Monday, November 22, 2010

The Benson.

I’ve been working in Austin at the Nettie Lee Benson Collection.  I am living and breathing the research that I am here to do.  No house to distract me.  No kids to demand attention.  No little luxuries to tempt me.  No extra time to waste.  Just work.  Even the knitting I planned to do in the evenings has mostly gone by the wayside—after 5+ hours of taking photos of historical sources, followed by 3 hours of formatting and saving those hundreds of photos in different places…well, by then I am absolutely spent. 

I love libraries.  And oh, the stacks.  I wander around, surrounded by volumes of books.  And at the Benson Collection here in Austin it’s all Latin American books.  Rows upon rows, as far as the eye can see.  Four floors of open stacks.  A hidden set of rare books that one has to order through staff (wouldn’t I love to wander among those books!).  Tens of thousands of rolls of microform.

It makes me a little giddy just thinking about it. 

I used my digital camera (thanks for the suggestion, Marc!) to take 846 images today, from 18 different books, journals, laws, and pamphlets.  I downloaded and organized them on my computer.  I saved an extra copy of the books etc on a memory card.  I am sincerely grateful for the technology that allows me to do as much research in a week and a half as I once would have needed at least two or three months to do.

But, in the end, the technology is just a means to…books.  Once I get past the awe of the stacks, and pick up an individual book, the real magic begins.  First, there is the musty smell of old books and papers.  Then there are the delicate, time-worn pages of each volume of historical materials that I open.  Treasures lie within, containing the voices of people who lived long ago. 

I love old books.

I guess this is one of the reasons that I haven’t yet been able to leave academia, despite the many ways that it makes me crazy and tired.  Who can resist the call of the stacks?  The lure of old printed pages?  The fascinating surprises and discoveries waiting to be found? 

Apparently, not me. 

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