19 December 2007

Visiting the Jedi Library

I couldn't help but get rather disheartened last week by the news that Terry Pratchett has been diagnosed as suffering from a form of early onset Alzheimer's. It's gloomy news, though the fact that he's confidently working on two new books is encouraging, as is his observation that
This should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.
Among Pratchett's ideas, one of my favourite has long been that of 'L-Space', the notion that all libraries and even bookshops are somehow linked as being a separate dimension in their own right; as a frustrated academic, I've often wished this were the case, not least when waiting for an inter-library loan to come through.

I've been having trouble with libraries a lot lately, especially in Manchester, but finally today I attained my own Holy Grail in being granted access to Dublin's best library. And no, I don't mean the Chester Beatty Library, because magnificent though it is, it's more a museum than a working library.

The library of Trinity College, or the University of Dublin if you want to be fancy, is a copyright library, entitled to claim a copy of anything published in Ireland or the United Kingdom. In practice it doesn't even come close to claiming all it could, of course, not least because there's no way it could store everything, but it gets enough for free.

The most impressive part of the library in my books is the Long Room, which I reckon as one of the five or six most important spots in any trip to Dublin. You're probably familiar with it, in a way.

Take a look at the pictures. Do they look familiar? No? Well, can you spot the differences? Yes, well done, the one on the right has light-coloured busts and dusty books while the one on the left has dark-coloured busts and, um, glowing books.

Or putting it another way, one is the Jedi Library where Obi wan Kenobi hunts in vain for a missing planet in the feebly named Attack of the Clones, while the other is Trinity's Long Room.

It might help if you looked at them in colour. Colour sometimes matters, after all.

Amusingly, when this was first brought to light, Lucasfilm appears to have maintained that it was entirely coincidental, with a spokesman for George Lucas having said that 'it is totally untrue that there is any connection between the scene in Attack of the Clones and Trinity College'. I think Trinity dropped the case in the end, though I can't for the life of me see why. I mean, you don't need to be an architect to spot the similarities here: I recognised the Jedi library as the Long Room the moment I saw it in the cinema!

I'd easily rate the Long Room among the three or four most important rooms to be visited by any guest in Dublin, and if it catches your imagination I'm sure you'll be glad to know that plenty of other cities -- Manchester among them, as it happens -- have their own beautiful libraries gently awaiting awestruck bibliophiles to come and marvel like Belle.

I was alerted a few weeks back to the Facebook group for girls who would marry Disney's Beast just to get a library like his out of the deal. I guess if you're to be married for anything other than love it might as well be for books. After all, the idea of having someone gasp with a mixture of envy, admiration, and desire on seeing how many books you've got has a certain charm.

Mind, I'm probably biased. My bibliophilia is well attested, and I've long passed the 2,000 book threshold which Augustine Birrell laid down a century or so back as the benchmark for a basic private library:
Libraries are not made ; they grow. Your first two thousand volumes present no difficulty, and cost astonishingly little money. Given £400 and five years, and an ordinary man can in the ordinary course, without undue haste or putting any pressure upon his taste, surround himself with this number of books, all in his own language, and thenceforth have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy. But pride is still out of the question. To be proud of having two thousand books would be absurd. You might as well be proud of having two top-coats. After your first two thousand difficulty begins, but until you have ten thousand volumes the less you say the better. Then you may begin to speak.
I've passed that threshold, mind, but not be far. I'm a long way from Birrell's 10,000 books. Hmmm. I should probably stop talking.

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