April 3, 2006, 18:40

Tagged as uni.

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